The Last Two weeks with Dad
From that morning my brother and I had to follow Dad in an ambulance to the Emergency Room until today when we followed him in the hearse to his`grave.
Every morning for the last 2 weeks I had to get up and do something IMPORTANT.
It is Monday, April 27, 2015. The day we buried my dad. The first night I can lay down in 2 weeks without having to worry about what I must face tomorrow morning.
Taking Dad to the ER 2 weeks ago, the 2nd time in 4 days.
The first IMPORTANT thing.
I cannot say that was the first long day of caring for dad and trying to figure out what it was he needed. We had been doing that off and on for several months, my brother and I. It was just the first of 14 days in a row making up these past 2 weeks.
We had already taken him to medical appointments, Emergency rooms, alternately coaxed and bullied him into trying to eat and drink as we watched him lose so much weight and become so dehydrated. We had already discussed endlessly the awful pain he was having in his neck trying to figure out what it was, what he needed, what about the narcotic use, what about him driving, what about him doing what he needed to do to take care of himself, and he sure loves it when we give him the attention, and what about Mom recovering from fracturing her pelvis, and, and … and…
We had already been scared, mad, frustrated, desperately looking for answers, chasing down rabbit trails in the hopes of getting our Dad back because we had sensed something was going on for some time that was slowly stealing him from us.
But that Monday night 2 weeks ago I was terrified knowing something was very wrong and feeling very frustrated with the Drs. and various medical people and places which over the past year or so had said his symptoms were just the stuff he had to put up with from previous health issues like the prostate and bladder cancer he had suffered through and we thought he had beaten years ago. Or they said it was depression and prescribed anti-depressants. Or the pain was normal arthritis or inflammation from working on the computer and so muscle relaxants and physical therapy would help.
He was so weak, so uncomfortable, so confused that Monday night as I tried to help him get to the bathroom, alternately assisting, or dragging, or carrying him between the bed and his bathroom saying over and over “please God help”.
So it began, 2 weeks ago.Fourteen days which no one should have to endure much less all in a row. At first relief.
This time the the ER folks recognized he needed to be admitted. I didn’t have to continue to try caring for him at home with my mom still recovering from her fractured pelvis. Oh, thank you Jesus.
Then appreciation and respect for the completeness of the attention and examination he received. Again, finally someone saying out loud what we had been saying to each other that something more was going on here, and Dad deserved more, more thorough attention, more thorough testing, better answers.
Then began the days of Dad in the hospital. Him getting appropriate treatment, and me getting Mom up to see him. Dad charming the nurses and other staff, flirting while telling the 62 year love story he shared with Mom. One very amazing Dr. listened and cared about, as well as caring for, Dad. He was trying to be polite while showing his surprise and concern about symptoms that had been not really investigated or ignored completely and yet had persisted for months, if not years.
Then the tests starting to show scarier things and having hard conversations, hearing scary things, talking about things like Resuscitation, signing documents putting us in charge of making certain medical decisions, getting financial things turned over, and then what will it take to make him comfortable, how about palliative care, pain relief measures only, meeting with Hospice.
.Family members were called, close friends were told, Dad talking about his funeral, about his faith, about God, insisting on praying out loud holding hands with everyone in the room. The man who wouldn’t even say the blessing over a meal out loud praying loud and long until he couldn’t pray anymore.
Then the days where Dad slowly slipped more and more away each day. Sometimes so agitated about things we couldn’t see or understand. Othertimes just quietly sleeping, or not sleeping, his pretty blue eyes peeking through almost closed eyelids, an occasional smile or upraised eyebrow telling us he knew we were there and was pleased or displeased about what we were doing to and for him.
Songs and prayers and hymns sung and said around his bed. Tears and memories shared in that hospital room. It was very hard, we couldn’t leave his room at night, we had to hurry back to it in the morning, thinking any minute he would slip away.
But he had said in those first days that he wanted to go home so he refused to die there in that hospital. Even though they had treated him with such dignity and good care.
So next it was about having to prepare for him to come back to the small apartment he and Mom share. Hospice walking us through it all, he left in an ambulance, he was brought back in an ambulance. To a hospital bed we put in the living room, with medications we were to give him every few hours. Further away from us as his body was shutting down more and more he hardly responded any more.
One more night he and I had to spend with just him and me while Mom tried to sleep. So this time I just held his hand and waited, and watched, and gave him medicine, and sort of prayed.
That subtle change in his breathing I noticed brought family members back and we were all together through the day, sharing meals, and conversation and laughter as we always do at family gatherings and it seemed almost normal with dad quiet, as usual on the side, watching, listening, enjoying his family.
Not quite 24 hours after coming home, with us around his bed, with Mom kissing him, loving him, he slipped away. His next breath simply didn’t come. He was gone.
Next came the finishing up funeral arrangements my brother and I had already started. Mom choosing the casket and the flowers. Making phone calls. Putting pictures together.
The day of viewing and visitation. Dad cleaned up and looking better than he had in a long time as his body had been ravaged by the cancer we discovered way too late. The popcorn machine filling the room with that wonderful smell as it popped and popped so everyone could enjoy bags of that delightful salty treat. Dad truly loved popcorn and ate it often delighting in sharing it with anyone.
The people came. Childhood friends not seen in years, old friends of his and Mom’s, relatives not connected with for so long no matter our best intentions. Shock and grief and laughter and memories and sorrow and popcorn and children and pictures and renewed warmth.
Then this morning. The day we would bury him. Out to the church. More people. Hymns and reminders of how Dad had said “No sad songs” and no sad tears. Stories and remarks from grandchildren and friends and his son and two preachers. A celebration really of who he was, who he is, how he lived, how he continues to live, and how he touched so many lives.
The luncheon and then the long drive to the cemetery. Honor Guard waiting. Pallbearers carrying the wooden box. Preacher blessing and sending him off. Flag being folded and taps playing.
One more round of hugs, tears, and connections that only come in the most IMPORTANT of moments. A very real drive down memory lane, the quick stop at Dairy Queen and then back to this apartment where he had not resided in for very long but is his last home with his wife of 62 years.
And here I am typing. Thinking about the last 2 weeks. Two weeks. So short. So long. Every single day something IMPORTANT to do. Life and Death IMPORTANT.
We thought he had a bladder infection. Only the infection turned out to be cancer and it went from the bladder to his bones and took up so much of his body it pushed him out of it into the arms of Jesus.
Two weeks. Two weeks of dying and living, of laughing and loving and crying.
Tomorrow. Maybe the most IMPORTANT things of all. Living with the regrets, the “I wish I had known”s. Accepting the lost chances and moments I turned away from him and conversations I wish we’d had.
Tomorrow. The IMPORTANT thing is to let go of the guilt and shame. To remind people of the cliches to take advantage of the moments we have because they very suddenly are stolen from us. To remember to say I am sorry, I forgive you, I love you. To actually “get together” and not just say it and leave it as an empty promise.
Tomorrow. A very IMPORTANT day, but thankfully it can be less intense.
Thank you Jesus. Thank you Mike. Two weeks that were awful and yet beautiful.
In Jesus’ name.
Tomorrow. Let tomorrow be as all of these were. In Jesus name.