My father’s journey in this life is over. His spirit is now free.
I arrived in Colorado a week and a half ago, on a Tuesday. He stopped eating shortly thereafter, and didn’t eat anything for many days, except a popsicle now and then. Gail and I took turns caring for him. She was very grateful for that, and I was very grateful I could be of service to them both.
But because he lost his appetite, I watched him waste away, growing more skeletal by the day. I cooked some for Gail and I, though of the three of us, I was the only one to have much of an appetite. I learned, not so long ago, that by keeping my body nourished, I had more strength to deal with challenges.
My step-mother and I had some sweet conversations. She brought back a basket full of pictures from his house from my childhood. I took pictures of the pictures so that I could bring them home with me. There was also a letter I wrote to them, when I was about 13.
My father recognized me, though, up till the day before he died. At one point, about two days before he died, I sat on the bed next to him and told him I loved him, very much. He put his arm around me and said, in a very weak, almost child-like voice, “I’m so glad you came out to see me.”
I was so glad to hear that, from him directly. I mean, I’d known, but this was one of the last, very clear things he’d said to me.
I think it was that night that my stepmother gave me something to remember my father by – the necklace he always wore. I was deeply touched by that.
He alternated between sleeping a lot and being restless. He coughed up a lot of mucus, up until the last 24 hours, when he just couldn’t get enough strength to cough anymore. He wanted a breathing treatment all the time, even just 5 minutes after the last one. It was so awful to see him struggle like that.
When Gail had gone to take care of some financial documents, he had a violent coughing jag and his lower denture popped out, . I thought he was going to choke. I got scared a little and called the hospice nurse.
When Gail returned, she took his dentures out. He looked so much more frail and heartbreaking then.
The nurse called back and changed his anti-anxiety medications, too. They switched from Haldol, to Ativan. It was much more powerful stuff. He was restless on the Haldol and with the inability to clear the mucus…it was hell for him. The Ativan knocked him out. He spent the last day mostly sleeping…wearing a diaper because he couldn’t even stand up to go to the bathroom. When we did have to change him, he was unable to hold himself up and he was so heavy, but we managed.
Gail told me the nurse told her he had a couple of days left. I had to leave before he died. I left at noon on Tuesday. I wanted to go to the Garden of the Gods on my way back to Denver. I truly believed he would stay on another few days.
And so, I kissed him on his forehead and said goodbye and he groaned a little. I said goodbye to Gail and her sisters who came to see me off, and I left.
I was in the Garden of the Gods at 1:10, and left at 2:10 pm. I stopped at a Starbucks and called to talk to my husband and daughter for a bit and take a bathroom break and get a cold drink. I think it was about 2:30 pm.
I got back on the road and back into Denver, dropped the car off and got taken to the train station. I called Gail to let her know I got into the station. It was about 4:30. I told her I arrived safely and the train would be on time. That’s when she told me, my father passed away. He passed away about 2:45.
I thought I was going to handle it gracefully. I had only cried twice all week long. Usually when just talking with Gail.
He died on April 29th – my husband’s birthday. Exactly one month before his own.
According to my stepmother, he passed very peacefully. He was so drugged up that he didn’t struggle at all. My father had woken up some time after I’d left. She called out a priest to give him his last rites…and afterward, he just closed his blue eyes, took a last breath, and went to sleep.
And, though I thought I would have handled it calmly, I ended up crying, and having trouble talking. I thought I would have found out when I was home, not in a train station, so far from home, and so close, but yet, two hours away from them. There wasn’t anything I could do.
I wanted to be there when he passed, if I had known it was going to be just a few short hours later, I would have stayed longer (even if it meant risking missing my train). Was my selfishness the reason why I needed to leave when I did?
Maybe I was being selfish. I wanted to go back to the Garden of the Gods before I left. I wanted one last memorable experience of this trip, but it meant I wasn’t there at the critical moment.
Gail said she was glad I wasn’t there, at that moment. I think she wanted to spare me pain, but…well, I’m weird. I wanted to be there in his final moment. I wanted to see him off as he left this world. I didn’t need to be shielded from pain. I just wasn’t expecting him to go for another few days, and my family needed me back (my two youngest daughters were falling apart, and my husband was fraying at the edges, too).
Then again, maybe he didn’t want to leave until he knew I was gone. I won’t really ever know.
I called my husband, and while he said he was very sorry he couldn’t be with me to comfort me, he also had to get out of the house to get the girls to their softball game (which ended up getting rained out) so I didn’t talk long. And no, he didn’t call me back when he knew it was canceled.
I called my oldest sister.
And I called a friend, who wasn’t able to get to the phone.
I think I had about 10 minutes of talk time…total. And then I was alone in my grieving. But I knew I wasn’t alone, alone. It’s just that in those moments…I just wanted a friendly ear to talk to.
It ended up being all right. It IS all right.
He was a beautiful man. My stepmother, a beautiful woman.
The week was blessedly peaceful for me; for the most part, few problems.
I know, in my heart, I did the right thing by going.
When I was finally on the train, I called my mother. I told her I was on the train in Denver. She said to me, “Am I supposed to…” And I said, “what?” And she said “never mind”. And she hung up. My father just died, and my mother didn’t care about how I might feel about that. I was grieving, and she hung up on me.
She didn’t care that I was 1000 miles from home and that anything could happen on the train (the trains had a couple of mechanical failures and other delays on the way out, and on the way back). It took me 26 hours to finally get home.
There are no words to express the depth of the sorrow I felt then. Sorrow that my mother can’t step outside her ego for two minutes and give her daughter the comfort she’s trying to ask for but can’t.
I was damned if I did go, damned if I didn’t go. But at least, I let my conscience be my guide. I’d rather be damned by my mother, than damned by my Self.
Though, I suppose, when I think about it…
I never really had a mother, now did I? I was in ‘foster care’ all my life – placed in a family that clothed and fed me, but did not nourish my heart and soul one bit.
I left my ‘real’ mother back in Colorado.
And now what?
I am not sure.
I got back in last night, had a lot of snuggles with my girls, and husband, and now I need to get back into the routine of things.
Thank you all for your kindness and support when I was feeling troubled about going. You all helped me retain the peace of mind I needed to be in the right heart space for my father even though my own family was trying to be so disruptive.
And Life will go on.
Much love, my friends.