Saint Stephanie

I’ll be forever grateful for the care and comfort my unselfish wife has provided to my dying father

By Ryan French

How do you say thank you to your wife for taking care of your dying dad? My dad’s decline has come swiftly; as I type downstairs in my office, the Hospice nurses are giving him medicine only for his comfort. He suffered another stroke last night, and the end is (hopefully) near. My hope is that by the time you read this, he will be gone. And, of course, my wife, Stephanie, is at his side, next to the hospital bed that was moved into the house today. She has put a cool cloth on his forehead, swabs the inside of his mouth for the saliva he can’t swallow anymore, and changes his diapers, something she has done for weeks since he lost the ability to go to the bathroom himself. How do you say thank you for that?

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In June, as my dad’s health continued to rapidly decline, we sold our house in Illinois and moved back home to northern Michigan. My brother, Scott, and his family graciously offered their vacation home for the six of us (Steph, Jackson, Annie and our two dogs) to live in for free. Stephanie was tasked with being Dad’s primary caretaker, and she put her nursing career on hold to do so. In the first few months, she babysat as Mom ran errands. Then she started making meals for my parents, as Mom was too exhausted to cook. During this time, I was traveling, filming a golf show. I’d call to complain about a shoot that went wrong or my frustration with flights. I look back and think how selfish that was. At home, the bad days ran together and included emergency trips from my parents’ house to address the crisis of the day. Steph was involved in all of that too, when she wasn’t getting the kids ready for school and/or cleaning the house. How do you say thank you for that? 

The trips to my parents’ house—26 miles one way—were being made almost daily, so at Christmas, my parents moved in with us. During most of that time, my dad, lost in dementia, or depressed at the situation, was angry with everyone, including the person who was wiping his ass. On occasion, Dad had lost the ability to go to the bathroom and feed and bathe himself. Steph did it all for him. How do you say thank you for that? 

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Last week Steph and I took our 7-year-old son, Jackson, to the University of Michigan for a neurology appointment. Jackson had been a bit clumsy of late, tripping and falling more than a 7-year-old should. The neurologist confirmed that he had balance issues and would need an MRI. It will be in early March, and if it confirms the problems are with Chiari, Jackson will face the second brain surgery in his young life. The three-hour ride home was quiet; there wasn’t much to say.  

Scott had stayed with my parents while we went to the doctor, but he had a meeting in Detroit and had to leave before we had returned. We passed on the road. When you get news as we did, you want a moment to breathe, but dementia doesn’t allow for that. As soon as we walked in the door, my dad needed help. As always, Stephanie was there. “We don’t have a choice,” she told me as she got him into his shower chair, bathed him, brushed his teeth, put his pajamas on, and helped him to bed. How do you say thank you for that?

Steph likes to tell the story of when she had hernia surgery after Jackson was born. I was traveling for my restaurant job, so Dad came over to help her. He did everything for her that week: cooked, cleaned and took care of a newborn and Annie, who was 2 at the time. “He was an amazing grandfather,” Steph tells me often. “I owe it to him.” 

I don’t know how to say thank you, babe, because I know it’s not enough. My mom, Scott, my sister, Dallas, and I can’t thank you enough. My dad might not be able to understand, but he thanks you too. Thank you for caring. Thank you for giving up your career to care for someone who means the world to us. Thank you. 

I love you.

Steph French
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9 thoughts on “Saint Stephanie”

  1. So sorry Ryan. I hope you continue to find the beauty and home in Northern Michigan. Peace to you and your family at this difficult time.

  2. Ryan,
    A story that resonates with many of us. Thank you for sharing. You are a great son and your wife is amazing. Best wishes to your family. Fire Pit is lucky to have you on staff.

  3. I knew from your earlier piece about your father that your wife, Stephanie, is a tremendous soul. Now that adjective seems an understatement. I hope that what you’ve wished for has indeed come to pass and believe your father, were he able, would agree. And now I’ll turn my thoughts not just to you and Stephanie but your entire family as Jackson’s MRI approaches.

  4. It is the times of crisis that people show what chraracter they have and puts our daily annoyances into perspective. Wishing the best for your entire family.

  5. You guys are both amazing people with hearts of gold. Thinking of you and the entire family and sending all our love.

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