Saturday, September 1, 2012

Waking From the Dream of Life

I got the news that my dad had cancer and had only weeks to live while The Colonel and I were on the road picking Spud up from college summer school. That was on August 3rd.

I made airline reservations to go back to Indiana to visit with my dad and family as soon as I got home. I made the reservations for the week of my dad's 76th birthday (August 17th).

I flew in on Tuesday, August 14th at around 6 p.m.

In the days before my flight, I received phone calls and emails from my family, letting me know how Dad was doing; he wasn't doing well. He was dying but he was at home where he wanted to be.

When I arrived at my parent's house my dad was sleeping. I looked in on him. He was much thinner than when Spud and I had seen him back in June. When he woke up I went back into his room, stood next to the hospital bed and said, "Hey Dad, it's me, I'm here." My dad's brown eyes fell onto my face. He did not speak my name but through the pain and restlessness, I believe he knew it was me.

We had 24-hr help in caring for my dad (Visiting Angels) and one of two hospice nurses (a male and female) visited daily. The Visiting Angels sat with Dad as we slept. They changed his bed linens and bathed him and kept his as comfortable as possible. The only thing the Visiting Angels couldn't do was administer medicine as only family members or a hospice nurse could give Dad his medicines.

The following day, Wednesday, Dad was very restless and in bouts of pain between his doses of medicine. He would take off his top sheet because he was too warm and then want it back on again soon after. The hospice nurse said the dying cannot regulate their temperatures well and that this behavior was normal.

Dad wanted to sit up often, so I helped him up, held onto his arms and hands as one of his dear friends sat on the bed with his back against Dad's, to support him. We eventually helped Dad into his recliner, where he seemed to be more at ease and comfortable. Dad slept off and on and when he woke up I helped give him is medicines as well as offer him some water on a little sponge if he wanted it. As the day wore on Dad became less restless and he slept more. The hospice nurse said Dad's terminal restlessness was ending. We would wake Dad every two hours to administer his medicines to ensure he was as comfortable as possible. He was sleeping more as the day wore on.

Thursday-Dad was back in his hospital bed and sleeping more and more. My mom, siblings and I needed a little break, so while the Visiting Angel watched over Dad, we went out to grab some lunch. When we returned home the hospice nurse was there checking on Dad. She told us that Dad had little time left. He was sleeping constantly now and was probably slipping into a coma. His breathing was becoming more erratic and congested.

We called all of my brothers and sisters to let them know. My brothers and sisters arrived to be by Dad's bedside (my sister and her five children, who live in Ohio, had visited with Dad on Tuesday evening but had to go back home that next day). Many other family members visited: uncles (my dad's brothers; especially his twin brother), aunts and cousins. It was good to see them all.

The hospice nurse said that hearing is the last sense to go and that talking could be a comfort to Dad. So, we told stories about growing up and stories about Dad as we sat in the room together. We spent the evening this way, taking turns sitting by Dad's bedside, holding his hands and talking.

When it struck midnight, it was officially Dad's 76th birthday. We all gathered around Dad and sang happy birthday to him. My eldest sister went out to buy birthday cake at a 24-hr grocery.

Many of us were getting sleepy and went to bed shortly after midnight (no one ate any birthday cake so close to bedtime, no one needs all that sugar as you are trying to sleep). One of my sisters stayed up until around 2:30 a.m. Finally, all were asleep except for the Visiting Angel, Kenneth.

My youngest sister woke me from my slumber around 3:15 a.m. She told me that Dad had passed away five minutes earlier. Kenneth had been sitting with Dad as he passed away. The hospice nurse had told us that sometimes the dying, especially parents, want to protect their children from watching them die, so they often pass away when family members are not in the room. The same principle applies to spouses too.

I went downstairs to be with my mom and siblings and to see Dad. He looked very peaceful. It was strange to know that he was gone from us now, but I was so happy his suffering was over. The hospice nurse was called and as we waited for him to arrive, one of my sisters said, "Let's have some birthday cake in honor of Dad's birthday".

We lit the candles and sang happy birthday again. My sister had gotten a chocolate cake and a white cake. I had a little bit of both. As we ate the cake we thought of Dad and told a few more stories.

I was still sleepy, so I went back to bed as my sisters remained up and waited for the hospice nurse to arrive. The hospice nurse, when he arrived, would destroy any meds that were unused by my dad. He would also make sure Dad's body was prepared for pickup by the funeral home. When I woke up later that morning, all of this was accomplished and I was glad to have missed it.

What I am glad I did not miss was arriving in time to see my dad alive, tell him I love him, say my goodbyes, help ease his passing as much as I could and be there for my mom, sisters and brothers.

August 17, 1936 - August 17, 2012

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice Jill. Your brother Michael.