I received a FB message from the mother of an old friend. She told me that my friend, E, had lost her father several days earlier (and a few days after I lost mine) and asked her mom to get my e mail address, as E doesn't do FB. E's parents divorced when we were in middle school, and she's close to both of them; and I absolutely loved them both. After reading her Dad's obit, I wrote her the following. Some names/identifying marks have been removed, but the letter speaks to some details about my last few weeks.
What a great, great obituary. I know it completely sucks to lose him, but what a lovely, bittersweet last day for him. I think it's amazing that he's donating his body to science! And I love that he kept bees. Honey lasts forever.
Having two whole weeks' more experience on this joy ride, I will give you a single piece of advice, and that is; in the rush of getting home, attending the celebration of life, dealing with all that has to be dealt with - take care of yourself. It's easy to get caught up in comforting others. And there's nothing wrong with that - but remember to take some E Time to remember your sweet Dad.
Lecture over. Now, the whole "Rats" thing came from the fact that mice would nest in the walls of the cabin, and one made its home in a space behind the oven - thus, when you turned on the oven, as we had, the place smelled liked...rats.
We still have the cabin, but our pest control efforts are more advanced these days, and only occasionally will we get that special aroma.
So, here's what happened with Dad. He had a stroke back in October. Mom called me and I came to Atlanta, and Laura got there the next day. His right side was weak, and it wiped out a lot of speech - the words were in there, he had a hard time getting them out - Expressive Aphasia. He started rehab and did pretty well - although, at some point, he had a mini-stroke and backslid a little.
He got out of rehab mid-February and was doing....ok. Not great, but not terrible either. Mom, on the other hand, was wearing herself out being his full-time caregiver. I came down on weekends, and I was starting to wonder if I needed to take FMLA.
On March 17, I took the day off to help her take him to 2 doctors appointments. He was worn out. He fell asleep during the first appointment - his cardiologist (he had a quad bypass back in 2008) said his heart was fine and she'd see him in 3 months.
His renal specialist gave us the news we'd been expecting (a big reason I came down). Dad has been battling kidney disease for about 12 years and he was finally at 11% function - his magic number for dialysis. Mom and I started asking some questions, and it came out that Dad would have to do three sessions a week, four hours at a time. Again, Dad was fairly sleepy and didn't say anything at this appointment - just sat there and took it in.
Mom took Dad back to the house in her car - a VW beetle that he could more easily get in and out of, and I drove the wheelchair home in mine. She said that he looked at her as soon as they got in the car and said, "Three days a week? Four hours, three days a week?" She said yes, and he closed his eyes and fell asleep. We got him in the house, and he slept. The next day a home healthcare worker came in and his temperature was really low. They called his doctor who said to call 911, and they took him to St. Joe's. It was found that his kidneys had shut down, and other systems were following. That night, we worked on getting Laura there. They released him to home hospice Thursday. Laura arrived that night. During that time, Dad was non-responsive, but comfortable.
Saturday afternoon, our nurse was in to check on him, and he woke up briefly. He saw Laura and squeezed her hand, winked at me, and told Mom he loved her. Then he went back to sleep.
At that point, we were giving morphine every two hours. Mom was with him, and Laura and I took turns coming down to help her. So, when I came down for my 5:15 AM morphine run Sunday AM, I went over to him and noticed he wasn't breathing. I felt for a pulse, nothing. He was cold to the touch. I woke up Mom and said, "I think he's gone". Master of the obvious. I totally should have gone into medicine. Still, when I went upstairs to get Laura, I kept thinking, "I hope I didn't screw up and I'm not waking her up for nothing".
Now you're going to think I'm crazy (and I am), but I firmly believe he waited til Mom was good and asleep, and until it was my turn to come down, because he didn't want to bother Mom or freak Laura out.
I do know, without a shadow of doubt, that he heard about dialysis that day at the doctor and thought, "Nope, not happening", and that was that.
But it was a good run. I'd say that he had 72.5 great years and six kind of shitty months, and that's not bad at all.
I'm back down in Atlanta this weekend, celebrating Mom's 70th birthday with her. I'm starting to get dialed back in at work - I travel a lot and that's going to pick up significantly in the next few weeks - as in, my calendar is pretty well booked into August. So at least I'm highly employed.
Mom is still living in [the neighborhood we grew up in] and I cannot tell you how comforting our long-time friends and neighbors have been to her, and to all of us- in fact, two of our classmates came to his memorial - JT and JM. I was blown away. I've stayed friends with both of them, and JM is really the oldest friend I have, but I was so moved to see them both there. JM, by the way, is completely bald. Imagine Mr. Clean's slightly nerdy cousin, and there you are. He has two little girls who are cute and smart and funny, and his wife is a doll. JT and her sweet husband have a son and daughter (and went through hell to get them), and they're both adorable as well. We all turned out OK, as it happens. I keep thinking it would be interesting to write a book about our Girl Scout Troop, to see what happened to all of us.
I wonder how we're old enough to have families, and then I remember we're turning 40 this year. I remember a time when 40 seemed ancient, but now that I'm nearly there, I think how young it really is.
I've rambled on enough. Enjoy your time with your family, though the occasion for your gathering is a sad one, there will be happy memories and honey. And nieces and nephews, and friends, and love.