My Little Savior


Best picture I have of the couple , “John and Deb” . That’s why I use it so much. And having the Parthenon as a backdrop is pretty cool. But this is a story about hero’s and the lessons of life.

I am 6’3″ around two hundred pounds in height and weight. Deb, the nymph at my side is five two and 110 pounds weight on any given day.

We have been through a rough gauntlet this past decade what with a cluster of strokes kicking off a decade marked by death and disease of family members as well as financial difficulties related to my disability and inability to work. I have just discharged from the hospital.a couple of days ago with pneumonia and a bottle of antibiotics. This comes on the heel spending a couple of years tending to Debs father in the latter days of his dementia. All of us, contributed in fulfilling Debs promise to keep Ivan, (her father) in the home rather than neatly ensconced in a nursing home, ran us been run through the ringer of a very angry man with a brain disorder and related behaviors that  were so severe that we couldn’t  find a place willing to take him even if we were to wish that it be so.. Wedged between Ivan and my strokes I lost my motherand older brother within three months of each other, (unexpectedly).

Through it all I fought the fight to remain above physically and spritualy above ground asage and some early wild living caught up with me and took its toll in spades. Problems marched through my life putting me in the hospital several times. Ivan has passed, we get a call. One of my daughters has stage 3 breast cancer with some spread to her lymphatic system. She, her  good hubby and four children are with us now. Concomitant with this development my COPD reared it’s ugly head and now I spend some time every day on oxygen.In short, the last 7 years added up a millennia, or, so it seemed.:

  • 3 strokes
  • My mother dies
  • 3 months later my older brother dies (unexpected, an aneurism ruptured)
  • Appendix ruptured, but thinking it an old hernia I let it go for a week. I was so close to death when I finally saw my doctor about it. from the of my doctors office call and the opening incision was less than an hour.. The appendix  had been ruptured a week or so. and fecal material was filling up my thoracic cavity for a week. It took two Doctors over an hour to scoop all the shit out of me. ZIP dodged a bullet again.
  • Now, after a year of guarding a hostile, violent, sexually inappropriate dementia victim from hurting himself. (I must emphasize he was a rather rigid but otherwise nice fellow before his brain began to shrival).
  •  Oh! Yes, wedged between the dementia and my burst appendix, Three of my step daughters lost their father to a truck/train collision..

My daughters and son in law fought the good fight and I am proud of them…..but I found myself stuck in a paralytic state of intense agitated depression as I chaffed at my canula leash – time caring for Ivan wore on. I didn”t know whether I was going to survive Ivan or if he would be attending my funeral pretty soon.  As I wallowed in my depression, grieving over my shriveling physical capabilities and advancing age, the family did the best they could to take care of Ivan and as it turned out, tending to me when my lungs began failing.. I  could not handle the rarefied atmosphere of the Ute pass. Soon after Ivan’s passing we moved back to the plains at the foot of the front  range of the Rockies because I became prone to passing out unexpectedly and it was scaring the women in the family to death. But my depression and sense of having been an utter failure in life gave death an attractive luster. I became more beguiled by defeating my situation than just ending it.

Now that daughter with cancer is here and we 15 in the household, I have stopped sucking my thumb and come to the realization that as long as I love this family and show it  strong and quiet love, I am part of the strength and healing vital to the heart of the family. At the age of 61 I finally learned what true success is. I came to feel that I was a man of limitless wealth. Money had nothing to do with it. You can be a depressed drip driving your Lamborghini down highway 101 on the California coast with money in your pocket and the world by the testes and still be the body found in a Lamborghini with a cooling pistol in your hand.


Deb is tiny. She has this huge quilted coat that gives her the look of a little tee-pee with a pretty face on top. After discharge from the hospital I couldn,t even manage to check the oil on my pick-up. Feeling useless, I sat in the cab wondering how she was going to do the job when the top of the engine was up to her nose. I watched in true wonder as she popped the hood and scampered (sporting her huge coat) up the front grill of my Silverado.  She carefully chose her grips and foot-holds on the face of the engine, and with a  few quick heaves she pulled herself up and onto the manifold under the hood.  Squatting on the engine, she checked the oil and added a quart  before nimbly climbing back to the ground and shutting the hood.


My daughter with cancer sat one morning, feet tucked up under her and staring off at whatever was in her head. She had shaved most of her hair off but with the tuft she left up top it gave the impression her “do” was a deliberate fashion choice. She was quite serene.


The pik shown here does no justice. but the fact remains that she has been gifted with such strong, beautiful, features, she cannot look bad. Even through the silent tears we have shared, she possessed effortless, heart breaking dignity. I am humbled and have no right to bitch about my pitiable condition with a daughter so strong.

I could go on for hours talking about my girls and their gifts, but today I will do just this.

I have been, through Amy, ( my oldest) and her steady and selfless help, Sherry and her example of a family done right, and Margi, my middle child, who gave us refuge when Deb and I found ourselves homeless and afoot, and last but not least, Alexandra and her precious gift of LaRay my brand-new granddaughter.. From which she has rallied and excelled. Now she is another star in my sky,…..

So as I sit here watching  my little Tee-Pee gingerly scamper across the engine. taking care of business as I realize I have not failed at making my mark in the world. I have not failed to find the top of Everest and the pot of gold. It has been a long and winding path to my grand epiphany, I am winner of winners. I am the great and powerful King of the most important place…….a family that loves itself and children who can now teach me how to fight the good fight.

Thank you Deb. Thank you family. You have breathed life into a soul near death and opened my eyes to beauty again. I hope to help you as much as you have helped me.



Ivan RIP

Below is a photo of Ivan Bracken holding his great-grandson, Jacob, in his lap.  It was a good moment In our struggle against the nightmare of brain dysfunction.  Ivan died of dementia a few days ago. He was my wife’s father. This is a battle that we could have placed on the shoulders of others but Debra,( his daughter my wife) promised to care for him and keep him out of the nursing home for as long as she could. Before it was over, before death freed him, (and this whole family) his symptoms were so severe that we could find no long-term care that would take him. She kept her promise.

We are just beginning the journey back to the world. We emerge shell shocked and lost, with no idea what to do next. Brain dysfunction is difficult. Brain damage with the victim still walking, is more difficult. Brain damage with the victim agitated and angry is a twenty-four hour a day seven days a week struggle with no moment of complete rest and no refuge.  We are just now realizing the depth of the damage we have suffered in keeping her promise.  I took Deb out to brunch a couple of days after Ivan passed on and we were both amazed that we could just leave the house without either taking poor Pa-pa with us, or at minimum, arranging for my youngest daughter and son-in-law to watch after him. Back before his struggle with brain disease he was often a difficult man, he had his faults, as we all do, but was basically  a decent man. It was heartbreaking to see him deteriorate.

Deb at difficult moments,  when she felt like she was inflicting him on the family that helped care for him and keep him in the home. Sometimes  her strong heart would give way a little, and she would say, “He was never like this before!”  Even Ivan, (if he could) would agree.  He would rather take a bullet rather than endure the slow pain wracked transformation from Dr. Jekyll  to Mr. Hyde.

Now it is we who are the walking wounded, wondering what we do with our lives now that we have emerged from our exile into the hell of caring for a difficult dementia victim. We are the walking wounded, not knowing what to do next or how to feel.

There is no way to convey the hell wreaked upon both Ivan and those who cared for him in the past couple of years. We just have to let the dead take care of their own, and go on living for the living.     Below is a picture of the family, on the far left is Deb and on the far right (the ragged looking big guy) is me.. Between us is the family. And in the middle of it all sits Ivan.  May he find in death the peace the disease robbed him of in his final years. Did we do all we could? Could we have done it differently? We could question ourselves forever.  But I believe these doubts should be buried with the man. We are vetrans of our war with dementia an we should walk on.There are grandchildren to raise and a lives to be lived.

I am grateful   for  the effort in caring for Ivan by my youngest daughter Alexandra and son-in law Anthony. They helped define the deeper meanings of family.  But I must close by saying I have been enriched by having been a part of Debs daily fight to provide the care and dignity she felt he deserved.  But for their help we could not have done it.. She is a hero of the brightest magnitude. I am privaledged to share my life with a woman of such character and through the tears, such courage.   She has nothing to regret. She kept her word. I am so proud of her.