Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day,
My Dad died one week ago, today, a beautiful and peaceful death.
I feel as if I have shared so much about him over the past several years, in this Slice of Life space. It seems only right to share his passing with you.
I'm struggling with where to begin.
In mid-August, we received word from hospice that Dad was in end stages of his life. Tony and I quickly threw some things together and drove up to Maine, hoping that I might be able to see him. Everything fell beautifully into place - we received rapid response COVID tests, and I was allowed into Dad's room at the nursing home, wearing a mask and a face shield, the day after I arrived in Maine. Although my Dad was by and large unresponsive, seemingly asleep and distant, I suspect he was quite aware that my brother Mark and I were visiting him each morning and afternoon (separate visits, due to COVID...only one of us allowed in the room). So began a 19-day end-of-life vigil - our spouses Tony and Sue supporting us at home, Mark and I visiting Dad every day, morning and afternoon, sitting at his bedside, talking to him, playing his favorite music, soothing him, cherishing him. The last two days of Dad's life, his death was so imminent, Mark and I never left his side, even through the night. In reflection, our daily presence may have slowed the rapidity of Dad's decline, but not the decline itself - there were never any reversals, no real "rallies" in his health; every visit throughout those two and a half weeks felt like it might well be the very last.
What an extraordinary gift to have had this time to be present with my Dad in this way. I think about how sad I was this past spring to be retired from teaching, and, yet, because I am retired, I was able to take this time and be with my Dad. What a blessing!
I, with my writer's hat on, took so many notes, savoring every moment as if it were the end - because I knew well it might be. I took pages and pages of notes, as I sat with Dad. Let me just share a few of moments with you:
I squeezed his hand and he squeezed back, held on. I realized I was in a very awkward, bent over position that I could not maintain, so I let go, repositioned my chair so that I might look right at him, be right by his side more comfortably. I put my hand in his, again. We held hands like this for a few moments and then he loosened his grip and said, "okay, good night." Then he settles and a very sweet thing repeats - he reaches towards me, I squeeze his hand, and he repeatedly squeezes back. This happens three-four times in a row. He goes back to sleep, moves his hand back to his stomach. Then, after a pause, reaches back for me. We repeat, squeezing one another's hand. Very dear.
He calls out, "Alice! Alice!,” almost hallucinations, "Alice, come have ice cream!," "Does anyone have some roses? Can Alice and I pick some roses?” He is imagining Mom, he is missing her so much; it feels as if I am intruding on their intimate space. I have long thought it so sad that she preceded him in death, he has missed her so much these past two years - and this loss showed in his health decline, I think. Yet, imagine, if she were still alive, how impossible it would have been for Mom to soothe him here at his end of life, to comfort him; she with dementia...what would that have been like? Oh, that would have been so very sad - this is better, Mark and I, able to comfort. It is what it is.So many breaths that seem like his last. It is a symphony, a musical score. Who knew breath could vary like this? Yet, he seems so distant, as if he is not in this room anymore. His breathing seems mechanical, automatic, the winding down of an incredible toy...there is only the slightest movement to his open mouth, both eyes shut, body entirely still. This one refrain of his breathing is like that of a small child, as he cries himself to sleep - huh, huh, huh....[no sound]...huh, huh...[no sound].... Yet, these are not Dad's last breaths, because he continues this way for more than an hour, then resumes normal breathing.In this chair, trapped, stuck, with a pillow wedged behind my back, that I reposition over and over...I am back in the station wagon, on a long family drive, Dad at the wheel, brothers alongside, trying to sleep, trying to get comfortable, squished in with my family. The rattle tells me his lungs are filling. His breaths are so compressed now, squishing, squeezing out of him, followed by such very quiet moments, followed again by the suck of air, as he tries to fill those lungs with life, working, working, working. Listening to him, we are children at the beach, racing into the waves on rubber rafts, jumping onto the floats, slip-sliding into the ocean. Those squeaks, sputters, and burps are the sound of bare skin on the rafts, as the rafts wedge between our bottoms and the sand...hear our groans of delight as we labor against the tide and the waves. Remember how, sometimes, the raft propelled in to the air and water, leaving us rolling in the wet sand, splashing in the water, laughing at the surprise of it all? These sounds you make are so similar. Go play, Daddy, go play. Your work is done.
Dad is so calm, quietly slipping away, eking out every single moment of this life, slow, patient, effortless, calm. This departure of his is full circle different from how he lived his life. This departure, so patient, so beautiful, really...tender and slow. He was a man of such motion and force, determination, conviction, goals, and follow-through. Here, he is so 'present.' It is just fine. Good to have him tarry. He never did before. Thanks for lingering with me, Daddy.
There's so much more I could say.
Rest in peace, Dad. I love you.