(note, the final items on my “25” list have been put on the back burner this week)
And when did you last see your father?
-W.F. Yeames (1878)
Dad slipped away peacefully and headed home this past weekend. It was just as we’d hoped and prayed for; there was no pain, fear or struggle. Mom was by his side, which was immensely comforting to her, because she saw for herself that it was so.
It had been 8 days since he’d refused any more food or beverage. His body was telling him that it was time. I spent hours by his side and watched as they would offer him something by mouth, but he would not respond. He would alternately breathe deeply and then shallowly. The hospice team had predicted it would be 3 to 5 days, but I guess he showed them!
Interestingly enough, I awakened very early the day he passed. It wasn’t that I had a premonition as much as it was that I realized that I’d left my cell phone in the kitchen overnight after telling Mom to call me at any hour if something happened. It bothered me to think that she might have called in the night, so I just had to get up and check.
As it turned out, she had not, but even though it was before 6 a.m. for some reason I decided to just stay up and go through my usual morning routine. I took care of the dogs, walked them and even took a bike ride before showering a little before 8 a.m. Right as I was finishing my “ablutions”, the phone rang. It was Mary who alerted me to the fact that she’d just called Mom who reported that she “thought” Dad had just passed. Mary told her to call a nurse in and then called me. The very instant I hung up from talking to Mary, the phone rang, and it was Mom telling me the same thing.
I said I’d be right there, and because I’d gotten up so early, I was ready to roll, all clean and fluffed. Mom demurred, saying there was no reason for me to come, but of course I needed to be there, so I insisted! I arrived about 20 minutes after Dad had passed and was comforted to see how serene he looked. He already was “pale and wan” (an old phrase from my poetry studies), and as time elapsed, he proceeded to become more so. But his face was absolutely mesmerizing to me.
Dad had always been fit; he’d watched his weight and exercised all his life. As he declined into Alzheimers and became wheelchair bound, he actually put on some weight, which would have appalled him. But that extra weight cushion is what allowed him to last as long as he did. At the end, his facial bone structure was angular, but I wouldn’t describe it as gaunt. Because he’d never had any cavities, he still had all his teeth, and that helped to keep from looking sunken in. I thought he was beautiful. Chiseled is a good word to describe it.
While we waited for the folks from the Neptune Society to come remove Dad’s body, Mom called various folks and received visitors. I decided to keep my hands busy and proceeded to pack up Dad’s personal effects and all the items we’d decorated his room with. I folded all his clothes, cleared out the medicine chest, removed all the photos from his bulletin board and stacked his hats.
Mary arrived at that point, so I took my leave to attend to the few things I needed to do that day. Later I worked on his obituary that I’d written months ago, and when Mom came over for supper that night, we finished it up and e-mailed the paper to start the process of getting it posted.
It was a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand, the finality of losing a parent is huge. They are our buffer against our own mortality! And of course, I mourn the loss of the person my dad used to be. But even in his final years, there remained an essence of that man; I would never know when I would stop by to visit if he’d be alert, smiling and responsive or totally unconscious. No matter what, I always came away hopeful that somehow he sensed that someone who loved him had stopped by.
One of my favorite memories was from seven months ago when I brought him a flag for July 4. He was awake and alert that day and brightened considerably as he said, “Oh boy!” I LOVED that.
I will miss him with all my heart. But having said that, we celebrate his release into glory; he would have hated his invalid status if he’d been more aware of it. I cherish the thought of his flying free, laughing and dancing, enjoying his homecoming with all the loved ones who have gone before and to meet Jesus face to face. I know he is in a far better place, and I am grateful to God for finally calling him home.