As I write this I am on an airplane heading home. A week ago last Monday, my Dad took a turn for the worse and I made next day plans to fly out to be with him. He was almost 93, and had lived a full and VERY productive life, both professionally and personally. He was instrumental in building several creative and community institutions and quietly worked to keep them vibrant and running smoothly almost to the very end. He was also opinionated and stubborn. And I mustn’t forget brilliant.
I arrived around 10 PM on Tuesday and my brother took me straight to the hospital. I decided to stay the night with Dad there. I am glad I did. He was uncomfortable and I was able to help. I was up with him 2 or 3 times an hour through the night as I tried to make him comfortable. I finally asked him if he wanted me to request some pain medication. He wasn’t exactly in pain – mostly he was just ultra sensitive to folds in the sheets or edges in the pads under him. He said no to the pain medication. “It doesn’t help!,” he said with exasperation. “Dad,” I said, “If it doesn’t help we need to increase the dose!”
Wednesday morning I talked to the doctors and we were able to get him a dose that was effective and for the first time in a long time he was able to rest comfortably. We spent the day setting things in motion to bring him “home” to his room in the nursing facility where my Mom also has a room. Wednesday evening I went to my brother’s home for dinner and a shower and back to the hospital to spend a peaceful night with Dad.
Thursday afternoon I rode with him in the ambulance. I camped out in his room again that night, although the room wasn’t really set up for me, like the hospital room had been. I am glad I did. Despite being in a very caring nursing facility, there were some communication problems regarding his pain meds and I had to advocate for him from about 2 to 5 in the morning until we were finally able to get him comfortable again. I only got about 2 hours of sleep that night.
Friday morning, my Mom came into his room after breakfast and we sat facing each other by the side of Dad’s bed. We talked about this and that for an hour or so. Every so often one of us would hold Dad’s hand or stroke his arm as he slept. It was a peaceful, comforting time, and I have no recollection of my Mom having difficulty conversing with me despite the ever-present aphasia from her Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She gets so frustrated when she can’t find the words she needs to express herself.
About 10:30 Friday morning Dad coughed a quiet little cough, and I realized I hadn’t offered him any water on a sponge pop in a while. I went to get him a fresh cup of ice water. When I got back and started to place the sponge pop to his lips, I realized he was gone. I went and got the physician’s assistant from the nurse’s station and she confirmed it. His struggle and suffering were over.
My brother and sister-in-law, who live nearby, spent the entire summer moving them into the nursing facility and clearing out their apartment and arranging their affairs and tirelessly attending to their needs. They were especially careful in the last few weeks to make sure my Mom understood that we would be losing Dad soon. They did “good.” She may be very confused about a lot of things, but she is very clear about Dad. He is gone, and it’s OK. That’s what happens in life.
I am the only one in my family who has a belief in God. It is hard for me to remember how it was and imagine how I would be able to cope with losing a loved one without faith in an afterlife. But they seem to be at peace, if for no other reason than that it was time. He had lived a long, full and meaningful life of contribution and accomplishment. His body was worn out. It was time.
I look forward to a joyous reunion. I know we will be together again, and I will have the last laugh after all the discussions about the pointlessness and lack of need for anything spiritual or religious in their lives. I will laugh at Dad’s surprise to find out that there actually is a life after death. I will laugh at the necessity for him to admit that I was right. We will laugh as we wrap our arms around one another and embark upon a new chapter of life together – with my grandparents and their parents…
It is what it is. I am at peace.