REFLECTIONS: the night my father died

My father passed away today at 6:25 PM.

I haven't mentally processed it completely.  As with all my unpublished posts over the last few months, I can't focus on what I want to say. Whether it's just my "fibro fog" or simply that I'm not ready to let go fully... I'm not capable of writing his tribute just yet.


Grief is natural, of course. The difference between a sudden death and slow death have bearing on how we accept that death and experience our grief.

For families of those that decline over time, there's an opportunity to say all that needs to be said. Most mentally prepare for the eventual loss. This doesn't make it any easier when that time comes.

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross proposed the five stages of grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.

I've cycled through them frequently over the last three years. This, too, is common for family members that are also caregivers. Trivial things are no longer important. Rather, we let quarrels fade as every moment suddenly becomes precious.

"This is my loved one's last holiday! Last birthday! Last moment!"

For those whose loved ones cycle in health (ER to skilled nursing to home to ER... rinse and repeat twice a year), we're never sure if it's actually the "last".

Last year, in early December, my dad was slumping again. He couldn't lift his legs to change his diaper and he was slowing down. And then our Truffle died. And then my mother went it for a cardiac cath and ended up having open heart surgery (two bypasses and a new aortic valve) before Christmas. We were all run ragged.

BUT - Dad pulled himself up by the bootstraps. I'd come downstairs in the morning to find him dressed and getting his own breakfast. He didn't want to be a burden. He was determined to push himself. 

Christmas Eve arrived. I told Better Half that we needed to decorate. "This could be Dad's last Christmas!"  And so I slapped up a tree and more.


Dad loved it.


When he was brought back to Trinity hospital earlier this year, I told him he had to get well so he could see Christmas. His stays usually last several months. He promised he would try.

Long story short: PICC line and gastrostomy tube.

On Nov 30, my mother received a call from East. They need her to sign a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. The nurse was adamant but my mother refused and demanded to know why. The nurse said she'd call her back after speaking with the doctor.

That same nurse left a message on my mobile phone's voicemail next. I didn't answer. Looking back on it now, both my mother and I were Dad's MPOAs. Mom refused so they were going around her to ask me.

What they SHOULD have said was, "He doesn't have long to live".

They sent Dad to West's ER. The doctor looked at his eyes and then his mouth. Within seconds we knew what was killing Dad: thrush. His throat and mouth were covered by C. albicans. This is why he rejected anything being put in his mouth. He'd suffered from this infection since the last week in October, when he began rejecting everything. Had the doctor at East just LOOKED, Dad would not have needed that gastrostomy nor been off all his meds for so long.

Dad was transferred to a hospital room. Within a few days, he was able to weakly speak.  Once again, I promised to put up a tree if he works hard to come home. He smiled and nodded. We both knew it was a losing battle.

Dad went from hospital room to hospice, where we signed a DNR in accordance with his wishes, and then Dad was sent home to die after his brief stay there.

Two days ago, I fulfilled my promise to put Christmas up. After I pushed the lit tree back into the corner, I went to his bed and whispered to him, "Daddy, the tree is up."

His mouth's corners lifted slightly. This would be the last time my father communicated with us. He slipped even further after that.

This morning, I napped in the recliner next to his bed until the nurse arrived. She reiterated to my mother that Dad's time was short. I made up my mind to sit vigil with him after Mum went to bed.

I came down a little after 6 PM to let Hershey out and then grab something for dinner. We came back in and I heard a soft sigh.

I approached Dad's bed and put my hand on his chest. There wasn't any rise and fall. It took every ounce of professionalism to not race to revive him. Instead, I checked his radial and brachial artery, then his carotid. No pulse.  I pressed my nose against his warm forehead and told him over and over how much I loved him.

Considering my fibro nonsense sometimes limits what my fingers can feel, I called up to Better Half and asked him to come down. He, too, couldn't find a pulse.

Mum came inside with Dante, and we broke the news to her. This entire moment, from his sigh to her arrival, happened in less than three minutes.  I asked Mum to look at her watch. Of course, the official time of death would be whenever the hospice nurse arrived, for legal purposes. But we knew the real time.

Everything from this point forward became a blur. My mother seemed to accept it, reminding us that his suffering was over, and commenting on how peaceful he looked. I stroked his hair, my fingers touching still-warm skin. Better Half sat in Dad's recliner, head bowed in grief.

The nurse arrived. She called the funeral home, and Jeff arrived within a half hour to remove Dad's body, but not before Mum gave Dad her final kiss and I kissed his cold temple and cheek.

I stood at the front door as they navigated their gurney down the ramp, and kept watch while they crossed the street. I did not turn away until their vehicle disappeared from view. I needed to witness that. I needed that harsh reality in order to have closure.

Though I'll backdate this entry to reflect the 14th, it's currently 5:30 AM the next day. I've sobbed most of the night. It's cathartic, I suppose, as is writing with raw emotions. Not my best journal entry.

As I wrap this up, my mind dwells upon the lullaby my mother composed and sung to me so many decades ago:

You're Daddy's little girl
His heart is in a whirl.
You're Daddy's little girl
And he's in love with you.
And when you're big and grown
And out there on your own,
You'll still be Daddy's little girl
And he will still love you.

Mum, Better Half, and I will spend time cleaning up medical clutter.  We're the only support we have. Just us three. My mother has lost not only her husband but also her best friend; Better Half has lost the man that took him in as a son; Dad loved teaching him new things. And I've lost my daddy, my first friend, the man that made bunny prints in the shag rug every Easter until I was to old for such things.

And when he's old and grey
And slowly fades away,
I'll still be Daddy's little girl
And I will still love him.

Goodbye Dad. I miss you.

_____________________________________
A glance at the last decade or so of Dad's life:

Dad at Franciscan University, July 2006
Hanging on the back porch with Poco, 2006
The Pittsburgh Strip 2006

Dad working at the USAFA stadium, January 2007
This is my favorite picture, taken by Dad
Dad's home office, January 2007
Final day in CO, January 2007

But in less than a decade, this became routine

Brought to UPMC by LifeFlight (brain bleed)
Back to Trinity


Dad comforting Dante January 2019

Walking to the car so we can visit Mum

I think he's smiling because it's not him in the bed.

My Dad loved Chinese food. Jan or Feb 2019

ER again, October 2019

Skilled Nursing - Tower 9 November 2019


 We both napped near each other this morning

The final goodbye




Two other memories are on my mind tonight.

2006: Dad's Thanksgiving Mishap -or- How Dad Almost Lost His Nose!

The Memory of Farewells Always Lingers

Comments

  1. Dear Toni,
    I'm so sorry for what you must manage mainly on your own.  Your love for your dad has a pulse that wound its way through so many of your narratives.  I recognize a lot of the same emotions your express here.  And, reading this reminds me that there are some things I wrote a long time ago that maybe I need to go look at again.  Bless you, for that.  I'm so glad your dad got that last tree.  I'm so glad YOU got to give him that tree.  You and your mom were rocks as you fought off the DNR business.  

    I fervently hope that your Christmas is a peaceful one this year with you knowing that your dad has moved on to welcoming arms.

    Love
    Annie

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    Replies
    1. Dear Annie,
      Thank you for your soothing words. You lifted my spirits tonight. I'm so glad I stood my ground and put up that tree!

      My dad instilled in me humor, curiosity, a love of reading, and so much more. These gifts from our parents we carry with us our whole life.

      I've done a lot of reflection, too. Blogs are good for that. In many ways, I don't like the person I've become, and I want to go back before the negative stuff happened so I can recall and recapture the things that brought me such joy. On the other hand, I'm proud of the negative things that I changed to positive in nature over the course of several years.

      If I don't catch up with you before then, have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas. Hug your family extra tightly from us.

      Love,
      Toni

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