My kitchen is getting to total remodel. The house, built in the 1920′s, seems to hold all sorts of secrets. Like some amazingly cool tile, hidden under a flor and a new subfloor, a reminder of the Art Deco time, now more than a lifetime ago.
I asked my uncle, who is working on the renovation, if we could at least save one and maybe frame it as a reminder of what once was.
“No.” He said, never even looking up from some sort of huge power saw.
Things are crazy busy here. And it’s not that I’ve forgotten I have a blog, it’s juse really that I don’t seem to have the time to tell all the stories that need to be told.
This is a repost, from the early blogging days. But today marks ten years since my father passed away so it was on my mind.
This weekend will mark the one year anniversary since my father passed away. So much of it all seems like it was a lifetime ago. Was it really just a year ago?
So much has changed.
On a Sunday afternoon, the first weekend of April last year, I drove up to the Veteran’s Home with a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream for my father, who was confided to bed in the final stages of aggressive, progressive MS. He was responsive; slowly eating the whole pint that I spoon-fed him and listened to my latest stories and the family gossip. He could barely whisper sounds. I could not even call them words.
And he kept dozing off to sleep. I’d nudge him to ask if he was done with the ice cream or if he wanted more. He’d open his mouth, signaling he wanted more. Eventually, the ice cream melted and I let my father sleep, giving up on the final spoonfuls.
The following Tuesday afternoon, I remember so clearly being frustrated by the rush hour traffic jam on the highway, as I got a phone call from the hospice staff that my father had a high fever and was unresponsive and not taking fluids. The nurses were concerned that with the dramatic change in his condition in the last twenty-four hours, that this could be the end.
An hour later, when I got to my father’s bedside, I did manage to to wake him a bit and fed him some spoonfuls of Jell-O. The following evening, my Aunt Deb – a nurse – went with me and was able to talk ‘nursing terms’ with the nurses there. I brought more Jell-O. I was not prepared or trained to talk the medical language. All I could do was try and feed this dying man. It seemed like it might help pass the time. Food is, after all, love.
Soon after my failed Jell-O attempt, the nursing staff started my father on a morphine drip. The hospice nurses said they would do it every two to three hours until he was, well, gone. Though it was hard to pinpoint timing, they said it’d be less than a week. Aunt Deb, my very own private advise nurse, said with the high fever and few fluids, he would not last long.
Before the weekend, my brothers had been called home. Friday afternoon, upon strict instructions from the hospice staff, we each had to go in and say ‘goodbye‘ to my father. And tell him we would be okay without him.
One by one, we went into the room alone to tell him just that. That he could go and we would each be okay. There were tears as we each came out of his room alone and nodded for the next to go in. From the various cell phones, we called his sibling, giving them the chance to say goodbye. Dad’s hearing was the one sense untouched by MS. He heard his sister’s voice over the phone line from 800 miles away and he tried to sit up, thinking she was near.
That was the last time I recall his eyes open. It still strikes me as odd, the things I remember. The things I cannot.
This final goodbye, permission to leave, got easier the more we talked about it. We talked about his relatives that had passed on. My mother reminded him of his grandfather, one of his favorite people ever. I remember asking him that if he thought maybe he’d see Moose, the collie my brother’s and I had grown up with.
By Friday evening, just after 9, my father had slipped into a coma. We took turns in the room. At one point my Aunt Deb came to the doorway and said, “Your mother just gave me twenty dollars to take you out for ice cream.”
Never in my life had Mom been so free with ice cream money.
Food is love. I come from a long line of believers.
Needing a break, Aunt Deb and I went to an ice cream parlor and brought sundaes back for all the family. There were seven of us eating sundae’s around my father’s dying body. It seemed so wrong but so right that we were all together. We talked about plans for the future. We shared stories, brief moments of the past.
“If I’m ever dying and my family is sitting around eating ice cream and not sharing, I will come back and haunt each and every one of you.” Aunt Deb annouced, pointing at all of us with her plastic spoon.
Time passed slowly and there was not much change in his condition that evening. My brother’s soon headed back to my mother’s house for bed. We thought he’d be gone any moment. I stayed until about midnight that evening. My mother and Aunt Deb stayed with me and my father.
An hour later, I was home.
At 5 in the morning, the nurse called to say that his breathing was down to six breaths per minute. They did not expect him to be with them much longer.
I showered quickly – more to wake myself up than anything – and headed back down the road, 50 miles away, praying that he would wait until I got there to go. I had asked the nurse to tell him that, that I was coming when she had called. Even if he was in a coma, I thought he might still hear.
When I first met with the hospice social worker a few months before, she gave me this book about speaking about dying with strict instructions to go home and read it. (The book was called, “Final Gifts : Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying”). Now, on the lonely morning highway, I had these words to remind me of what it is really all about:
“There will be times when you will wonder if you have made a difference and you will come to discover that because of what you did, however little or however disappointing it seemed at the time, you paved the way that led to life.
You will come away with the humble knowledge that however much the other person has gained, you have gained just as much, and you all you do is acknowledge your gratitude.
There will be times when in the act of accepting, you will be accepted in a way you have not before.
In the act of comforting another, you will be unexpectedly comforted.
In the act of dying with another, you will be born.
There will be times when you experience firsthand what it means to really love and you’ll know it has less to do with words being spoken and more to do with heart being opened and souls being shared.
There will be times when however tired you are, you’re ever so alive, however separate you are, you’re ever so connected, whatever brokenness you’ve experienced, you’ve never felt more whole.
There will be times you will discover what generations before you have discovered and what generations after you will learn: in being a blessing for another, you are blessed. In being a vehicle for growth, you grow. in being a conduit for healing, you are healed. And in holding out the promise that no matter what happens, transformation is still possible, then you yourself can be transformed.
One of you loves and one of you is loved, and you’re both the same.
And you will come to know that this transformation is not really yours, but it comes from far inside you. You will realize, if you do not already, that you cared and loved on the grandest scale possible. And that the most fitting response you can make is a prayer that contains only four words: “Thank you, thank you.”
Those words, from a random page in the book, stuck with me. This was what it was all about. I finally got it.
I thought a lot about the dying; the different struggles I have seen people go through. There was the sudden, unexpected death of a heart attack or accident. Getting hit by the city bus or something. And then, there was the slow, losing of one’s mind because of a disease we have yet to understand. I guess the blessing there was that that person is unaware of what is happening to them. Their mind is gone long before their body. The city bus or heart attack- is that the family only has to say goodbye once.
Death sometimes is more about the still living than the dying.
I knew that my father was ready to go. His body had been telling us for so long. The last five years had been all downhill in regards to his health and well being. But in those five years, we had never come close to anything like the past week before.
I could never even get my arms around the idea of the silent suffering my father went through with MS. To still have his mind long after his limps and body had completely failed him. He had no way to communicate his needs. It started with being unable to feed himself. That turned to near blindness and no throat muscles. He was mostly blind these last few months. And finally, he was mute.
There was another long day of sitting around, just waiting for dad’s breath to slow and stop. We held his bent, twisted hands. We gave him some of his favorite music, via my iPod so that maybe he’d be comforted. The Moody Blues. John Denver. “I Guess He’d Rather Be In Colorado.” I talked to him about the six-week camping trips we took each summer trying to visit all the National Parks the Rockies had to offer. I wished for one more chance for us to look at all of his 35mm slides from our family vacations together.
Vanye played Cat Steven’s “Father and Son“ for him. Jim read parts of the Bible to him. Though still in the coma, I chose to believe that he could hear all of this.
Soon, the death rattle started – a much more rattling breathing. Midway through the afternoon, we realized that the more excitement there was in my father’s room, the more his breathing picked up. One of the hospice nurses suggested that we leave him alone for awhile; to see if anything changed. I made it home for another shower and tried to nap. That Saturday evening, I relived Jim and Sugar Don of their shift with my father.
A bit later, Aunt Deb and my Mother, The Diva, showed up with snacks and we sat in the darkness, chatting over my father’s dying body and passing around Twisslers. There was nothing else to do. Again, I told my father that really, we’d all be ok without him. That he need not worry. He could go. That he had our permission.
My mother and I talked to him about his family and reassured him that we’d look after his 90-year-old mother as well.
For the next seven hours, his breathing was close to 2 or 3 breaths per minute. I kept watching for his chest to stop rising and falling. It never did. At some point in the middle of the night, after one but before two, the nurse suggested we all leave my father alone. She said she had never seen anyone go so long like this. Such slow breathing for so long; it had to end soon. The hospice nurse thought we might be keeping him with us by simply being near.
So we each went back home, another 50 miles in the darkness. I crawled into bed. I was exhausted. I remember thinking that when I woke up next, my father would most likely be gone. It was almost four in the morning before I fell asleep.
Less than an hour later, my phone rang.
After being in the coma since Friday evening, he passed away at 4:40 Sunday morning.
I felt terrible that he passed away with no loved ones by his side but am sure he would have lingered if he felt anyone near him. In the end, it was his strong heart that kept him breathing for so long. My father’s sister said that he was robbed via MS of at least 30 more years with us.
With arrangements already made to donate his body to MS research, an ambulance was already on its way to pick up his body. There was nothing for me to do but wait for the morning to break.
I called the family and let them know as the sun came up that he was finally gone. That day, warm chocolate chip cookies were the answer. I was never sure of exactly what the question was. Maybe the question was ways and things to focus on other than the death of my father. After the roller coast of the last few years, the ride had suddenly come to a complete and full stop.
My friends were great over the days between the death and the funeral. Tabby took me out for dinner and wine. Lots and lots of wine. Solange and I shared drafts of Strongbow. Blair made travel arrangements.
A few days later, after meeting with the minister of the church my father grew up in, my grandmother and I planned a funeral. The minister asked that we write something for the service. My 90-year-old grandmother turned to me and said in a way only a grandmother could, “Well, you’re the writer. You take care of that.” Simple and matter of fact. There was no room for questions.
Though I had lost a father, she had lost a son. She had lost her first-born child.
At home, I wrote this, unsure if I could actually read it. Blair was flying in from the Twin Cities. She would read it at the funeral if I could not.
Though I know its hard for all of us to see and understand the meaning, the how and they why of what this terrible disease did to my father, we must be thankful and strong for the blessing that came from his passing.
Though through most of his adult life, my father was never able to share his feeling, speak of love, joy and dreams.
He was a quiet, reserved and rather stoic man when it came to emotions.
From the effects of MS, he changed. Parts changed for the better, even though his body changed for the worse. He was able to speak of love, to understand that love, no matter what form, is all that matters. he was able to speak of it, hear it and know it.
That is the blessing of the end of his life.
He knew he was loved and we knew he loved us. And, that is all that really matters.
Turns out that I surprised myself and was able to read the words. Vanye and Jim also spoke. In the first pew of the little white church, my brother’s sat holding hands. My mother and Aunt Deb cried over everyone else; loud and unable to hold back their tears. I remember hearing them sobbing behind me as Jim talked about his father. They had no idea any of us would be reading anything, yet alone our own words.
This week, one simple, short year ago, life was very different. My family was just beginning to say ‘goodbye.’
This has in a way, been the longest year. It seems as if all of this was a lifetime past; how could it be just 360-some odd days ago? And it seems that I am someone else now. Someone who was transformed by the last few years of caring and comforting; of being both a blessing and being blessed.
I see that so clearly now. And I am so very grateful for it all.
Last night I watched Murder She Wrote tonight Bib Newhart.
What year is it?
I have the cheapest cable available here.
Long time, no blog. Where do the days go?
Remember the movie, “Groundhog’s Day”?
I feel like that pretty much sums up my work life.
Probably a good summery of my personal life too.
My poor pup, Teddy, has been sick on and off , since mid-November. We go back to the vet next week so hopefully we can find a long-term solution.
Meanwhile, it’s breaking my heart.
My mother, The Diva, has nearly fully recovered from her knee replacement surgery, back in October.
Speaking of work, I have a new office. Not to brag or anything like that, but a corner office with windows. And a stunning view of the parking lot and the interstate.
Last week, after a huge snowfall, I got out the snowblower out and began to snowblow the driveway.
it’s important to know that my dogs don’t care for winter much – or snow that is deeper than they are tall.
So, during the snowstorm, they did their business in the driveway, which I had cleared out the after the last snowstorm. I have even taken to creating paths across the lawn for them in the snow to make the whole experience easier for them. After 10+ inches overnight, the dogs had no choice but to do their business in the driveway and hurry back in. that evening, after work, I got the blower started and within a few feet out of the garage, got hit with something hard and frozen. In the face. It was windy and everything coming out of the snowblower was coming back at me.
And so, I got hit. Hit with a piece of solid frozen dog poop. That’s right.
Because, you’ve met me.
That’s a good summary of how things are going. Hit in the face with sh!t.
More soon. I promise.
Unable to blog- problems posting. Working on fixing.