Good morning, ProviderNation.
Having been with this magazine now for eight-plus years, I have much to write about, but I’ve been reluctant when it comes to blog posts. Be it stage fright or a preoccupation with other matters, I have not waded into these waters—until now. This post, my first, is dedicated to my father, who passed away very recently, and to the nursing home staff who cared for him in his final days.
When Dad was gifted a laptop several years ago and began using email, his messages to me (and to my two siblings as well, I have learned) were penned in ALL CAPS. Although I never asked him why this was, I assumed it was because he had hit the “Caps Lock” button and didn’t realize it.
However, since his passing just last month, I now wonder if this was an attempt to broadcast his larger-than-life personality via cyberspace.
Known variously as McGee, Grandpa Jim, and Big Jim, Dad was not a small-letter kind of man. He was—for lack of a more appropriate word—loud: He spoke loudly, he partied loudly, he did nearly everything in his life loudly. Thunderous is another appropriate adjective for his outsized character.
In fact, when I was a child, he reminded me of Fred Flintstone—a thick mop of dark hair, a large figure, large feet, and a very large voice. Dad was not dainty: His six-foot-two, 300-lb. frame gave him an intimidating stature. He blamed his perennial chubbiness on his childhood eating habits and a nanny who never let him go hungry.
Having had a heart attack at the age of 51, Dad was compelled to stop smoking and to eat better. That lasted a couple of years, until I think he realized that he just loved food, cigars, and cigarettes too much to give them up. We all tried to coax him into a healthier lifestyle, but to no avail. He was going to live life on his own terms.
Whether it was tooling around Tawas Bay on his beloved boat, grilling his savory and tangy barbequed short ribs, playing poker with the kids, or getting together with one or more of his seven brothers to imbibe in his favorite “spirits,” Dad was an all caps character who had no compunction about having a good time, even when he was in pain—and pain was a prominent part of his life for many years.
He was just 73 years old when he passed on a cold Sunday evening at Lakeview Manor Healthcare Center in Tawas City, Mich., where he had been since October. Among other things, Dad had congestive heart failure–an ailment that rendered him heartbreakingly weak for nearly eight months before his death.
He died just an hour or so after my mother left the nursing home, having spent the entire day by his side. A nurse held Dad’s hand as he took his final breaths. The guilt of not being with him in those moments weighs heavily on Mom, but she is comforted by the knowledge that someone was there with him.
Mom didn’t know that nurse, but she assured Mom that Dad always knew her name when she came in for her evening duties.
“The care he received at Lakeview was the most loving I have ever seen,” my mother, who was an RN herself for more than 30 years, told me. “They treated your father like he was family.”
And Dad, true to form, did know each of their names—and he no doubt charmed each of them as well, in spite of his misery and frailty.
My family’s experience with Lakeview serves as a strong reminder of the kind of dedication, mettle, and fortitude that those who work on the frontlines of long term care must possess. It’s not an easy job, but millions of people in this profession do it every single day.
I’ve just realized that I haven’t even mentioned what Dad did for a living, for nearly 35 years. You can probably guess. Just know that his was a life well lived—and that is something to be admired.
Meg LaPorte is managing editor of Provider.