Tuesday, May 22, 2007

One Week Ago... That Fateful Night

Dad's cremains arrived at the funeral home today. We have yet to pick them up. There are still many reminders of Dad around the apartment - some of the food he picked out the last time we went shopping that he thought he'd eat, his pants still hanging on the bed post, mail still bearing his name.

Mom and I went to our family doctor today since my Mom is the latest of us under the weather, but we spent much of the time talking about Dad. The doctor got Dad's file to refer to a few things, and I noticed that "Deceased - 5/16/07" was written across the front of it.

As this night is the week anniversary of Dad's last night, I am recounting his final hours for the first time on my blog. Some of this is potentially disturbing, so please proceed with caution. I didn't plan on recounting my Dad's last hours in my blog today, but the week anniversary got me thinking back to that fateful night. for those who want to read on, here it is:

It was a week ago today - in the morning - that my Dad had some sort of stroke-like brain event and seemed to slip away from us. Exactly a week ago to the minute (11:00ish), we were a family of four, sitting together in my folks' living room, my Dad's first evening in his newly delivered hospital bed. The Bulls-Pistons' playoff game was on in the background, and things seemed normal. Dad had even perked up some, giving us a glimmer of hope that his vegetative state that day was not going to be permanent. Beth left for home about now without alarm, and Mom found she could fall asleep without problem.

But I couldn't. About midnight, I headed to bed, that night sleeping in my parents' room since Dad was now in the living room and Mom had elected to sleep on the couch to be closer to him. Before bed, I decided to read a small booklet on "the dying experience" that our hospice nurse had given me that day. I am not sure why I read it that night; I was tired, and I could have always procrastinated. And what's more, why did hospice even think to give it to me that day? But I had it, and I read it.

It so frightened me. It talked about the symptoms people experience at different stages of dying - a few months before death, a few weeks, a few hours, and a few minutes. It was Dad. Even some of the immanent symptoms - it was Dad. I was afraid. I couldn't sleep because I was afraid of losing him when I was not watching. I agonized because I knew I couldn't stay awake for weeks on end, but I knew I couldn't sleep. I worried that he might even go that night. It wasn't the first eerie premonition of the evening.

So I turned on a dim light in my parents' room and started journaling , in between pacing around the apartment, making periodic stops by Dad's bed. That went on for hours. I wrote that it was my dark night of the soul. I struggled. I wrote. I paced.

And then things began to happen. Around 3am, Dad seemed to be struggling a bit more with his breathing. His breathing had been congested for weeks, but now it became a bit more labored and even more congested. He seemed to breathe a few labored breaths, then shudder or squirm. This pattern continued, and he seemed in distressed.

I woke my Mom and sat with him, holding his hand, stroking his arm, and talking with him. And this premonition came upon me that the end was close. I had always wanted to take some pictures of Dad's hands and feet, and I suddenly felt the urgency to take them - now. I got out my camera and began shooting; I took many pictures, ones I have yet to look at. There were a couple a me and him, one of him and Mom, and many, many of my hands, his hands, our hands together.

By 4am, he was laboring rather intensely, and for the first time that night, I tried concertedly to wake him. He was unresponsive, clearly now retreated into his own world. I wondered where he was during those minutes. He seemed very disturbed to me, and I prayed that he was not having bad dreams or any pain. I felt concerned enough to call hospice, and she suggested I administer liquid morphine, which Dad had not needed to that point because he had not had pain. However, since morphine is also supposed to calm down labored breathing, I gave him some. I waited a few minutes, then gave him some more. While there was no change, it also seemed like he was stable, so Mom laid back down on the couch, and after sitting with him for a spell longer, I sat at my computer to do some brief journaling. It was 4:30am.

After writing just a paragraph or so, I noticed something in Dad's mouth. I got up and went to him, and there was white foam coming out of his mouth. I woke Mom, and we grabbed paper towels to catch it. It kept coming. Panicked, I called hospice, telling them that they needed to come because I thought we were losing Dad. Then I called Beth and told her to come as soon as she could. Mom and I attended him, but we could not get him out of his unresponsive trance and we could not stop the froth running from his mouth. I told Mom to help me sit him up, so we got on either side of him, hooked our arms at the elbow under his armpit and hoisted him up. The foam kept coming, and we grew more and more panicked.

Then, without warning, Dad sat up, partially opened his eyes, and let out a definitive breath, spitting white foam from his mouth in the process. It was so sudden that I jumped back; it scared me. Then he sat back and was gone. I knew it right away, and I told Mom, "He's gone." I grabbed his shoulders and yelled for him, and we both were hysterical with tears. We were so unsure what to do. The color began to immediately drain from his face; the surfaced blood veins in his nose disappeared, and I specifically remember his ears changing color, like those hyper-color shirts. Mom and I cried and cried. We paced and held him. 4:41am.

There were still a few phantom breaths and movements in him, which startled us and also gave - for split seconds - hope that maybe he wasn't really gone. But we knew.

We crossed his arms and pulled the sheet and blanket up over his chest so he looked more comfortable. He was gone.

Beth arrived, unfortunately, too late. The three of us sat with him, waiting for hospice to arrive.

She did, and she contacted the funeral home and then began washing the body. She offered us the chance to leave, but we didn't want to. We stayed with Dad, watching her wash and then dress him. Since Dad was a big guy, she asked for my help to roll him, which I did. I helped get Dad ready.

The funeral director eventually came, with those infamous gurnies and black body bags that I've only seen in gangster movies. They moved Dad over and zipped him up. And like that, he was gone.

Those were Dad's final few hours, all of them with me by his side. In the end, I guess I didn't have to stay up for weeks on end, worrying that I'd miss the mystical, inexplicable moment Dad passed from this life to whatever is beyond. In so many ways, Dad was looking out for us in his death, even though we would never be ready to see him go. Mom was always fearful that he would die in their bed, and so he waited for his first night not sleeping there. Mom was afraid she'd be alone, so he waited until I was by his side as well. And I wanted to be there, and maybe he knew I was at his side and that it was okay to let go. And he let me take those final pictures, that I'll look at someday and relive my dark night of the soul and those final hours with Dad.

In a handful of hours, it will have been one week since I watched Dad literally breathe his last as he passed from us. My tears have become much further between now, and I've moved into a simple incredulity that he is really gone. There is some sort of mental disconnect as I look at his pictures; I cannot quite wrap my mind around his absence. Even just now, I look up from my computer at his framed picture, and it is like my mind and heart go blank. I have no ability to comprehend what it means that Dad - the person in that picture - is no more, and that that picture is all we have left of him. Pictures, memories, and cremains.


Post a Comment

<< Home