Daddy died a year ago tomorrow. I’ve been marking the days this month of where we were a year ago – not crying, not anguished, just aware. I’m remembering how difficult his last month of life was, with diminished mobility and speech, increased confusion, and his confounded stubbornness that he was getting up even though his legs couldn’t hold him, that he was going home even though I couldn’t care for him here.
He ended his life in one of “those places” that he swore up and down he would never be in. When we explained to him that’s where he was, and that if he didn’t like it, he should have seen the places we didn’t take him, he wrinkled his face, saying, “Pffffffffft.” They took good care of him there, though the sight of the mattress around the bed in case he fell out in the night really threw me.
Daddy asked me in a window of lucidness where his grandparents were buried, and what did his will say, and was it finalized. He wanted to know things were in order, and he told me that it had been a good life and that dying wasn’t a bad thing. He went downhill from there.
I’m grateful to Hospice. Whenever I see Hospice nurses in blue scrubs out and about, I want to run up and hug them and say “Thank you.” Sometimes I do, which they may find odd, but especially now I have excess emotion and they made such a difference. They spoke gently but with blunt honesty about what happens to the body when it starts to shut down, about how our perception of it was just that; his body was doing the business of dying. That meant it was hot, that breathing changed, that he probably wouldn’t talk much. But that he wasn’t in pain and would at some level hear us even when he couldn’t respond. I sang “Amazing Grace” and “You Are My Sunshine” to him, and was with him when he died.
Today I spent time with someone in my community who is facing the same situation with a parent who probably doesn’t have a lot of time left. Because of my experience with Daddy, I was able to talk about convening a care coordination meeting with the facility staff, and bringing Hospice in early to help the transition, because Hospice staff bring additional skilled eyes to evaluate and support both patient and family. We also talked about cremation, and what services a funeral home provides, and how obituaries get to the paper. Things to get in order BEFORE there is a death, because so much happens then that it’s hard to keep track of details.
Daddy gave me that present of understanding this end of life stage, and the ability to talk about it calmly and with compassion. I miss him every day, though I don’t miss having the house climate be too hot for me or the TV volume up so loud I can hear it anywhere in the house. He was a kind man who loved his family with all his heart. People here speak so fondly of him that it sometimes brings tears to hear about random acts of kindness done that made a difference. That’s a pretty good legacy.
I’m holding on to the image that was on the prayer chain when he died, that “Bill is driving around the golden streets of heaven in a golfcart with his beloved Peg.” That’s Daddy. I love you, Daddy. And I miss you.