[Author’s Note: I started writing this story after my Mother died in 2014, but then that 3rd stroke thing happened, and it took over a year to get my shit back together again well enough for me to figure out how to continue telling it. 8 years later, deciding that a full-length fictionalized true novel (to preserve anonymity) would not do justice to the visceral, soul-crushing experience of overseeing the death of the two people responsible for giving me life was somehow cheap and lazy, and it felt a little like I would be cheating them out of the chance to be known of, read about, or remembered for the legacies they left behind. The title of this so-called mini-memoir is intentionally provocative; it is not my intention to offend anyone here, but I acknowledge that what follows might be difficult for some to read… Trust me, it was difficult for me to write… But if you make it through all three parts, hopefully you will understand why, and maybe even find some small degree of comfort in knowing that, in your own experience, you were never alone. ~ Poff]


It has only been over the past generation or two that the idea of caring for our parents – in their homes or ours – has begun to grow smaller in the rearview mirror of American culture.

As recently as the 1950s (when I was born), it was still “normal” to see two-parent families raising their children together, with Dad bringing home the bacon while Mom took care of everything else.

Back in these “Father Knows Best” days, it was common to see one or more Grandparents living in (or – geographically – very near) the home as well.

By the ’60s and ‘70s, however, much of this began to change dramatically. The American Family splintered and disintegrated; divorce (once only whispered about and never discussed in ‘decent’ company) was becoming an epidemic. Dad moved out, Mom got a babysitter and went to work, and—increasingly—Grandma and Grandpa were dispatched to nearby Nursing homes.

It was as if the American family had broken up with itself.

The reasons for these social and cultural phenomena were many and quite varied, but there were really only two general (yet quite divergent) themes at the heart of the matter: Selfishness and Selflessness.

Where, historically, we all looked out for each other, now an increasing number of people were beginning to look out for no one but themselves. And—especially in the case of Grandma and Grandpa—elder relatives were getting kicked to the curb and cast aside to become somebody else’s problem: Federal, State, and Local Government ‘somebodies,’ to put a finer point on it.

To be sure, there remained a faithful and steadfast contingent of families that continued to care for their elderly loved ones in their homes, but that number sharply dropped. That number continues its steady downward spiral to this day.

As the number of broken families has skyrocketed, and the number of filled nursing home beds rapidly approaches 2% of the American population over 65, the pressure on the entitlement economy is pushing us to the brink of fiscal collapse and ruin. Worse still is the reality that – as the 21st century gets into full swing – the incredible advances in modern medicine are steadily adding years and decades to our life expectancies. People are now living long enough to become tremendous financial burdens on the productive elements of society. This fiscal pressure forces us to continuously re-assess our priorities and weave them into the fabric of our society through new and evermore crafty and creative legislation.

While some of Grandma’s and Grandpa’s kids are finding new ways to keep them alive, others are writing laws to minimize how much it should cost and who will be made to pay. As that battle rages, Grandma and Grandpa must still be loved and cared for properly. They must be fed and clothed and bathed and medicated and kept safe. They also need to be kept comfortable until they’ve breathed their last.

And therein lies the rub.

Some Family Background

Both of my parents were descended from people in Appalachia country; my Father’s people came from the Charleston, West Virginia area and points north, and my Mother descended from people in the larger Harpers Ferry region, in and around the small towns and villages made somewhat famous for being where the battle at Antietam took place during the Civil War.

Both of them were born in 1932; Dad came from coal miners, tradesmen, and farm hands… and generations of alcoholics… And Mom’s people were Church-going, God-fearing, and Bible-thumping circuit-riding Sunday preachers and vegetable and pig farmers. On both sides of the family that I came from, without exception, the natural order of things was to grow up learning the family business or trade, move out, get married, grow a family of your own, and pick up the business of the family where the parents had left off. As the elders aged, it was typically the eldest of the children who would take care of the parents until it was their turn to meet our maker.

What Lies Ahead

In the final days of both my mother and my father, they knew their deaths were imminent, but neither was able to articulate how well they felt they had done with their lives. I knew at least some of what was on their bucket lists, but the opportunity to discuss with them how far they felt they had gotten had passed us by a very long time before their passing.

I can say with certainty that neither of my parents got very far… big ‘D’ dreamers, little ‘a’ achievers they were… although they were certainly never lacking enthusiasm for the next big adventure or life-changing idea they wanted to chase after.

It’s hard to know for sure whether it was a blessing or a curse that I was by the side of each of my parents to see them off on whatever journey follows this life. By the grace of God, I know Mom was in no physical pain at her end. She had been at peace with herself in the earliest days of her dementia, and even though she struggled in the late stages of her Alzheimer’s, she was content with the life she had lived before she lost that final battle.

My father, God rest his tortured soul, suffered unspeakable agony at his end, and being by his side and able to watch the peace finally return to him in his final hours brought me immeasurable personal relief. His had been an incredibly difficult and complicated life, ever the adventurer with but few personal victories along the road. He was a complicated man, hard to love and even harder to forgive, but there was no avoiding a genuine amount of respect and admiration for his refusal ever to give up or stop trying to move forward. When I eulogized him, I quoted a line from a song that summed him and his life up quite succinctly:

“The smell of hospitals in winter and the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls.” – Counting Crows, “Long December”.

My parents were neither rich nor famous; they were not celebrities and no more special than anyone else’s parents. They were, however, good, kind, and loving people, and if they had never met, I would never have been born to inherit bits and pieces of them and their lives so that I could write their story and share it with the rest of the world. Starting with my father, this is precisely what I intend to do.


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