The feelings crash through me at an inconsistent pace that I can’t predict or keep up with. Fear. Anger. A deep and draining sadness that shows up and stops me from getting shit done. Sometimes it is just hard to breath. I called his number to prove it was disconnected, which then made me cry harder. I listen to old voicemails that feel like torture and a soothing balm all at the same time. "Chrissy, this is your Father, Ron Pratt." GOD LOVE HIM for stating his name, as if I had multiple Dads. I stare at his picture and know he will walk in at any minute. He just can’t be dead. If I simply refuse to believe it, then it can’t be true-right?
On January 28th, my Dad had surgery to remove a cyst from his brain. After a few weeks in the hospital, he was transferred to an Assisted Living/ Rehabilitation Center. An unexpected blood clot post-surgery did some damage to his cerebellum and he needed to spend time getting stronger. Within 24 hours of being at this facility, my Dad fell out of his wheel chair three times. “The hospital didn’t tell us he wasn’t aware of his own safety,” they told my Mom. The picture my Mom texted me filled my stomach with cement. It was my Dad with a large contusion on his head, and a black eye. His eyes looked so sad. He was in Missouri, and me being so far away in California, felt like drowning.
I didn’t understand how he could have fallen more than one time. How were no corrective procedures put in place after the first fall? Why didn’t the facility do their own safety assessment to see what my Dad’s needs were as soon as he was admitted? What was their plan to keep my Dad safe? I called and spoke with the facility, and their words brought no peace. I let them know that we would be moving him as soon as I found somewhere else for him to go.
I barely slept that night. The next morning was spent on the phone with insurance and other Assisted Living facilities. I was looking for one with a good reputation that accepted my parents insurance and had availability. Several places didn’t have room. A few did, and my Mom and Aunt toured them during a particularly bad snow storm in Missouri. We put in a transfer for the place they liked best. After a couple of days this facility said then said they actually wouldn’t take my Dad. We were back at zero- and I was devastated. I called to see what happened. When my mom toured this place, everything was good to go. “Why won’t you take him?” I pleaded from thousands of miles away. “Because we can’t offer the same level of care as they can,” they told me. “But you are an Assisted Living/Rehab facility too. What do they have that you don’t?” I asked. No answer, except to repeat the sentence again. I realized how similar advocating for slippery special education services was to this new scary world. Why isn’t transparency and safety a guarantee for children with special needs and the elderly? I am sometimes terrified by what we value as a society.
I had to see my Dad, so I booked another flight to Missouri, my second in less than a month. I was trembling with excitement and sadness and hope and fear as I drove there from the airport. Walking in and hugging him was everything. He was still Dad, just now with sad eyes. But he was my Dad, and I knew he would fight to get to the other side of his recovery. I knew I had to put the happy into his eyes again.
Going to Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy with him was my favorite. It was incredible to watch the strongest man I know regain his physical strength. He was so brave. When he had first arrived, he could barely talk, and he couldn't eat real food or stand or walk. Now, not even two weeks in, he was able to speak and he could eat real food. He was working hard on standing and coordinating all the things it takes to walk. It’s remarkable the things we take for granted until they are gone. He tired easily, but I know him better than I know myself and I knew when he needed to rest and when he needed a little extra push to keep going. I was his drill sergeant- cheering him on but pushing him further. The therapists got a kick out of us.
At night he still tried to get up out of bed, so sitter would sit with him. He was strong enough to push himself up, but not strong enough to walk. The last night I was there, I slept next to him in the recliner. We watched Forensic Files on repeat. I slept with one eye open. He would stir- “Everything OK, Pop?” I would ask. And then he would remember that I was with him… remembering the joy in his eyes when he realized it was me sitting next to him is causing me to sob out loud as I type through my tears. “Hello dear.” He would say with his twinkle in his eyes, reaching out his arm to hold my hand. Even when my arm fell asleep from stretching to reach him, I didn’t let go first. He is my heart.
My sisters, Katie, Lisa and I with our hero- our Dad.
His diet had progressed from liquids to purées to chopped foods, to whatever he wanted when I arrived. You better believe I brought in Jalapeño Krunchers and Red Hot Riplets potato chips - our favorites and St. Louis Missouri legends. My Dad and I shared a love of snacking, watching TV and napping, and that’s what we did each day. It was magic.
The other residents there were magic too. I don’t think we should call people who have been on earth the longest “the elderly”. They are so much more. They are the wise. They are the humbled. They are recipients of so much experience. There were a couple of residents 100 years old. I made some new friends. I listed to many stories, and was truly humbled by the perspective only the wise can offer.
I can only imagine how hard it is going from full independence to depending on someone else for your every single move. Having to ask permission to get out of bed or go to the bathroom. We assume people know how to get older, simply because they age. But I think it's surprising and confusing for us all at times.
My Dad wanted to leave this place so badly. “There’s just no dignity here, Chris”, he told me on more than one occasion. Based on how some of the staff interacted with him, I could understand how he felt that way. There were big things and little things. Little things- like assistants walking in- not saying hello or introducing themselves and shoving medicine into his mouth. It’s incredible the difference a little kindness can make. It’s incredible what it’s void can do too.
“This place can’t be your prison.” I told my dad, gesturing around us “Your only job here is to gain your strength back so you can leave. This is temporary. This is the only place that can be your prison,” I told him- tapping on my head. I know first hand how I can imprison myself with my mind more than any circumstance could imprison me. I could feel my Dad’s pain. It was unbearable.
I remember kissing his sleeping forehead on my last day as I left. I held it together until I got to the airport. I called my husband, Michael while waiting for my flight, and all I could do was sob out loud on a couch in Starbucks. “We need to get him out of there,” I told Michael in between sobs. My Dad hated it there, and the thought of making him stay was beyond unsettling. I needed to fix it, and I didn’t know how because my Dad wasn’t yet able to travel. My parents couldn’t go back to their home- it is an old brick building with several old steep and narrow stair cases. My Dad still needed to get stronger before he could leave.
My Dad continued to get stronger. He was able to stand with assistance in therapy, and he was walking the distance of the therapy gym with a walker and the therapists help. A week after my return back to California, I woke up to a text from my mom. I was expecting a picture of my Dad in therapy, kicking ass. Instead I found out he had fallen again. There was a huge lump from the top to the bottom of his forehead, and blood was rising to the surface of his skin. It looked horrific. The sad eyes were back. My Mom walked into the facility that morning, and found my Dad set in a recliner and pushed up to the breakfast table. He had his head down on the table and he was in pain. My mom was told my dad had fallen at around 5am. No one was in his room watching him per orders. He was not seen by a doctor after his fall. He was on blood thinners, which can make falls even more dangerous. It was now three hours later, and my Mom requested that he be taken to the hospital to be seen. An ambulance didn't arrive for another 30 minutes. So much time was wasted.
Soon after arriving to the hospital, my Dad became unresponsive. His skull was filling with blood and causing his brain to swell. After confirming this with a CT scan, he was rushed into surgery. They had to remove a flap from his skull to make room for the swelling and work to stop the bleeding. After a follow up CT scan post-surgery, the doctor confirmed that his head was still bleeding. We had no choice but to let my Dad go.
On March 5th, at 3:30 in the morning, my Dad’s heart made its final few beats. I sat in my closet on the phone with my sisters and Mom, as to not wake Michael and the boys, and we all cried. I wanted to die with him. I kind of thought I was. It hurt more than any words can explain.
Three days later, Greyson, Parker, Michael and I flew to Missouri to say our final goodbyes. It was so wonderful to be with my family, and so horrible to be there without my Dad. My Mom and sisters and I went through old pictures and we laughed and we cried. The 80 year old man I knew, was replaced with every age he had even been. He's one of the best people I've ever known. And now he's gone. I gave my Dad’s eulogy, and it was such an honor to be able to share what a remarkable human he was.
My Grandma Agnes, who died before I was born, my 19 year old Dad and my Grandpa Jesse.
My wedding day with my Dad and Mom, June 24th, 2006. My parents were married for 52 years, and are a remarkable example of what real love is.
Poster Boards my sisters and I put together for his funeral. My Dad was a husband, a real estate owner and property manager (he never retired), a veteran, an uncle, and a friend to many.
It’s not the kind of thing you get over, so I’m learning to live with a dad shaped hole in my life. We all are. My Mom's strength is incredible.
Thank God we have each other. Sisters, Katie and Lisa, me and my Mom.
The sharp pain I felt while crying in my closet has been replaced with a dull and constant ache. Somehow the world goes on without a Ron Pratt in it, although I'm not quite sure how. When burned down to its most basic of elements, this pain is really love. It hurts this much, because we love so much. And it's worth every moment we had.
I'll leave you with some words written by poet, Nekia Thomson, which we included on my Dad's funeral program...
When tomorrow starts without me, please try to understand, that an angel came and called my name and took me by the hand; the angel said my place was ready, In Heaven far above, And that I'd have to leave behind all those I dearly love. But when I walked through Heaven's Gates, I felt so much at home, for God looked down, smiled at me and told me, "Welcome Home." So when tomorrow stars without me, Don't think we're far apart, for every time you think of me, I'm right there in your heart.
I miss you Dad. I am so proud to be your daughter.