Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bubbe's Last Hurrah

Bubbe has said many times that she doesn't want to turn 100 years old.  She says "I'll be a freak, like a dog who can ride a bicycle."

I don't see anything wrong with a dog who can ride a bicycle.

But Bubbe doesn't share my opinion.  So, after a bad fall earlier this week, and another episode of worsening breathlessness due to congestive heart failure, she decided to stop taking the medications that prolong her life, and take only those that will keep her comfortable.  It's two and a half weeks until her 100th birthday.  I believe she's hoping to be gone by then.

News of the crisis and indications of its seriousness accumulated slowly.  My father happened to be there when Bubbe started feeling that she couldn't get enough air.  What looked like another normal bump in the road turned into the beginning of the end.

E-mails were circulated.  Relatives got into airplanes and cars headed for Toronto.  By the time I arrived at Bubbe's apartment on Thursday evening, she already had a crowd at her bedside.  I climbed onto the bed with her to hold her hand.

Bubbe couldn't have been more pleased.  She was having the best pyjama party of her life.  Despite being on supplemental oxygen, she managed to find enough lung capacity to chat happily with us all. Short sentences, that trailed off sometimes.  But she was definitely still with us.  Her chin was blackened by a bruise from when she caught the edge of a table during her fall on Monday; her hearing aids kept falling out; she couldn't drink water from a cup or straw because she can't always swallow properly anymore; and she has become incontinent; but with all her loved ones surrounding her, none of that mattered.

We propped her up in bed and gave her water with a little sponge on a stick (a "Swabette", officially).  She kept saying "This is the best time I've ever had!"

A palliative care nurse arrived to hook her up to medication pumps that will deliver morphine and midazolam (a benzodiazepine, for the feelings of anxiety that result from being short of breath) whenever she needs them.  We all got very serious then.  You know that when the morphine line goes in, things are for real.

It was late by then, so almost everyone left to get some sleep.  We weren't sure if that was the last time we would see Bubbe alive, so we said our emotional goodbyes.  Despite her weakness, she summoned the strength to give me a hug worthy of a professional wrestler.  It was hard to leave.

After that, I'm told that Bubbe took one dose of each of her new meds and had a good night's sleep. She woke up bright eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning, demanding coffee and oatmeal for breakfast.  This is the photo my uncle sent:

She had such a good time at her "party" the night before that it totally "charged my batteries", as she often says.  I saw her later in the day, and she was swallowing just fine (note the mug).  She looks remarkably well and happy for someone at death's doorstep, don't you think?

Anyway, the reprieve can't last.  It's inevitable that without daily diuretics her lungs will accumulate water until she simply can't breathe anymore.  I understand her decision to let go.  Beside her other maladies, her hands are numb and she has almost no dexterity.  She can't even press the buttons on her medication pumps herself.  She has also gone a bit bonkers, what with the lack of oxygen to her brain.  She can't tell what's real anymore.  When I went back to see her again on Friday, she told me about a "wonderful dream" she had had.  "Everyone in the family was here, and I was in bed, and we were having a party!"  Then she thinks that stuff that didn't happen actually did, and it's all very confusing.

It's so hard to say goodbye to this lady, I can't tell you.  It's breaking my heart.  But what can you do? No one can live forever.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Latest Scoop of Poop

You guys, it finally happened.  My step-dad RETIRED.  At least, he sold his shares in what was, until last week, the family business.  There had been much talk of this happening over the past few years, and no action, to the point where I had stopped believing that it would ever happen.  I mean, at one point in the past he even sold the business but continued managing it, and then eventually bought it back again.  But this time.  This time I'm pretty sure it's for keeps.

Despite his failing health, he insists that he is going to start up another business.  He is already in discussions with one or more potential partners.  I wish him all the best with that, and I want nothing to do with it. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love him.  I just love him in that complicated-family-member way that can co-exist with not being able to deal with him.  I'm upset by the changes at my workplace, but not because I'm going to desperately miss him.  I feel sad and guilty about how relieved I feel now that I don't have to work with him anymore.

Anyway, the mixed blessing of working for family is now a thing of the past.  Now I'm just another average wage slave, doing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.  I'm quite content with that.

I'm cautiously optimistic about my job security.  Only time will tell.  The people who bought my step-dad's shares, already partial owners of the business, were in conflict with him for years.  At one point one of them started demanding that I be fired, after having accused me of something that I didn't do.  I hope that I was being used impersonally as a pawn in their fight.  I hope that this person does not actually hold any personal grudge against me left over from three years ago.  Those were ugly days.

If only they knew the whole story.  There was a time when my step-dad asked me to assist him in some shady activities to enhance his own standing in the fight.  These things, had they been found out, could have gotten me into big trouble.  Not only in terms of my career; but I could have potentially ended up in jail.  It was a terrifying prospect.

Of course I refused, and instead of apologizing for having asked, or being understanding of my reluctance, my step-dad proceeded to lay a giant guilt trip on me for "joining forces with his enemies" or however he put it.  He didn't forgive me for more than a year.  It was so painful and stressful, I can't tell you.

A less scrupulous employee, unrelated to him, might have gone along with his plan, in order to earn a bonus or bank a favour.  There were a lot of strong feelings in the business among many people, not just me.  Some people did strenuously take my step-dad's side.  I have definitely proved my determination to stay on the straight and narrow.  The thing is, that all happened under the radar, and even if I told the whole story to my new bosses, why should they believe me?

I guess it's a question of whether or not they want to give me a chance.  I'll have to prove myself to them starting from scratch, and I will, if they let me.  I'm good value for the money.  A bargain at any price!  Right?

Saturday, April 9, 2016


Ken has always been prone to gaining weight.  When I met him 17 years ago (has it been that long already?) we were both in our twenties.  Even then, he wasn't what you'd call "slim".  Over the years, his weight has been up and down, but the long-term trend and forecast were both up.  It made me feel sad, because I knew that those extra pounds would shorten our time together.

A few years ago, I all but stopped making any effort to influence Ken's weight.  I came to terms, as much as I could, with the fact that I would probably outlive him, and decided that I would just enjoy our years together in each moment.  I wouldn't want to regret being a constant nag and the cause of inevitable arguments.  Still, I prayed that he would decide to change his ways and take control of his health.

And then.  Guess what!  It finally happened!  In December, Ken decided that enough was enough.  It was time to change everything.  And so he did.  He switched to a low-carb diet.  He joined a gym and has been working out with the help of a personal trainer at least 3 times per week.  He's been disciplined and dedicated, walking to the gym in cold and snowy weather, even when he's had a long and tiring day.  His diet allows him two "cheat days" per week; sometimes he only takes one.

As of this morning, he has lost 34.5 pounds.  Not only that, but he's gained a significant amount of muscle.  He has gone down one entire pants size!

I can't tell you how happy all this makes me.  Ken would be my bestie no matter what his size, aesthetically speaking, but I used to worry every day about his health.  Now that he's slimming down and shaping up, we're both happier and more confident.  I'm so proud of him.

When he first started on this regimen, i.e. spending 3 evenings per week at the gym, he said to me "This is going to mean that we have less together time."  I said "Yeah, but if you die young it'll mean even less together time!"  Plus while he's at the gym I get to watch whatever I want on TV, even those vet shows on Animal Planet that make him squeamish.  Everybody wins!