The following is an excerpt of my old blog, detailing my final days with my dad.
…written SATURDAY, JULY 24, 2010
“…and death passed to all men, for all have sinned.” Romans 5:12
I landed in the United States on Friday, March 5th. When I arrived home my dad handed me a three-ring binder. In it was pages full of print outs of this blog. “Here’s your first book,” he said proudly. Happy reuions with family and friends ensued as many didn’t know of my return. I was leaving a speaking engagement with Idlewild’s women’s staff later that week when I picked up my mom’s worried voicemail that they were headed to the ER. Re-routing towards UCH, I thought I had just canceled my plans for the rest of the day; I didn’t realize I was in the process of canceling the current plans I had for my life. That moment feels like years ago…
[[now just pretend like the DVD player got stuck on FastForward, cause it’s all a blur to me.]]
Dad was in the hospital for the end of the week and missed his own birthday party. Two weeks later they confirmed his diagnosis as liver cancer. March and April were long, painful, and emotional; wrought with difficult decison-making to stay. (unintentionally move back to US) How could I make this decision? My heart was breaking on two continents and it was impossible to be in both places at once. Living back at home and watching my dad suffer and struggle every day and my mom bear the burden alone weighed on me; the time seemed endless and infinite. I’m sure emotional stress and depression began then. May marked the start of hospice involvement at my lone and urgent request. Dad failed the 3 question exam, getting his name right, but mistating the date and our address. (We told him the answer in Spanish even, it was Cinco de Mayo; oddly enough the date he said it was turned out to be his funeral date. very weird.) Saturday that week was our last normal day home with him – thankfully it was a happy early celebration of Mother’s Day. I cooked a humongus breakfast for my whole family (7 adults, 3 kids); dad had a surprising appetite and said it was “superb.” We separated afterward for an afternoon of rest. That was the last rest we had prior to what became a month of family trauma and endless decision making.
It started when I awoke to my mother’s voice frantically yelling for me to help; I roused sleepily and ran to her to find dad falling and I threw my arms around his chest as a last ditch effort to delay his fall. I couldn’t save him. His body weight strained a muscle in my back/lower neck and tears stung my eyes in pain. Dad crumpled to floor and began vomiting. Mother sent me out waiting on her command to call the “Non-emergency” fire department number to have them come help pick him up; but not until she cleaned him up. Those final moments stretched on while I heard my father sick on the bathroom floor and my trembling hands clutched the keys on my phone to dial help. The firemen troop arrived quickly and went to action; had him up and in his motor chair in no time flat. He drove himself 5 feet down the hall and back into my view in time to see him vomit bright red blood; repeatedly, all over himself and the floor. The nearest fireman to me turned and asked if he had just had lots of red cool-aid. (All I could think of was, “You’re an EMT for crying out loud, this is not an appropriate time for a joke.”) The ER trip was inevitable at this point, so I quickly readied a “hospital bag” of necessities and donned comfy shoes, jeans, and a sweatshirt – it gets cold waiting around in hospitals.
My mother still seemed relatively unconcerned at this point; too many trips by ambulance to the ER had numbed her to the severity of it all. I was very aware when they wheeled my father out of the house for what I knew could be the last time. I rode in the front seat of the ambulance, mostly becase I could, and I wanted to be close to my dad and his condition during transport. Mother was still a bit glazed and giggly from the driveway as she nodded towards the attractive fireman getting in the driver’s seat next to me. I rolled my eyes and extended my left hand to point to the imaginary wedding band. (“He’s married.”)
The night unfolded quickly with ups and downs of blood pressure and extractions from his intubated stomach. Things took a serious step when we were not allowed to see him but asked to stay in the hallway and await the ER doctor’s words for us. He certainly was being committed overnight, and to ICU at that. I risked a quick trip home for essential documents and items for mother, and while gone missed another sudden eruption of blood in the ER. By the time I’d returned he was in serious condition in the ICU bleeding internally at a rate much faster than they could stop or control. GI doctor was sent in to our ‘family huddle’ in the ICU waiting room and he carefully delivered the news in about 20 long minutes. We paired up to go in and say our last words and goodbyes. Tears amongst my family were seen then for the first time and phone calls made to close friends and extended family in the area to come in if they could. We pulled together like a team honoring their captain as the ship goes down… and for whatever reason, God saw fit to grant my dad not just a few more days, but almost a full week of slow declines…first through 2 days of on the edge non-stop visits and monitoring of his vital signs…then the release to a hospital room by Tuesday, day 3, since there was not more they could do for him.
Dad was at his best, last good consciousness, that Tuesday, May 11th. I sat by his bedside in wonderment at his health and the events that had transpired. It had been four days since it all began. We were all exhausted emotional wrecks. No one had had a normal eating or sleeping routine since, and though we were all weak and tired, we couldn’t give up now. Mother was nodding off in the corner chair as she was literally unable to muster the strength to even hold her head up. Dad then suddenly spoke up, “I just want to take a moment to say how proud I am of the three of you.” He was shaky, but smiling at my brothers and I in the room. He took my left hand, held it up to his mouth and kissed it. Then he seemed to stare off, almost through the bland hospital walls of his tiny room. But he would not stay there for long.
Some family deliberations took place with the hospice counselor and we determined to transport dad to the local Lifepath Hospice to rest and still have necessary medical care on hand. He was brought in that evening, was able to see and enjoy the nice room and bed and all his family standing around. That evening we gave our now standard loving goodbyes and good night wishes, not knowing it was the last time he would be awake enough to talk with us.
Mother stayed the night with him and before morning, he lapsed into a deep sleep that extended through Wednesday and Thursday. We received the 4 am call that his blood pressure had significantly dropped and he was likely to go certainly that day if not during the hour. We all rushed in; I drove the short distance straining through tears while listening to Matthew West’s “Save a Place for Me” on the radio for the first time. Dad decided to spite the nurse and hang on to this life for one more day. We stood near listening to his heavy breathing all day, all of us catching our own when too many seconds passed between his gasps. I risked stepping away for 30 minutes to hurry home, shower and tend to the cats. We celebrated around him that evening with family and close friends sharing favorite stories of our time with him, laughing and carrying on hoping he heard our love and joy. My best friend went home with me that night and was standing by my side when I received the call early the next morning that he had breathed his last: Friday, May 14th, around 7:14 a.m.
The following hours were confusing and surreal. My emotions got the better of me and I was not the exemplary pillar of strength that it seemed each member of my immediate family were. Suddenly there was no reason to visit that room anymore. The pillow dad had begged for and requested while in ICU was carefully removed from under his head and packed up. I mindlessly fidgited with the ring that I carefully removed the previous morning; a ring I had made for myself that my dad liked and asked if he could have. I knew he was only borrowing it for a little while. We removed his jewelry early before his body had a chance to swell in those final hours of his systems shutting down. The morning shadows from the window danced on his chest and throat; often giving the illusion that he was still breathing shallowly. I stared at his sallowed face. A face that death had claimed. The result of sin. Death is cold and hard. I reached to touch his shoulder lovingly and discovered a cool hardness under the thin gown. It was a bizarre moment of experiencing the transition from “this is my dad” to “that is his body.” It was hard to say and grasp the concept that he was gone. He had left. He was no longer there. All in one instant we would walk out of that room to never return and to never find my father again. I couldn’t do it. I turned around. I had to go back. Go back for the last moments that I ever could.
Alone with him and a handful of wadded up tissue paper I burst into tears and burst out everything; all of my feelings, apologies, regrets and blames. Why did he leave me? What would I do now? Who would look out for me? Take care of me, guide me and cheer me on like he did? There is no one to replace my dad. He is my hero. I felt as if my life had accumlated and accelerated all up to this one climactic moment – and then all completely shattered and fell apart. I cried these things out to my dad; but he didn’t respond. He just lay there, lifeless, and helpless to answer my questions or take me just one more step of the way. Guilt attacked me from out of nowhere: he’d waited as long as he could, but I just couldn’t get married in time. In 30 years, I just couldn’t do it. The realizations all came crashing down…he would never see me married; or give me away; or know and be proud of my husband, or children. That was it; his end had come.
What I can’t summarize for you from that moment on was a series of grief stricken weeks of emotional roller coasters; fighting nightmares and haunting memories of my dad’s final days. Additionally my dad’s departure marked the end of life as I knew it, having been in Africa the previous year. Suddenly left without him and starting all over at age 30 in my childhood bedroom was too much to digest, it seems in even a few months. My mother and I had a month of shock recovery time until receiving closure at dad’s burial in Arlington National Cemetary. What I even did in that month I couldn’t tell you; I guess survive may be the best word. Following the burial I stayed up north and visited with extended family in NY. Some therapeutic family time with my aunt and uncle and reminiscing with my sister as she shed light on dad’s early days in and around Long Island were helpful. I’ve returned to the remnants of my life in Tampa as of July. Since then, I’ve started a fresh chapter of life, and the rest is, as they say, unwritten.