Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Decisive Turn Towards Home

Today has been one of the most exhausting and emotionally grueling of my life.

Dad took a rather significant turn for the worse today, although he has rebounded slightly this evening. In any case, it seems we are losing Dad, and today was the most perceptible step towards that thus far.

Dad had a rough night last night, and he was up a number of times needing my help to make the tough trip to the bathroom. Around 7am, I had again helped him to the toilet. However, when Mom and I started to help him back to the bedroom, he essentially stopped helping. He could no longer support himself at all nor cooperate with our requests. For a harrowing few moments, Mom and I both worked furiously to keep him from falling, me holding him up (all 230 pounds) while we scrambled to get a chair underneath him. Once we did, his demeanor had changed, and he was no longer responsive. We managed to get him into a wheelchair, but he was essentially vegetative all morning. Hospice came in the afternoon, and they confirmed my thoughts that something had likely happened in his brain. His left side was drooping some and his left eye was dialated. Our nurse said his blood pressure reading indicated a possible stroke or some other brain event. I cry when I think that I was literally holding him when he made this next slip away from us.

It was a devastating afternoon. Grandma was here for the day, and she and Mom and I cried as we saw Dad essentially vegetative and unresponsive. I cannot convey the emotions this day contained, although maybe some day I will try. My heart was broken for my Dad, whose body is being ravaged and taken over by this disease, and we are slowly seeing him slip away, both mentally and physically. I grieved because I feel in some significant way that today might be one of those very few days I look back upon as when we lost him.

With the help of hospice, we got him set up in a hospital bed in the living room this afternoon. Mom and I ate dinner and cried some more. Since this afternoon, I have felt invisibly tethered to Dad's bedside, not wanting to leave. I think I paced a groove in the floor by his bed. I missed no chance to hold his hand and talk to him. I finally coaxed a small response from him. I asked if he could talk, and he mouthed "No." Then I asked if he was in pain, to which he also said "No." I grieved that that might be the last communication with my Dad before he slipped away, although I was relieved that he is in comfort.

Our hearts have been somewhat placated because Dad has perked up some this evening, and he has become more responsive to our questions and comments. Those small moments of communication and contact through the veil of his disease have been lifelines to us this evening. He is answering some of our questions and seems to understand us. He also has tried to form sentences, and while some are unintelligible, sometimes he gets through to us. Little things like that are like 20-ton anchors for us in this time; his small responses are tides of relief, if even the fact that we can confirm with him he is comfortable and not in pain.

I cry when I think of how far he has slipped, and it breaks my heart to think of how helpless he must feel now and how these damn growths are pushing and prodding things in his brain at every moment, making him less and less like himself, taking him from us.

It is so tough to think of him a few months ago, so happy and vibrant, doing his woodworking and being the man about town. He was so happy. And I think of some of our recent conversations, which now seems helpless ages away as he struggles to form words and tell us simple things. And it is hard to fathom that even just yesterday morning he scootered himself across the street alone (although I watched from afar to make sure he made it) and ordered breakfast on his own (calling me on the intercom before he left requesting $10), and yet tonight he is bed-ridden and significantly diminished, mentally and physically.

This has been a cruel journey, and today - confronted with Dad's mental diminishment and helplessness - I had that flood of grief that I knew would come. I cried and was on the verge of tears when they were not streaming. It will be so hard to continue to watch him disappear in front of us, and now I am dreading how exactly he will go and who will first discover he has passed. For my Mom's sake, I hope it's me.

But he is still with us, and like I said, I feel like I do not want to leave his side again until he leaves us for God. I want to sit with him, hold his hand, stroke his arm, sooth him, talk to him, read to him, assure him I love him, and spend every moment possible together. I found myself today checking him every few moments to make sure he is comfortable and has what he needs. I could not sit down. I mustn't turn my eye, or maybe he will need something or have a pain or try to speak.

I look over at him right now as I type, and I see my Dad. I love him so much. And yet he is a shell of the man who raised me and cheered me on as an adult. I wonder - in some existential way - where he is. And as a doubting Thomas Christian, I wonder what his soul might look like and if it too is somehow warped by this disease. Where has my Dad gone? What happens to his essence as his body is taken over my this alien force? Is there some sort of milk and honey place waiting to receive him?

I am not sure how I'll get through this. I want to make him better... to have my old Dad back, not the one cancer has harmed. But yet, he is still my Dad, and I feel closer to him right now than I ever have in my life. Even in this state, I'd rather be here to change his soiled shorts than anywhere else on earth. Take your riches, take your fame, take your travel. I am home.

God, have mercy on my Dad. We love him so much. Be gentle with him and take him in your time. Give us good time together. And dip your finger in cool water, both for him and us who surround him.

"God, for all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes."
- Dag Hammarskjold, Swedish diplomat (1905 - 1961)


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