Day 5 with Dad (Sunday, April 21, 2013)
Dad is declining, slowly. Sometimes his hands and feet are warm, and sometimes they’re cold as ice. I know this is a natural process and I appreciate the comfort, confidence and calmness of all the staff here, I just wish it didn’t have to hurt so bad watching Dad fade away. My heart physically hurts, but I promised I’d stay.
Yesterday we stopped by Dad’s assisted living facility and the Executive Director happened to be there. He asked about Dad, I said he was doing well, but declining. He said he’s had people graduate from Hospice as many as three times! In a way, I wish he hadn’t told me that, I’m all for people beating the odds, but now I was beating myself over the head and questioning if I was doing the right thing.
All other information in my head seemed to vanish, all the conversations I’d had with Dad’s doctors, the stats, Dad’s health history the past several years, my own certainty and knowing, all the news of his seizures…gone…I panicked…heart racing…
Richard and I stopped to get a quick bite to eat at a drive-in burger joint, but I was in deep despair, my mind churning in turmoil, I wasn’t hungry, yet needed to eat. I was already plenty short on sleep, my body needed some assistance, even if it was in the form of a mere hamburger!
I looked over at the fancy car that had pulled in a couple spaces from us. The two ladies in the front seats perfectly groomed down to their nails, the nice dressed, disrespectful kid (tossing trash out the window) in the back. They were laughing AT us, seriously, they were. I was born and raised here, I know about the materialism first hand and it’s never impressed me.
I was too worn out to be angry or disgusted; I looked at them with a strange curiosity. They’re laughing at us and my Dad is dying. The two scenarios just didn’t mesh, I felt sorry for them yet a part of me wanted to go over them and tell them whatever they’re laughing at doesn’t matter, grow up, my Dad is DYING! I’ve been at this place in life before, where all that trivial shit gets under your skin in no time. Please don’t bother me with the things that don’t really matter.
I still couldn’t stop thinking about what the Director had said. This was not a time for making mistakes. Was I doing the right thing?! I was trying to eat without feeling guilty, Dad is on his death bed and I’m eating a burger. Some things in life just don’t go together, yet its life.
By the time we were back at Hospice I was pretty numb and exhausted from my mental and emotional gymnastics. Richard decided to head back to his motel room early and it was just me and Dad. Every once in a while I’d get a phone call, but for the most part, I long since made a ritual out of counting Dad’s breaths. It was my comfort, yet also my adversary.
At the end of each exhalation I counted 1-one thousand, 2-one thousand, 3-one thousand, 4-one thousand…oh how we’re taught to fight for life! This felt so unnatural. I am so conflicted! I want him to breathe, but also kind of don’t. I’m lost. It was my decision to move him to Hospice, OMG, had I made the right decision?
I turned on the TV for some distraction; my how the world becomes so tiny when you’re at this place in life. Nothing worthwhile sinks in, the political banter and negativity did not appeal, I turned it off. I sat there alone, watching Dad breathe, feeling like I’m carrying the weight of the world.
For some reason I felt compelled to tell Dad about being able to reach out to the military community, specifically veterans who come back with TBI. I knelt down beside him, held his hand and told him because of my experience with Brain Injuries and our family’s experience in the military it was natural fit. I said it was weird; it’s not something I would have planned!
I thought he should know his life of continual service to his community, church, and country made a big difference in my life. It’s my intention to carry that legacy forward and I was honored to be there for him, and that I was honored to be his daughter.
[I then sat back on the sofa to think. I realize it’s strange to have dual feelings like this because I am grateful for his service…but, I also have a lot of issues with a Dad who was both abusive and allowed destructive domestic violence to take place in his home. Nonetheless I go back to counting each inhalation and silently agonize about my decision.]
A quiet, respectful, low-key nurse comes in to check on Dad. She’s new to me, so I try to make small talk but it’s hard. Words don’t seem to matter right now. I am about as uncomfortable as a person can be with all the thoughts, doubts and questions running through my head.
I mention to the nurse my wondering if I’d made the right decision or not. Her answer stopped my exhausted contorted acrobatic mind in its tracks. She said the decision had already been made a long time ago…there was no decision on my part. She had my attention; I was stunned, but also humbled. A simple, laser precise truth got through.
And, she said, if it were the case that my Dad actually improve if it’s not his time, then they’d treat him as an out-patient. I had known this before, but it got whisked away. The truth. It was not my decision, it never was. I got back to the place of peaceful knowing. I was here for my Dad. If he got better, I’d fight for him and go with him to rehab, but, if it was his time, I’d help him go.
I’m pretty sure she was an angel. The gift she gave me with her words, comfort, gentle knowing, restored me to peace. I could sleep without the weight of the world, and, I would never agonize deeply again. Remarkable.