My father’s life ended in an instant. Sitting in his favorite chair watching TV after dinner, he threw his hand up in the air and it was over.
He was 81 when he passed away in 2001.
I remember that fateful night like it was yesterday. That night I received a frantic call from my mother, “I can’t wake up your father.”
I told her to call 911 and that I was on my way. I was still working at the time as a police officer and called 911 requesting that a patrol car also respond which they did. I was thinking maybe one was close by and seconds can count in these types of emergencies.
When I got there my father was laying in front of his chair while the paramedics and firefighters were fighting to bring him back. I knew he was gone. My mother was in the kitchen scared to death. In a split second my role in life would change. My mother became my priority, but as I was to discover that too can change in an instant. My father always made the decisions in the family and I knew it was my time to step in and care for my mother, even though she showed great strength in taking over the care of her home where my father left off.
My personal date with a near death experience came June 14, 2003. My heart stopped in front of the North Point Precinct while I was confronting a suspect, and I hit the ground not breathing. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the officers standing around me and their quick response, along with the dedicated work of the paramedics and firefighters, I’m here to write this blog, but more than that, it reveals the perilous journey of which I speak.
In essence, after I left the hospital my then-83-year-old mother, the one I had dedicated myself to taking care of was in fact caring for me. Just as she did in raising me as a child, she again gave me life and after I recovered I felt some sense of those hope-filled days which were epitomized in Frank Capra’s classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
Again, life’s journey took another perilous turn. While cutting the grass in 2007, my brother called me and told me he was experiencing chest pains. When he advised me they were prolonged, I knew it was an emergency and told him to call 911. Being hard-headed, he drove himself to the Franklin Square Emergency Room and was sent to Johns Hopkins Hospital by ambulance for bypass surgery.
Again my mother, now 86, insisted on taking care of my brother after his surgery. You don’t say no to your mother’s wishes but that too can change as life moves unmercifully on.
Both my brother and I recovered but I gradually saw what every family fears in this day and age where the average life span for women is 83 years—memory issues. Like the cold hard facts, it hits you out of the blue when a comment from out of nowhere strikes fear in your heart and denial in your brain.
You pass it off as an age thing, and pray you never encounter an incident like that again. But like a boxer, this issue uses the jab to wear you down as the fight goes on. After a time you can no longer ignore that life has presented you with another fight, one in the end you can’t win no matter how hard you try.
(Part Two - The Journey Into Dementia)