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Next stop.....MARS!!!

Alzheimer's and Death

Those of you who know Lisa and Joseph's true identity know that Joseph is actually my beloved “father-in-law”, Edward Lane Conley, and he boarded his long awaited flight to Mars last Thursday. Yes, "Mister," as I affectionately called him, passed peacefully from our tangible lives around 6:30 AM, June 1st, with a smile on his face. I say “tangible” lives because I know that he will remain in our hearts and minds for as long as we remain tangible to our loved ones. I like to think the last look on his face was a smile. He was smiling because he knew he had created a legacy in his family and was leaving them well provided for. He was also smiling because he was confident that we would all take care of and continue loving each other. Mostly, he was smiling because he realized that his dream of exploring outer space is now coming into fruition. And as much as we will forever miss Mister Ed, we also know that, in time, we will again be reunited with him in some universe.

The last four weeks of Mister Ed's life felt torturous to us because he lay in a hospital bed with Hospice care, a quality of life that was positively unbearable to witness. But I think in the grand scheme of things, Mister actually had a relatively peaceful and painless transition. Moreover, he maintained his true self and continued to laugh at my silliness the entire time. Mister seemed to choose exactly when he died, as he had time to say his goodbyes and took his last breath when everyone was asleep so as not to burden any of us. As a matter of fact, after being in bed for three weeks, Mister rallied himself into a wheelchair to attend his youngest granddaughter’s engagement party. I think he knew he was not going to make it to her wedding later this summer. The pure joy expressed on his face was infectious to everyone there. Little did we know that the party was Mister’s last party on earth. I know I will treasure that day forever, as I am sure his granddaughter also will.

Despite his ongoing depression and belief that he did not have many (if any) summers left with us, Mister’s rapid decline came as a surprise to us. It started with him suddenly not being able to support his own body weight. He basically remained in bed all day. The next day we took him to the doctor where we learned he had atrial fibrillation and possibly suffered another minor stroke. We also discovered that Mister had a broken toe from two falls he had taken in the middle of the night (again, something we were unaware of). The problem with atrial fibrillation is that it can lead to blood clots and increased risk of strokes. The most effective treatment option is typically blood thinners. The problem with blood thinners is that Mister was clearly a fall risk and falling while on blood thinners could be fatal. At this point, the doctors reported ongoing unusual activity in Mister’s brain (likely TIAs or mini-strokes) and we were not sure he would make it through the day in the hospital. After much discussion and debating their inner demons, Mister’s children and wife made the all too difficult and tearful decision to stop all of Mister’s medications and allow him to spend his last days at home under Hospice care. We said our goodbyes in the hospital because we were not sure if we had hours, days, weeks or months left with our beloved patriarch.

Each day of Mister Ed’s first two weeks at home felt like a roller coaster. Some days he ate. Some days he didn’t. Some days he slept all day – some days he laughed all day. We didn’t know what to expect, which is why we encouraged him to attend the engagement party. Mister’s last real meal came two days after the party. We brought him “bugs” (Buffalo Wild Wings) and he consumed eight boneless wings with gusto! Could it be that he really was rallying? Sadly, no. Mister Ed pretty much stopped eating after that and his decline accelerated. We all spent as many minutes with him as we could not knowing how many more opportunities we would have to say, “I love you.” Each day of that week Mister drifted a tiny bit farther away. It started with his words becoming unclear, but he was still able to recognize and respond to our voices. The last day or two we all hugged each other and kissed Mister’s forehead – not knowing if he was still aware of our presence but knowing that he could feel the power of the love in the room.

When we received the phone call telling us of Mister Ed’s passing on Thursday morning it seemed surreal. In some ways, we were anxiously awaiting this call both knowing it was coming and dreading the permanence of it. In some ways we were hoping the call would come sooner rather than later so we could stop wondering how long Mister would be confined to his bed. We kept telling him that we were going to be ok and it was time for him to head to Mars, but we were not sure he heard us. Despite our awareness that Mister’s days were limited, that phone call was excruciating to all of us. I think one of the hardest things about death is that even when it is imminent, it hurts in every cell of your body. And you don’t know when (or even if) the pain will subside. Worse yet, there is so much “business” to take care of when someone dies that you have to numb yourself to the reality just to make it through each day.

But we have made it through a week. The first week. Every day is a new emotional adventure for all of us. Last weekend we paid tribute to Edward Lane Conley’s legacy. We drove to Stanford University and spoke to our beloved images of him in the chapel. We had a family meal of “bugs” (where I shed most of my tears). We had a family BBQ and all wore orange shirts commemorating the commencement of his journey to Mars. We even had a Coors Light toast in honor of his daily “brewski.”

As we begin our second week without Mister Ed in our physical presence, I am not sure what to expect. I am not sure how to support his children and their children as they resume their “normal” lives. I am not sure how to manage my own grief. What I am sure of is that I am lucky to have known and loved one of the best father-in-laws a woman could ever hope for. I know I will continue to treasure our long drives exploring the South Bay and listening to Engelbert Humperdinck on the radio. I will remember Mister Ed eating ice cream cones in my car and, much to my dismay, tossing the wrappers out the window while we were moving (anyone else who did that would not be allowed back in my car)! I will not forget how it was never good enough to leave Mister with a one-armed hug; it always had to be a full-on bear hug with both arms and a kiss on the lips. So Mister, I am sending you (somewhat begrudgingly) to Mars with the strongest of bear hugs and as many kisses as you want. I thank you for influencing my life and creating the man I love and the family that I am fortunate to be a part of. Most of all, I look forward to, someday, joining you in Mars!

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