Wednesday, June 29, 2011

R.I.P. Gigi's Dad

I know it has been a long time since last post. As my last few entries have stated, we were nearly at the end of my father's life -- and to be blunt, I just didn't have it in me to write about chocolaty goodness. Hell, I haven't even been up to moderating comments (which are all still waiting for me, and I promise they will be published eventually).

I am still somewhat in shock that I even have to type these words, but my father passed away on June 24th at the age of 65.

I really wish I could tell you that in the couple of months while he was in the hospital leading up to his death, that we had some major breakthrough in our relationship, or that I at least got some window of understanding into the reasons he did the things he did. But that didn't happen, so I can't. I probably don't even have the right to feel the numbness and surprise that he has actually died. After all, we've known that this day was coming since his first night in the hospital when we found out how far things had already gone.

What I can tell you is that even when you know it's coming; even if you were so mad at the person that, had they been in good health, you would have killed them yourself for what they had put you through; even when you know that death was a mercy because the suffering was far crueler than what was deserved -- it still socks you in the gut.

And in his case death was a mercy. No one, his doctors especially, have any idea how he lived with the sheer amount of cancer he had for as long as he did, and without pain medications at that. But by the last week of his life, he would have sucked morphine out of the bag with a straw if they'd have let him. And no one, regardless of their age, should have one of the last memories of their father's voice be his literal screams of pain as he begs for someone, anyone, to help him because he can't take it any more. I know he is no longer in pain and I am glad for that. I hope that I can someday say the same for my siblings and I.

In some ways it is almost easier to hold on to the anger that became the main feeling I had towards him over the last year. Anger for things he had done in the past. Anger for the way we were treated, and for the way he treated himself. Maybe even anger that there was no Hallmark-like deathbed moment. That feeling was the main one that resonated with both us and him. He was mad at us for making him go to the hospital. In denial to the very end, he swore until his final day that if he could just go back home, if we would just stop getting in his way, he'd be able to get his strength back and be fine again. That he would have been puttering around his apartment chain smoking, watching his conspiracy TV shows, and bitching about the neighbors whose cooking odors always wafted into his apartment and irritated the hell out of him. And we were angry in turn, because all we were trying to do was take care of him and he wouldn't let us. And that back in the days when he was in better shape, before the cancer went supernova and invaded his entire body, it seemed as if we weren't important enough to him to stay healthy for.

Maybe it's also because there were no last I love yous, there were no parting hugs, and because no one really knew how to say it, no goodbyes. But then again, that's how he always was. He was an emotionally remote man, mostly unapproachable, both in life...and in death.

The day he died he'd had a really bad time of it. It had gotten to where we had to decide how medicated to keep him (answer being, make sure he is not in pain even if it meant staying "asleep"), but he kept waking up. His nurses would hold his hand when my sister could not be present to do it herself. And at some point in the early evening, he went to sleep for what would be the last time. At around 11:30 PM the hospital called to tell us he had stopped breathing. By the time my sister arrived, just minutes later, he was gone.

Even though we'd all known that phone call was inevitable, and even though we knew it really was for the best, it still hurt -- and it still has altered the rest of our lives. He will never see my brother get married, he will never see his only grandson grow up, nor will he know any other grandchildren that may eventually come to be. He won't be there to make his chestnut stuffing at Thanksgiving, nor even to just drive us all insane with his wacky (but firmly believed and endlessly repeated) conspiracy theories.

He may have been a lot of things, both for good and for bad, but he will always be the one who let me watch Star Trek for the first time (for which my mother stills holds a grudge). He took my brother to his first baseball game, and he spent hours watching Disney cartoons with my sister. And no matter how old you are, or how far you think you have moved on, how do you ever really move away from those moments? You don't.

I would further like to tell you that he has at least had a nice service and has been laid to rest. Except there has been no service, and he has not been laid to rest.

Unfortunately, his three adult children were basically supporting him financially, and he hadn't put anything away for when this day would come. But the three of us live from check to check, and everything extra that we had is long gone, having been paid towards his medical care. Funeral services -- even absolute bare bones, pardon the pun -- are incredibly expensive. If you have ever seen a local family doing a car wash or other fundraising for one, I completely understand why, because that is pretty much what we are having to do now. My father died penniless and deeply in debt, with no cash, no savings, no property, and no insurance.

My sister has worked tirelessly since his death, and has singlehandedly raised roughly half the cost via various Catholic church groups and organizations. But we are still nowhere near being able to lay him to rest. I normally would not have a Paypal button on the site, as I think the cost of my vittle reviews are mine and mine alone. But I am putting pride aside now. If anyone out there would like to help and is able to donate even so much as a penny, we would all be eternally grateful. I hate to resort to begging, but anything that can be sold has been sold, and every other stone has been turned...hell, even the sofa cushions have been overturned (and have yielded only cat fuzz). You are thanked for even reading this, and I swear we WILL get back to food reviews one of these days.

Thank you again for bearing with me all this time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thank you all! And an update...

I know it has been a really long time since my last post, and I wanted to apologize for that yet again.

But more importantly, I wanted to thank the many of you who have left comments wishing well to both me and my father. It truly means a lot and the fact that you guys took time out of your own lives to take concern for mine is important to me, and I do not want anyone to think I have taken it for granted.

It looks like we are in the home stretch of my father's illness. Cancer is not exactly known for playing fair. But in his case, it gave him more than ample warning before it decided to just take over. That may sound harsh -- but the sad truth is that what he has now started out as localized bladder cancer; which, if you must get a type of cancer at all, is one of the better ones to get. I say "better" only because in most cases it is extremely slow-growing and non-aggressive. (Please keep in mind that I am NOT a doctor; I am merely repeating what has been explained to me. So don't take my word as gospel on this. If you have any questions regarding that matter, or any health matter -- you should take them to your doctor and heed actual medical advice and not mine).

The oncologists have estimated that my father has been living with this for perhaps as long as 25 years -- which is absolutely staggering to everyone who has examined his case. The main tumor has grown so large, and is taking up so much of his abdominal cavity, that it has literally crushed his kidneys to the point they can no longer function on their own. It has also spread to multiple organs and the lymph nodes. Moreover, it didn't just "sneak up" on him without warning, as some cancers are known to do. He has had symptoms since at least 1987.

Yes, you read that correctly. 1987.

How has he lived with the pain all this time? I couldn't tell you. Don't think that the rest of us sat passively by all that time, either. He was urged to see a specialist for decades -- and not only by family, but several GP's have also told him over the years to seek out further testing and treatment. But he refused to go. Why? I have no idea. He wouldn't tell us why then, and he still won't tell us now. So sadly, the moral of the story is that an ounce of prevention -- for which he had a very, very long period of opportunity -- would have kept him from dying the way he is going to, and at the young age (by modern standards) of 65.

I would be lying if I told you there's not anger on the part of my siblings and I. It hurts that we were not enough to make him want to stay healthy back when he had the chance. The things we have had to do and the choices we have had to make on his behalf have not been easy ones. And at times during the last month, he has made a point of telling us he was mad at us, he has blamed us for his being in the bed he is lying in because we forced the issue and sent him to the hospital. We hope that these statements are mostly out of his understandable fears -- but knowing him, the answer is "who the hell knows?" We all know that sometimes it is easier to blame others than to admit you screwed up. He insists that had it not been for us, he would still be at home, same as always -- when in reality he would have died from kidney failure somewhere around the first week of May had we not physically forced him to go to the hospital. (In fact, when he was admitted, his blood was so toxic that the doctors warned us he might die within hours, even with the emergency treatment they were giving him.) And all things considered, looking at what he is having to go through now, we do sometimes lie awake at night asking ourselves if we did the right thing.

I wish I had gotten to spend the past months as I have for the past few years -- blissfully reviewing the various goodies I love and sneaking in snarky comments about how hot Ryan Reynolds' abs are. Instead, I have spent the time learning first hand how screwed up the medical system is when it comes to being the family of the patient. From plenty of personal experience I already know the ins and outs from the patient's side -- and let me tell you, I far prefer being the patient and being in control of the situation, or should it call for my advance directive determining my shots. Anyone who has also been there can tell you it is an exhausting, seemingly never-ending fight with insurance companies, hospital administration, keeping the independent hospice agents who roam the hospital corridors off your back, and yes, even the hospital staff themselves sometimes.

There are a lot of wonderful, caring Doctors, RNs, LVNs and other support staff members out there, and he has been lucky to have them taking care of him. There are also some who you have to ask yourself why they ever chose medicine in the first place (money, no doubt). I could tell you enough horror stories from the past month alone to keep us here another month -- at least.

I wish I could tell you guys that this will at least end in some sort of closure for him and for us. And I think if I could tell you that it would probably give the story more of a bad made-for-basic-cable movie feel -- but that wouldn't be true. In the end, because of the nature of my father's personality, we are going to be left with more questions than answers.

I am not going to end this post with some sappy urgings to go tell a relative or a friend how much you love them, or to go randomly hug people. There are enough other blogs out in the world you can get that from -- and that's just not me. Glurge has never been one of my strengths.

But I will tell you that I cannot stress enough how important it is for the sake of those you love, or if you just have strong beliefs on what you want done in the event of a serious medical condition. So many things, even horrible things like cancer, have so many more options the sooner they are caught. And in the event of a serious situation, one of the best tools to have on your side (besides a good doctor) is an advance directive or a living will (and heads-up, fellow Californians -- you can fill out an advance directive form for free. All you need are two witnesses who are not related to you, nor are your caregivers, to watch you sign the form) or again, depending on your personal situation, maybe granting power of attorney to someone. These documents map out whatever it is that YOU want done during a time when you may no longer be able to make those decisions. Without something in place, your family or partner or whomever, even if they know your wishes may not legally be allowed to speak for you. In those cases, it is up to whatever your state's protocol/laws dictate happens to you. From someone who is going through the end of a parent's life with no very little say in anything because he had nothing in place, I think that one of the kindest last things you can leave your loved ones with is the knowledge that your last wishes -- even if they did not agree with them -- are being fulfilled. Please don't make them go through the process of having to watch you go endure things they know you didn't want -- or worse, be asked to make the choice as to whether you live or die (unless, of course, they are the power of attorney; in which case they have agreed to take those choices on). I am probably doing a horrible job of putting this experience into words, but if this makes sense to just one person and they take my advice to heart and it helps their loved ones when the time comes, then I will feel like something good came out of this.

Once again, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and I vow that there will come reviews once again.