By: Mary Fran Bontempo
If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed we were a little light on content last week at NRFGP. A re-run from me on Tuesday, nothing fun on hump day and from Friday on, well, “Fuhgeddaboudit.” Thankfully, NRFGP friends and contributors, Pat Achilles and Chrysa Smith were on their game, as always, and filled in the blanks with their great work.
So, here’s why: Last week, after a long illness, my husband’s father passed. The services were Wednesday (a bit rushed as we had to get things done by Wednesday of the Christian Holy Week or no Catholic Mass until the Monday after Easter) and obviously, there was much to do. Yet this was no “ordinary” passing, given the extraordinary circumstances in the Bontempo household over the past 100 days.
The abridged version–Dave’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer and dementia last April. Although his four sons were all helping with doctor’s appointments and care, it was Dave’s mother who was his primary care-giver, living with her husband in the home they shared. Everyone else picked up the slack, but it wasn’t really on us.
Everything changed when Dave’s mother, Marie, fell on January 2nd and fractured a wrist and pelvis, which, frankly, we thought was bad enough. January 6th, the day Marie was to come home, Dave received an emergency call from a doctor telling him that Marie had suffered a brain bleed and needed emergency surgery. We ran to the hospital to begin what was to become a 97 day odyssey caring for Marie between hospitals and nursing homes, while also taking over the care of Dave’s father, now left needing 24/7 assistance.
We didn’t do it alone; we couldn’t have. Dave’s three brothers, their wives, and all of our children came together in an astounding, overwhelming effort to manage medicines, doctor’s appointments, visits, maintenance of the home and whatever else needed doing.
I’m not gonna lie; it was awful. Honestly, you couldn’t script much worse in terms of what can happen to aging parents. As Dave’s dad, Dante, continued to fail, our concern was getting Marie home before it was too late.
On April 10th, Marie came home. The day before, the decision had been made to put Dante in an in-patient hospice facility. Dante had been basically unresponsive for days, but when Marie was wheeled to his bedside, with other family around, he rallied. He seemed to know her and even said a few words. Yet nothing prepared us for Marie’s words to him.
“Danny, do you know what today is? It’s April 10th. Do you remember? We were engaged on April 10th in 1955.”
Their last night together was the same date as their engagement 59 years before. Dante went into hospice care the next day and passed on two days later.
So why am I sharing in this space, which is usually reserved for fun? Because, yes, it was awful. Marie still struggles and will likely never be her former self, but she is improving. Yet in the midst of all of the awful, there was fun–often of the black humor variety, but still.
There was the time Marie threatened to call a cab and take it home from the hospital if we wouldn’t “get me out of here.” (She didn’t, although she called all of us with a version of the same threat multiple times daily for weeks.) And there was Dante, once in the middle of praying the Our Father, who suddenly blurted out his distaste for local DJ, Jerry Blavat. “That Jerry Blavat–he ain’t worth sh*t!” (To the best of our knowledge, Jerry Blavat never even met Dante. We’re not sure why the venom. Sorry, Jerry.)
But there was also pure joy, as when both my son, David, and my daughter, Megan, got engaged–to wonderful people. And guess what else? I am actually going to be a grandmother–David and Kelly are expecting.
During this long, miserable winter, we held each other up, finding laughter and a renewed strength in the midst of a giant mess. Things are settling down, thank God, but the point is that life goes on, love always wins and finding joy and laughter in each and every day makes life worthwhile.
Thanks to all of our wonderful friends and family for their many kindnesses through this challenging time. Now, it’s back to some lightness and fun–and I really, really can’t wait to get to the beach this summer. Keep smiling, everyone.