I haven't posted a blog in almost two months. Right after my last post, my father went into his final decline. The ensuing weeks were filled with anger, anguish, and pain for me, emotions which are not conducive to writing about movies or books. I didn't think about movies and haven't even seen the new Star Wars epic. Just not interested right now...
My vision is clouded by the events. So many emotions come into play. Before his hospitalization and a battery of tests he had refused in the past, I didn't fully understand the depth of his confusion, how badly his brain was damaged. Dad could be manipulative. The part of me which resisted seeing the truth kept insisting he was trying to play me for attention. The anger would blossom, fury born of fear. It was the anger that spurred me, kept me going during those awful weeks, kept my feet walking into the hospital and hiking to the room.
Each day when I left, I would be a shell, drained of all emotion, the effort of putting one foot in front of the other almost too much. At night I would sit staring straight ahead, a wounded animal too damaged to react.
Then came the day the palliative care physician came to talk to me. Dad was refusing all food. It wasn't that he couldn't eat, he refused to eat. I realized then he wanted to control the end of his life in the only way he could. As his "little girl" I wanted to make him eat. As a retired social worker who had seen this in others, I knew I couldn't. The doctor mentioned hospice care. We would have to honor his last wish for autonomy and make him as comfortable as possible. I spoke to my brother, sister-in-law, and niece who agreed with me we would take no extraordinary measures. I signed the "do not resuscitate" orders, the hardest thing I ever had to do, bar none.
Dad went to an assisted living apartment with round-the-clock sitters and hospice care. He was not an easy patient. He kept demanding to be let out of the bed. His dementia had expanded to the point he no longer remembered how to walk. He couldn't even stand with help, much less alone. But his strident voice kept insisting the first couple of days to be let out of the bed. When I tried to tell him why he couldn't get out of bed, he cursed me frequently and vividly.
I learned about the phenomenon of "comfort food" - no I don't mean Southern cooking. It is common for people willingly starving to death to take bites of their favorite foods. Dad was brought three meals a day which he usually refused. Once in a while he would take a few bites of breakfast. The last thing he ate was a piece of bacon two days before he passed. Odd, the things we remember...
Two days before he died, my brother and sister-in-law arrived from another state. It was a Sunday. We were all there. The Hospice chaplain was affiliated with Dad's church. She informed the minister who came that afternoon. Dad smiled and smiled to see his son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and minister in the room. The minister led us all in prayer. Dad seemed to relax against the pillow with a deep sigh.
The last couple of days of his life, he was taken off his meds and given morphine. He was quieter then, though he spoke to my late mother often the first day, insisting he could see her in the room. He said, "Sugie (his pet name for her), come get me out of this bed..."
In the end, I wasn't with him. I had gone home for a bit, having been with him since early morning. A couple of hours later my brother called and said Dad's breathing had changed and I better come back. It took me twelve minutes to leave my home, drive to the nearby facility, walk into the building and catch the elevator to walk into Dad's room. He was already gone when I got there.
Before I left that day, I brushed his hair off his forehead, kissed him and told him he had done a good job in his life. We would all be okay. He could let go and let God.
That's what he did.
In the aftermath, I bulldozed my way through the after death requirements, the funeral planning, etc. It was all done on adrenalin which evaporated the minute I got into my car.
I got used to the parchment colored face and the basset hound eyes. I got used to feeling nothing as I stared off into space. I even got used to not being able to eat, some psychological quirk apparently due to allowing my father to starve to death.
These days I am occupied with the running of the family trusts, dealing with the banks, the insurance companies, sending out death certificates, dealing with the government, the taxes, etc. Thankfully the sale of his house closed the week after his passing. I was called by one of Dad's neighbors yesterday. They had received a piece of mail addressed to him, so I went to pick it up. His former home has a huge dumpster in the driveway. The kitchen cabinets, the carpets, the linoleum, were mounded in the pile. Looks like it will be a completely different house when they are through, all trace of my family removed...not a bad thing for anyone but me.
When I finish one monumental task like dealing with his attorney, I think I am done, but something always comes up...
So ends the saga of the six years I took care of my father...looking back is like peering through lace. Emotions restrict my vision the way pieces of lace do when held over fabric. The pieces have their own beauty, but obscure the fabric beneath.
Images from my childhood pop up and I remember the man he was, laughing, dancing with Mom, telling jokes, holding our little poodle, not the frail sick man he became. My dad was a genuine hero of World War II. He never spoke about his service, in fact, I've received condolence letters from some of the men who worked for him over the years. They never knew about his service at all.
My dad was a celestial navigator - only using the stars. He flew fifty missions on B-25 bombers in the Pacific. Most men were shipped home after twenty-five combat missions. But the Army Air Corps needed good navigators. They bombed small islands, just dots in the vast ocean, hundreds of miles from their take-off point, or ships, moving targets. He always got the men to the target and got them safely back home again. He saw many of his buddies shot down in other planes. From above, he watched them die. But his men always came home.
My last act with my father was to pin his Army Air Corps wings on his suit jacket before he was taken for the gravesite service. The funeral director had to help me as I was too short to reach his chest in the casket. I kissed my fingers and pressed them to Dad's forehead. He was ice cold, my last image of my beloved father and the final proof for that little crying child inside he is gone.
Though it still makes me weep, or scream in vexation when dealing with bureaucrats, I am honored I was able to guide my dad home to rest over these last years.
In time the emotions will quiet down, the anger will fade, and I will go on...but maybe that's just the dratted lace obscuring my vision.
Rest in Peace, Dad.