On His Terms

We lost my father this year to congestive heart failure. This is not a story about sadness and resentment but rather a tribute to my dad who lived a happy life despite his medical condition.

Treating the whole patient

When he was diagnosed about 7 years ago we thought that he would not make it to the end of the year. He could barely walk and was very out of breath and uncomfortable. We sought out a specialist who worked with a heart failure clinic. The news that your loved one has a serious medical condition that has no cure was hard news to take. The clinic was designed to treat the whole patient, not just the heart failure itself.

I wouldn't have had it any other way

We lost my mom many years prior to my dad's diagnosis. She was my best friend and his partner for life. I was always close to my dad but my mom was my go-to person as well as his and we now had to adjust to this new dynamic. We had to learn to function without her and navigate a daughter-father team that I’m so grateful to have had. If you asked me in the midst of some of the chaos that was our lives, I would have told you he was driving me crazy. If you asked me now I would tell you I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Cooking for family and friends

Poppy, as everyone called him, was a strong Italian man who loved his family and loved food and drink. He talked non-stop about the meals he was preparing and would cook for the entire family and friends almost to the end of his time with us.

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This was our biggest challenge with Pop. The clinic had to find different ways to get him excited about cooking on a low salt, no alcohol program. We emptied his cabinets, went shopping, and looked up recipes that the dietitian recommended. The last vice pop needed to give up was his cigars. It took some time but he was able to do it for quite a while.

A good quality of life

Once we made these changes pop was doing much better. The years passed and although he was still in heart failure, his symptoms were in control and he had a good quality of life. He lived in Florida in the winters and came home for the summers.

The last few seasons became very challenging for my father and the family. He had done so well for many years and was nearing his 80th birthday. We could see his resolve had changed and began to notice the cigar and Scotch were back. The food became more flavored and he was back to making his signature meals. I had to fly to Florida many times and stay for extended periods to get him back on his feet after hospitalizations.

Taking its toll

As caregivers, this took a toll on both my brother who Pop lived with in the summer, and myself who had to drop my life, children, and husband to fly to Florida to take care of him. We begged him to stay at home and go back to his “heart smart living”. As time passed we began to realize that no amount of begging or lecturing was going to change my dad. He had turned 80, lived almost 7 years longer than expected, and was ready to live life on his terms.

It was extremely hard for me to accept the fact he wanted to still be in Florida when I could take care of him at home. The thought of him alone, in need of help, not feeling well, not able to care for himself the way I would take care of him, was heart-wrenching. It was my brother who finally said to me that we needed to let him live out whatever time he had left the way he wanted to spend it.

Life on his terms

At the onset of heart failure, he made the changes he needed to make to stay with us, take care of us, get us a bit further in life. It was now our turn to let go! What mage him happy was his small little condo all on one floor so he had no steps to climb, no snow on the ground to fight through on the way to our doctors' appointments. In the good days he loved a cigar at the pool and talking to his buddies, cooking for the grandkids, and a football game and a Scotch on a Sunday afternoon. This is what he wanted and this is what we gave him life on his terms.

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