A troubled man’s re-conversion and death

I’ve only known one person who had serious and prolonged doubts about religion who ever permanently returned to it, and that person was my father. He didn’t regain his religion because he finally found answers to the questions that had plagued him, but because his wife died and this left him alone, feeble, in failing health. His only help came from his daughter who found little time for him despite the fact that she lived in a house that he had built for her next to his own.

After his re-conversion, Dad and God conversed at length every night. God invariably monopolized the conversation, but Dad never complained. One of God’s messages was that Dad was about to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, so he no longer needed his life savings. Dad told everyone at church that he had already won because in his mind, the fact that his number hadn’t actually been drawn was a technicality. His brothers and sisters in the Lord (Church of Christ people call one another brother and sister) were so delighted that they stopped treating him like a disheveled old eccentric who ranted during services, but like a beloved elder whom they were very glad to see. I called his preacher, and told him that my Dad had very little in the way of life savings, and that he hadn’t won a damn thing. The preacher suggested that I just wanted the money for myself.

A few months later, Dad left Mississippi and moved to Oregon to live with Peggy and me. Each morning over breakfast, he would stare at us through Ancient Mariner eyes as he conveyed God’s latest message. We comforted ourselves with the knowledge that he at least hadn’t brought his yard sign to Oregon, the one announcing that he was a “Prophet of God.” He did bring his habit of standing up in church and rebuking the congregation because, as God told him, they sinned by not using the King James Bible. The people in the two churches he attended here were as obstinate in their sins as the ones in Mississippi (living prophets are usually considered insane), so he eventually stayed home on Sundays.

His next brainstorm was to order business-size cards containing his name followed by the word “prophet,” our address, and the sentence, “Come see me if you need help.” He planned to give these cards to homeless mean and anyone else who looked down and out. Peggy and I stopped laughing about the hellfire sermons he was inflicting upon churches now that he represented a threat to our own lair. It was tough knowing that we simply had to impose our will upon this man who had been mentally ill since childhood and who valued independence above life itself. Indeed, Dad’s drive for independence was such that he would permanently balk if he even suspected that someone might be trying to persuade him to do something.

Peggy and I were the only people I ever knew who had an intuitive understanding of how to present a proposal to him in such a way that he wouldn’t lower his head like a bull and start building toward an explosion. On his worse days, a person needed tact to ask my father if he wanted a cup of coffee (“I don’t have to beg!”). On his best days, we could come right out and ask him to do almost anything as long as we made it clear that it would be a tremendous favor for which we would be eternally grateful. So it was that we picked a good day to ask him to cancel his card distribution program, and he agreed. We weren’t always so lucky, and there were two occasions on which one or the other of us simply had to say, “I’m sorry, Tom [Peggy called him Tom; I called him Dad], but such-and-such just isn’t going to happen.”

Peggy’s turn to confront him came when we told him that we were going to build a room for him at the other end of the house because we were a married couple and needed our privacy, Dad said he would go live under the bridge across the street if we didn’t want him with us anymore. Peggy responded, “I’m awfully sorry to hear that, Tom. We’ll really miss you, and if you ever want to move into the room we’re going to build, you’ll be welcome. Then, she asked if he would like to go shopping for furnishings for the new room, and he said he would. My father’s love for Peggy was one of the thing that touched me most about him.

My father said that his time with Peggy and me was the happiest of his life, yet he realized that his deteriorating condition posed a threat to his independence, and for this and other reasons, he decided to die by not taking his Lasix (a diuretic that he used for congestive heart failure). Other reasons that he wanted to stop his medicine were: he felt it beneath his dignity to take pills for a chronic ailment (“I’d rather be dead than to know that my life’s in that bottle,”); he believed God wanted him to go off his medicine as a test of faith, and would save him at the last minute; and he said that drug companies were greedy, and he had rather die, “…than to let the sons-of-bitches cheat me.”

I experimented with sneaking his pills into his food and found that I could get away with it indefinitely. I couldn’t justify it though. I had to think about the matter long and hard because I wanted to be sure that I was deciding on the basis of fairness and compassion rather than my desire to be free of the stress of being his caregiver. I talked the situation over with Peggy and several friends, and they validated my decision. That was important to me because my own feelings were so ambivalent. The crux of the matter was whether Dad was sane enough to make such a choice, but since he had always been insane, the distinction seemed less important than it would with someone who was acting out of character.

Nine days before his death, Dad apparently lost hope that God would save him because he said to me, “I want you to promise that you won’t let me suffer, even if you have to ease me out.” I promised, although I felt annoyed that he was willing to put me in possible legal jeopardy when he had already endured so much suffering without ever once thinking to ease himself out. I had grown up listening to this man threaten suicide so often that it got boring, and now he wanted me to kill him! Still, I considered it my duty. Death is no stranger to me, and I know I could euthanize someone. If you’re horrified by this, let me inform you that I’m no less horrified to live in a country that thinks it’s God’s will to let people suffer to any extreme, no matter how hopeless their condition. 

Drowning over a period of days or weeks isn’t the worst possible death, but it’s plenty bad enough.  In fact, it’s so bad that my father needed many attempts before he was able to pull it off.  A day after he would stop his Lasix, he would look puffy, and his breathing would become labored. A few days after that, he would be too weak and uncoordinated to walk, and it would take him considerable effort just to lift a spoon to his mouth. His skin would turn the color of burgundy; and he would gasp for air like a fish out of water, his whole body swollen. He might stick it out for a week or more before he would go back to the Lasix. By the next day, he would be a new man.

The good part about dying of congestive heart failure is that when you’re pretty far gone, you fall into a coma. After that, you don’t appear to suffer, but the people who are sitting there listening to you drown on the green slime that bubbles continuously from your nose and mouth are doing plenty of suffering for you. Against his wishes, I saved my father the first time he came close enough to death to pass out, but after the cursing he gave the doctors, the nurses, and me when he awakened in the ER, I knew he was ready to die and that I was ready to let him. That was two years before the end, and as bad as those two years were, I’m proud that I didn’t ship him off to some waiting room for the grave like my sister wanted to do, and I’m proud that I married a woman who treated my father as lovingly as if he had been her own. Without Peggy, who knows what my father’s last years would have been like.

33 comments:

Helen said...

Incredible tribute to your Peggy .. and a glimpse into the heart of Snowbrush. You are right about those goddamned drug companies!!!

The Elephant's Child said...

Snow this is such a beautiful and heart-rending post. I am so glad that you married Peggy (probably nearly as glad as you are). She sounds like a woman in a million, gentle, loving and pragmatic. A good mixture.
And yes, a coma may be OK for the patient, it is more than hard on the people left behind.

Kay Dennison said...

Wow!!!! What an ordeal for everyone involved!!!!! Peggy is a saint!!!!!!!!

Rita said...

Now I can understand even better why you don't believe in God. But you and Peggy are damn good people. Better than most I've known who went to church regular and liked to remind people often that they are Christians (like my sister, woe is me). Peggy is a good soul. You both did right by your crazy old dad. ;)

Beau's Mom said...

If we have souls, yours and Peggy's are in no need of outside help from anyone - and I hope your sister's house fell down around her head. I'm in a mess of trouble down here with the first of many so-called doctors tomorrow. I don't know him but he's the only one who takes our insurance.

I'm going in with the attitude: "I'll listen to you, but do it MY way. Because as long as the ball is in my court, I have some control".

Oh, I'm sure he'll be glad to bill my insurance company and hope he's seen the end of me. It's mutual.

And if I ever need to take my gigantic backlog of "easy-out" pills, I'll call you and get some encouragement.

You're my hero.

kylie said...

the way you love people makes me all choked up, snow.

i wish there was more of it

OneOldGoat said...

Snowbrush - this has to be one of my favorite posts. In a short post, you've said so much. Thanks, friend.

RiseUp said...

Snow, yours and Peggy's commitment to Tom is as amazing as your ability to recall it all with such detailed feeling. I spent two weeks with my Dad in the hospital as he failed organ by organ, breath by breath. I came back to New York, grieved deeply for a month... and then put the highlights right out of my mind.

I'm glad to have finally found a way to receive notifications about your posts. I know you've heard this a thousand (or more) times, but you are a gifted writer and a joy to read.

Chris R.

Dion said...

Dude, am I losing my mind or did you write about your dad's religion in a previous post. I distinctly remember the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes part. Deja vu?

As happenstance would have it, I've enjoyed the first correspondence with my father in about 20 years. I feel more whole. Our silence shouldn't have gone on like this, year after year. I should have reached out to my dad a long time ago, but I waited... and waited... until so much time had passed that I couldn't bring myself to contact him. Thankfully, he finally wrote me a letter last week to break the ice. Tears of joy.

Snowbrush said...

I thank you all so much. Yes, Dion, I've written about my father previously, but I didn't consult the earlier post in the writing of this one, so I don't even know how they differ. The previous one was written prior to marijuana, and this one while high. I find that marijuana often leads me to write many times about the same experience, but each time from a different angle. Since my last post was about my own religion, it seemed natural in this post to write about my father from the perspective of his religion.

"Now I can understand even better why you don't believe in God."

It has nothing to do with my father. I was at my most religious during my teens and twenties, which was a time when my father neither spoke about religion nor went to church, at least not very often. My doubts started at age 11 or 12 and concerned the fact that God was presented to me as good, yet he did much evil in the Old Testament. I couldn't reconcile the two, and neither could anyone else, so, although I was very devoted to my religion at the time, my ever increasing doubts were pulling me from it.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

What a beautiful tribute to your Peggy! I so do not understand why euthanasia is considered so horrible. I would rather just get it over with rather than bear the suffering I've seen...

Myrna R. said...

I relate very much to this episode of your life and Peggy's. It's so hard to be a caretaker.

My mother, now deceased, had a good temperament. But due to Alzheimer's, her behaviors were too difficult for me to manage at home after six years. Mother-in-law has been difficult all her life. After four years, we couldn't continue to tolerate her behaviors either. We cared for her for four years at home, then wound up putting them both in nursing homes. Mother-in-law is very unhappy there, but she was unhappy always. She reminds me a little of your dad. She's ninety-two. Anyway, I do admire that you and Peggy persevered 'til the end.

PhilipH said...

Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. About right in your Dad's case Snowy.

Again, religion has so much to answer for. Makes everybody mad, in more ways than one.

Catholic church is the maddest of the mad. The heads of this so-called church can all go to hell as they are no use on earth. They have so many crass ideas whilst some of their priests are vile paedos.

Thank God I'm not religious!

Joe Todd said...

Snow you are always a good read. I always end up spending a good bit of time here reading one post after another. Hope you have a good Spring

Stafford Ray said...

Snow, amen to all the above.
I agree with your dad that the King James version is the best. While presenting myth as fact, and a genocidal maniac as a loving god, it still manages to fool people into believing otherwise, partly by employing such beautiful language!
However, as I head into the last act of my life, I cannot believe a loving god, who created our amazingly complex birth process, could fail to provide a similarly efficient exit!

Chrisy said...

Thank you dearest for sharing this. I'm so pleased your dad had you and Peggy.... I really identify with the way you had to communicate with him so that he wouldn't get upset...this is where I am now with my own Dad...always a difficult man but more so with dementia added to the mix...I can't relate to the belief in God but my Dad's always been 'Catholic' and these days I really don't mind...it does seem to give him comfort...he really believes that he'll soon go to be with God... It's a damned difficult job this looking after aging parents, but, I suspect, a privilege too...a time for patience and growth... It's a bit like having babies again...and we all know they need to be treated kindly and have lots of gentle touches...

Marion said...

What an incredible love story, Snow. It made me love Peggy even more. I would have loved to have talked to your Dad. Sounds like he was a man ahead of his time, a real individual in a world of clones. You were truly blessed to have each other. Great post!! xo

Robin said...

Dear Snow...how well I understand this post. My Father died from congestive heart failure too. I was his caregiver for the final 18 months of life...but the last two he spent in hospital because I was working, recently seperated and couldn't physically lift him. I was at the hospital every night - all day on weekends...and it was hard to watch him slowly fade. He slipped into a coma his final week.... It was rough....you and Peggy know....

Peggy is an Angel (sorry - but in my eyes, she is)....and you, too handled a difficult situation as best you could....you were a good son...your father knows this.

Big Hugs to you and Peggy...and of course, to the Fur0Kids!

♥ Robin ♥

Gaston Studio said...

Oh my, I'm glad I've never been faced with having to make such a decision but I admire you, Snow, and your Peggy; that can't have been easy.

All Consuming said...

I found this post so touching, the strength of you and Peggy, the patience you had, and the love you have for each other too, under what was the most trying of circumstances.
"Death is no stranger to me, and I have complete confidence that I could euthanize anyone. If you’re horrified by this, let me inform you that I’m no less horrified to live in a country that thinks it’s God’s will to let people suffer to any extreme, no matter how hopeless their condition." Not horrified of course, I agree entirely and admire you for saying so. I'm glad you and Peggy have the time you have now together, albeit with your health problems. Having love like that and being in pain is immeasurably better than being well with no love at all. And then there's all of us loving you too. xx

Charles Gramlich said...

Peggy knows psychology it would appear!

Snowbrush said...

"Peggy knows psychology it would appear!"

She's had a lot of informal field experience, you might say because of insanity in her family and mine. Oddly, she has always held a very strong and unwavering resolve to avoid at all costs working on the psych ward. I could never BE a nurse, but if I were a nurse, I would head straight for the psych ward as did my half-sister.

The Blog Fodder said...

You two are good people, Snowbrush. You did right by your dad even if it was hard.

Snowbrush said...

"You two are good people..."

Thank you, Fodder. I know that I annoy you at times, and compliments from people who have their issues with me mean a great deal.

Zuzana said...

A great read as always. I love the way you write, because you do not hold back. I love your honesty. Love and being with someone we love gets us through anything. I think the love between you and Peggy is what made your father's last years happy.;) There is nothing like when a great man meets a great woman.
Thank you for stopping by my place, I am on an extended break, living life and loving it - just got engaged.;) Stopped by here as the cover picture of this post peaked my curiosity (it shows on my sidebar).;)
And by the way, what is Lyptis?;)
Take care, be back blogging at the end of May or so;))
xoxo

Phoenix said...

This is another fantastically touching post from you. My dad's been deeply religious (and deeply abusive) for most of his life, and I honestly don't know how I'd handle it if he needed me to take care of him. You seem to have more of a genuine heart and consideration for for others than most of the Christians I know.

Snowbrush said...

Zuzana, I'm so glad you came by, babe. Hope you're still enjoying that new family you picked up along life's way.

"You seem to have more of a genuine heart and consideration for for others than most of the Christians I know."

I'm going to be blunt as hell here. Where you have a deeply caring person who is a Christian, I believe with all my heart that he or she is that way DESPITE CHRISTIANITY rather than because of it. All Christianity does is to set the "sheep" apart in their own little tribes from which they look out at the rest of us (the "goats," as the Bible puts it) with a jaundiced eye and wonder (this is true for many millions of them) how they might better bring us under their control (hence the popularity of the Republican Party, although I'm aware that many Christians are not Republicans). There is absolutely nothing enobling about Christianity, and I can but say that I am very glad indeed to know a great many Christians who are somehow able to transcend their religion.

Beau's Mom said...

Snow, I love it when you are "blunt as hell" because your comment was so succinctly put and allows me to know that my feelings can be put into one sentence: "There is absolutely nothing ennobling about Christianity".

Their sense of being on a higher plane than others flies in the face of "religion" yet they never realize it.

Ed Pilolla said...

peggy indeed sounds like a gift, to you and your father. you're a lucky man. your father's preacher thinking you wanted the money for yourself was a riot. clean writing-- the relationships come through clearly.

my dad asked me to off him as he drew near to a morphine-induced slow end to his stomach cancer. i said sure. i'd provide that service, just as i might ask for it someday. it never came to that.

Steve E said...

Snowbrush, I came here to respond to a comment you left--somewhere?--asking about a 'dry drunk' syndrome.

Answer: Alcoholism is a disease of which alcohol is but a symptom. So when I quit boozing long ago, the disease remained. It is one of thos illnesses which if ya don't have it...you simply CANNOT understand it, even counselors do NOT really 'know'.

When discussing alcoholism, I can only speak for myself--the same with ANY alcoholic, although some think they really have all the answers.

NOW, having said WHY I came here, I wish to tell you...I got to read some about you and your family in such well-placed words that I was touched deeply, on several levels.

I shall return but probably never 'catch up'. Time--even at my age, is "of the essence" even though not in the real estate contractual meaning.
Thank you
PEACE! To ALL of us Peeps!

Marion said...

I'm so glad you and Peggy stepped up to help your father during his years. You both did everything in your understanding and power to make his life more tolerable.

"I’m proud that I didn’t ship him off to some waiting room for the grave like my sister wanted to do"...If I'd had the chance I would have done the same with my parents. It wasn't the case, though.

Superb post! xx

C Woods said...

I applaud you because you both have so much patience.

When my mother had dementia, I hired in-home help and spent two days a week with her. It was so exhausting to deal with her irrationality, I'm sure I could not have done it full-time.

julie said...

You are an amazing writer! You often touch something in me that leads to tears...but you can make me laugh out loud too. And what you share is so human. I can't think of any other way to say it.
I moved to another city to be with my mom during her last 9 months...and when the time came I helped her exit. I am grateful I was able to keep her from one of those waiting for death places, or a long stay in a hospital bed all hooked up. Our hospice nurse said ''no matter what, do not call an ambulance''. That time is big in me. I loved her very, very much.
Snow I wish you were feeling better...wish I could help, as I'm sure all your readers do.
And I am so gland you have a Peggy in your life.