I just lost my dad. One minute, he was talking, walking, and shopping with me; the next day he was someone I didn’t know. Overnight, his dementia had taken hold and he was lost to us. I’ll never know if it was a new prescription that pushed him over the edge, or someone stealing his wallet at his assisted living center (which held his lucky $20 bill from his Navy days in the 1950s). I’ll never know the answer and I’ll never gather enough facts to know. This doesn’t exactly bring me peace.
Was it part of God’s plan to take this wonderful, kind man that everyone loved so quickly? Had God heard my prayers for mercy as I saw him headed down the slippery slope of decline? For days in the hospital, I sat talking to dad. Even though he was unresponsive and incapable of our usual communication, I could see that parts of “dad” were still there. The doctors were not forthcoming with information and it was a constant struggle to get the facts and the truth — two things my tenacity was going to attain. I watched for days as the prognosis grew worse, until finally I lifted a prayer begging for answers … any kind of answers.
The neurologist came into dad’s room and he was, quite literally, heaven-sent. He answered all of my questions to the best of his ability. He told me dad was not coming back and I needed to make a decision as dad’s healthcare power of attorney. An infection had started to brew and they wanted to know if we should treat it or not. Fortunately, one of the greatest blessings in all of this is that mom and dad left detailed living wills/advanced directives, spelling out what they wanted and what they didn’t.
There was no way dad wanted to live like this, and his living will guided us to the final decision that allowed him to die a natural death as he requested. As my sibling said, “It was the hardest, easiest decision to make, because dad had told us what he wanted.” We honored his wishes, as hard as it was. Imagine the level of guilt we would have to bear the remainder of our lives, had dad not gone to the trouble to have this for us, guiding us through a very dark and sorrowful time.
Moving him to Hospice House was the best decision. Dad was so peaceful there. I am convinced the nurses and CNAs had angel’s wings under their scrubs; yet another blessing during this time of crisis. I stayed with dad in hospice for two days. I talked non-stop (aided greatly by the constant flow of caffeine), I sang to him “Amazing Grace” and other songs he loved. I asked for forgiveness for the times I wasn’t the best kid or short on patience, and I reminded him of all the great family memories. I thanked him for instilling in us kids the morals and values that have carried us so far. I asked him to watch over my family, give mom a big hug, and touch the stars for me. It is hard to carry on a solo conversation.
A couple of hours before he passed, he gave me a great gift. He opened his eyes and locked onto mine. He hadn’t done that in a week. Giving dad the biggest smile that I could through the tears, I told him that I was right there with him and that I was okay (he always worried about me). I was sad but okay and was going to be okay. I told him “I love you” as I had at least 100 times that day. For a man whose brain could no longer function and who lost his powers of speech, what he did next was a very special gift. Eyes locked on mine, his lips mouthed the words, “I love you” right back. In human terms, that was impossible, but not to me. That was a parting miracle and one I will never forget.
Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. It is a sorrowful time for me and my family, but dad always said, “Life is for the living,” and mom always said, “This too shall pass.” I think they were both right, as always.
© 2012 Julie Hall