As if my life were a book. Ironic since I used to write those.
I’ve been hiding in plain sight recently. My world has seemed to orbit around my food issues (another blog) and my father. And then the election. Oh God, the election. Please, another day.
Today is for my dad. My father was born eleven months after my mom, so he is almost a year younger than she. And yet, he has always seemed to be older than her, and his health has not been the greatest. He–like me and others in my family–has been overweight all of his adult life. He never had a good diet, he never exercised regularly, and for as long as my mother has known him, he has smoked a pipe. He’s been through cigarette phases and on occasion would enjoy himself a cigar, but his vise is really his pipe. As kids we had to live with it, though my mother always hated it and the smell of it makes me physically sick. When my parents had a house built in the late eighties, my mother told my father he was no longer allowed to smoke in the house. He had to sit in the garage or on the porch he insisted the house have. He was only allowed to smoke in HIS vehicle and then only if he was alone. When they had their current house built, the rules were the same. Still now, on days when the wind is blowing just right and I’m outside, I can smell his pipe smoke coming from his garage. I still hate it. He has a smoker’s cough, a wheeze when he breathes, and his teeth are in terrible condition. His skin is bad, he has zero taste buds and absolutely no sense of smell.
In his sixties, my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. He didn’t care and he didn’t take medication and he didn’t change any of his habits. To this day, he doesn’t stay on medication. He takes it randomly and is convinced that the pharmaceutical companies are all out to make a buck and none of the medications do anything. He also randomly goes on and off all kinds of herbal “medications” with the expectation that they will solve all his issues. And again, has no consistency with them. He reads every alternative medical article and pamphlet he can and spouts his knowledge to whoever will listen.
Now, he is not really able to manage his sugar levels, despite attempting to go back onto his meds “consistently”. He will randomly announce he is off carbs and only eating protein, then not follow through. He will randomly announce he is off meat and only eating cheese and fish and bread. And pasta. He won’t follow through on any of that, either. And he has diabetic neuropathy in his feet. Very very bad neuropathy. He is in pain every day, often severe, and has been for at least four or five years. One time he told me he figured losing a foot was bound to happen to him. He was resigned to it. It hasn’t happened yet, but he’s not very actively doing much to keep that at bay.
My father retired from his job in the fall of 2003. Since that time, his life’s passion has been to read and smoke in his garage. When my mother got sick, he took care of her. His life then revolved around doctor’s appointments and combing through medical or alternative medical articles on the web. When Mom died, he crawled into his book and his pipe and refused to come out. Randomly he would tell me that he didn’t want to leave the house anymore. Randomly he would tell one of my brothers that he was crying “a lot”. So when my father had a medical issue crop up and he made an appointment to see his doctor, I went with him. I didn’t ask, I just showed up at his car the morning of his appointment about ten minutes before he was due to leave. When we saw his doctor, he told her that he was crying a lot and really didn’t want to leave the house. She asked him some questions and they talked–and he cried–and they talked more. And she asked him to try Lexapro. And she warned him it would take 4-6 weeks before he might feel any change, but that it would help him manage the depression until he was able to manage it himself. Or until it “lifted”, since she felt it was due to my mother’s death. He promised her he would try it, and we went home with the pills.
Two weeks after starting the pills, he told us that he was feeling a bit better. He was doing more and talking more and crying less. Three weeks after starting the pills, he abruptly quit them without telling anyone, including his doctor. When I found out, I asked why and he told me he didn’t like the way he felt on them. But he couldn’t explain that any further. I asked him to alert his doctor–which he did by email–and he said if he felt like the depression was a problem, he would go back on the pills. Which we all knew was a damn lie.
It’s been about three months since he took the pills. Roughly two months since he stopped. He has admitted to me since then that he feels responsible for my mother’s death (which is not rational), and he told my brother (I learned later) that he stopped taking the pills because it made the feeling of loss and pain go away. And he wanted to feel the pain of my mother’s death. He was punishing himself for her death. And more recently, he has told me that he isn’t enjoying his books anymore. The one place he was able to hide and pass the hours every day. So when he had another health issue come up, I did the repeat dance and showed up at his car the morning of his appointment. And in the doctor’s office, after he went through the current medical issue, I brought up the depression and his loss of enjoyment of his books.
The doctor asked him to try another medication, which he refused. I didn’t know at this point why he stopped the meds and he refused to tell the doctor, only saying he didn’t like how he felt on it and “didn’t know” what that meant. After explaining to my dad about the chemicals in his brain being responsible for the depression, the doctor suggested he go see a mental health professional, possibly one that would be able to help him find a better medication for him. He said he’d think about it–after he cried and I cried–then refused to discuss it any further. My brother and I confronted him the next night about doing something, seeing someone, SOMETHING, and he refused to talk to us. He later told another of my brothers that “nothing is wrong with my brain!” in response to conversation about the depression being related to his brain chemistry.
I am feeling so helpless. Although his cognition isn’t great–which he has admitted–he is still in his right mind. We can’t force him to do anything. But I can’t give up and let him just spend his last years rotting away. I’m not asking him to be someone he’s not, but I hate that he has lost even his love of his books. Today I made an appointment to see our family Rabbi so that my brother and I can go speak to him. He’s been a part of our lives for over 45 years, and he’s a trained counselor. I hope he might have some suggestions, and/or consider helping us talk to my father.
I knew my mother’s death would be hard on my father. I had no concept of what that really meant IRL.