In those shaky years it was very apparent that my dad and I could not relate to each other. He didn't understand me and I didn't understand him. He had good camaraderie with my brothers and my sister because they all loved sports. Me, not so much. I guess maybe I was a little resentful of that, mainly because my mom used to say things like, "learn to like sports and you will have a bond with him." Well why couldn't he learn to love something that I was into and bond with me? It's that stubbornness that I inherited from him I guess. So growing up I really didn't have much of a relationship with my dad. In fact, it wasn't until after I moved out at 21 that I even really remember having many conversations with him. When I came back home to do laundry or visit or have dinner, we talked. Actual conversations. We found common ground. We both loved nature shows. We both dreamed of going to Alaska. He never did, but I hope I get to someday, for both of us. And when I was 30, I got my very first "I love you" from him.
I guess when someone passes away you aren't supposed to talk about the bad times. When my brother spoke at the funeral, he spoke of family vacations, sports, and Saturday morning breakfasts my dad used to make for all of us kids. And those are good memories. But the truth is there are a lot more bad memories than there are good. I'll leave those for another time though, because the fact is he's gone and I miss him. So instead I'll tell you about his last day.
My dad was ill, and he had been for a long time. He had lost a leg to diabetes seven years ago, and while recuperating from that surgery, he had a stroke. The stroke affected his ability to speak clearly. He knew what he was trying to say, but he often was garbled in his speech and no amount of therapy seemed to help. In addition, his amputation was so far up he had difficulty ever walking again even with a prosthetic. He did, with the help of a walker, but it was difficult and he spent a lot of time in and out of rehab. In addition to all this, he had already had atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, an irregular heartbeat, and received a pacemaker/defibrillator several years ago to treat this. So yeah, he wasn't in good shape.
Since I haven't worked in forever and still can't seem to find a job, I was looked to often to help out with him. I was glad to do it, most of the time. My mother could not handle him on her own all the time. We went to many doctors, many hospitals, over the years. It seemed to be never ending. It was frustrating to say the least, most of the time because as years passed he got less and less interested in doing much to help himself. No amount of talking to him, reasoning with him, telling him how it was, didn't help. And it became apparent that he would have to go into a nursing home. My mom fought us on it, but there was really no other way. He was no longer walking at all and at 82, my mother couldn't care for him herself anymore.
At the time, he was in rehab and they were trying to help him walk. It wasn't going well at all. He had a toe amputated off his remaining foot and since then he didn't want to get up at all. He was in bed, in rehab for 3 months when we got the call saying he was unresponsive. Off we went back to the hospital to meet him in the ER. My mom was beside herself but I have grown accustomed to being solid, the rock, the strong one and I told her that dad has nine lives. And it was true. There had been several times over the years when I thought he was not going to make it. The most recent was Christmas, when he was in the hospital with pneumonia and a staph infection. But he bounced back, just like he always had. I told my mom that when we got to the ER he'd be sitting up in bed and saying, "what took you so long to get here??" And you know, it was almost like that. He was sitting up, he was talking. He was not right, and we could see that, but he was making sense mostly, talking sports with my brother. As the doctors came and went, we were told very little but informed they would be admitting him to ICU. At this time they weren't sure but they thought he may have had a heart attack. Dad was looking tired so mom told him to go to sleep if he wanted to since we didn't know how long it would take to get him into a room. Soon after, he did sleep and we decided to go grab a quick bite to eat, not knowing how long we would be at the hospital.
Things felt different, in retrospect, but at the time, we were feeling it was business as usual. When we got back to the ER, he was still there, still sleeping. And my aunt and uncle (dad's brother) had arrived. The nurse tried to wake him at this point and was unable to. He was still breathing though and the room up in ICU was ready. While they were moving him I went to the ER parking lot and moved my car to the hospital lot. It's winter and cold and I figured it would be a shorter walk when we left the hospital. When I got up to ICU, my family was still in the waiting room but my mom was crying and my aunt was comforting her. What did I miss?? The ICU doctor had come out while the nurses were getting dad settled and he said he saw very little hope for him and there was nothing they could do. Dad had a DNR and all they could do for him was keep him comfortable. Was this really happening? This moment that I had been preparing myself for for years, was it really here? I wasn't prepared at all.
It was about 6 pm, and my brother and I took turns calling my sister and my other brother who live out of state, updating them on what was happening. My sister had called our aunt (dad's sister) to tell her what was going on and then my aunt phoned me and asked me if I thought she should come to the hospital. I told her yes, so she and her husband came.
Now we are waiting. Waiting for him to die and it feels strange. He is unconscious the whole time and unaware of what is happening and that's a blessing. My mom wanted a priest from her church to come and administer Last Rights, so I called and before I could leave a message my sister phoned me. So after talking to her I asked her to call the church back for me and ask a priest to come. She did, and the priest called me not even five minutes later to say he was on his way. He said prayers and anointed him and it was all quite beautiful.
The nurses there were extremely kind and brought us a cart with coffee, sodas, cookies and other snacks. And chairs. ICU rooms don't have chairs for visitors because they don't want visitors to stay in the ICU long. But they brought us, all seven of us, chairs. And we sat, or paced. Cried, and talked. Even had some laughs. For instance, before we got chairs, my uncle broke down crying and sat down on the toilet. It's a toilet in the room, with a big pad over it to make it look like a chair. My mother went to him to comfort him and as she leaned down to hug him, she leaned up against the flusher and WOOSH! She flushed the toilet! Yes, we did all laugh. And it felt good because we were all so wound up and nervous.
Another moment was when the priest left. He was a very young, very handsome priest. And when he left I turned to my mom and I said, "he's young!" She said yes, he was one of the newer priests at her church. I told my family, "we had a name for priests like him when I was in school…. Fr. WhatAWaste!" And we laughed again. You need those moments because staring at my dad and counting how long it is between breaths can drive you mad. So we had those moments, and others as we talked and reminisced and told stories about him. And then, at 10:10 pm, all was silent. He was gone. It took about 6 hours from the time he went to sleep for him to stop breathing. A blessing really. The doctor came in and declared him gone, and we said our goodbyes. Now we had to go home and go about the task of getting on with life. I spent that night with my mom. I just couldn't leave her alone. She lost the man she'd spent 57 years with. It was going to hit her, and hit her hard at some point. So I stayed. Again being the rock. Holding in my tears, holding in my sorrow, so she could have hers. I've been doing it for so long I don't really know how not to.
I miss him. But the truth is, I've missed him for years. He hasn't been the guy I knew for quite some time. He stopped caring about anything. He stopped wanting to do anything. He existed but had very little quality of life these past few years. So I'm glad he's free. And hope wherever he is, he found his joy again. Love you forever dad. xoxo