Thursday, November 25, 2010

Living with Death

My father, George Spahr, Jr. died last Friday. When I woke up this morning, I found it difficult to believe that it will be a week tomorrow. It has all been a blur of phone calls, emails, arrangements, and a flood of feelings that would make Kubler-Ross proud.

My dad had been in assisted living/senior apartments/nursing home dementia care for most of the last 20 years, and for more than 10 of those years, I was his guardian and power of attorney. The last five years, he was in a dementia unit, where he couldn't wander off and get hurt or lost, and yet, he was the most "with it" patient there, and spent a lot of time on the other floors, doing activities and entertaining the staff.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am incredibly grateful for the staff at Centre Crest, in Bellefonte, PA. The nurses and recreational therapists kept my father active, his brain stimulated, and appreciated (for the most part) his humor and flirting. I was so relieved to have him in a safe environment, where he was loved. The staff even took him home for holiday dinners, and helped him pick out small presents for my children and I each Christmas. The last two years have been increasingly difficult, as his mobility was more compromised, and I couldn't take him out as much, while trying to manage my two young children at the same time. I missed taking him to the People's Choice Festival, and to Memorial Day festivities in Boalsburg, PA, where I grew up.

I have so much gratitude and a pile of thank you notes to send out. I have dozens of notes and emails that I have filed in a folder to be answered when I am feeling ready; I have phone calls to return. I am blessed to have friends in my home town who hosted my family, provided a luncheon after the service (Thank you to Jane and Anne, and my mom), my uncle and aunt who drove from Brooklyn, NY to support me and honor my father's life, and my former minister, Rev. Mark Hayes from the UUFCC, who provided a lovely Celebration of Life.

The Heintzelman Funeral Home in State College was outstanding in their compassion, kindness and professionalism. I know it was a small service, but it meant the world to me, and they treated me with the same respect I believe they would have showed to the wealthiest family in town. Jan took care of every single detail, including getting my father's veteran's records, planning the eventual burial of my father's ashes in Manchester, PA, and handling everything with grace and delicacy. I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone local to central PA. My husband has born the brunt of childcare and cooking for days now.  He gracefully took care of the children during the planning of, and the services themselves. He has been in the background of every moment, bringing me coffee and plates of food and letting me sleep when I can. He has respected my private grief, and I have watched his own on his tired and drawn face. He has been right there, as was my mother, my sister, my dearest friends. I may not have acknowledged them in the moment, but their love has allowed me to do what needed to be done, and it now allows me to take this quiet time before I must get back to course work, internship and parenting.

Rev. Hayes read something (I have the book somewhere around, as he kindly gave me a copy for my personal and ministerial use) about Why? That this is the unanswerable question of death. I have not been sleeping well, waking in the middle of the night for hours. My friend Jane counseled me to consider this time a gift - a time of quiet reflection away from the business of the day - and I've been trying to see it that way. These late night times have given me some space to grieve in the whirlwind of the last week. Our culture does not give us a lot of time, but I have had what I'm sure are the same feelings and thoughts of many people who have dealt with death and grief, as we all must.

This is getting long, so I will write more in another post - I process and learn through writing, and it's easier for me to deal with logistics and facts at first, and then make room for the feelings. I've had good advice from friends - make time to grieve now, while the world gives you space. Be prepared for it to be even worse in a year. One thing ministry has taught me is to take care of myself - all those people screaming self-care at me have been heard. I have turned off the phone, filed the notes and emails, and have gone into a private time.

I know my dad is gone, but I can't really believe it. I miss him.


ms. kitty said...

My heart is with you, Kelly. It's so hard to lose our fathers.

plaidshoes said...

I am so sorry, Kelly.