Saturday, December 20, 2014

A good enough death

My father passed away on December 1, at the age of 95. He had surgery in September for a bowel blockage and recovered from that. A second blockage sent him to the ER, and when they started treatment - insertion of a nasogastric tube and catheter - his heart stopped. After two resuscitations, we decided to let him go. My older brother was with him for the end.

Over the past six months, Dad had been going downhill slowly. He was sleeping more, so much so that I would not have been surprised if he had simply not awoken from one of his many naps. I was in the habit of phoning him several times a week, and he sometimes struggled to find words or remember names or dates. After his surgery, he couldn't follow plots or keep track of characters in the John Grisham novels he favored. Facebook, along with most computer tasks besides email, was a lost cause. He still loved to watch the Red Sox, though, listen to classical music and opera, play dominoes, dine with his friends, see family.

After his surgery, he spent about a week in "continuous care" getting rehab so he could return to his apartment. On the first day there, he told me he was in no hurry to leave. But the better he felt, the more horrific that unit became to him. He was one of the few that were mobile; the other residents spent their days in wheel chairs, watching the same show on TV in the day room, clutching teddy bears. He was very happy to leave that place behind, and said he would rather "jump off a bridge" than ever return. With his failing mental capacity, though, that is what I was afraid would happen.

Dad told me that, before the surgery, he had decided that if he were diagnosed with a terminal condition like cancer, he would not seek treatment. While recovering, he had a bout of incoherence caused by low blood oxygen, but it was interrupted by his asking me point blank why we did not just let him go. After the surgery, he said that he "would rather die" than have a nasogastric tube inserted again. So when my oldest brother called to ask if I had any objections to Dad not being resuscitated the next time his heart stopped, I said I had none. It was what he would have wanted.

After my stepmother passed away a year or so ago, I asked Dad if he had done any preplanning. No, he didn't care what we did, but he suggested his cremains be buried in Chicago where his parents and my mother (Dad's first wife) are. My brothers and I decided not to have a service in Massachusetts but to gather in Chicago at a later date, to celebrate a life well lived. With no service, though, sometimes his passing feels like a dream and I get a little panicky thinking I have forgotten to call him.

My two brothers that live in Massachusetts are taking care of business at that end: cleaning out the apartment, executing the will, etc. The brother in Chicago is tasked with interring the ashes. There was nothing for me to do, no ritual to mark the end. But then the Chicago brother thoughtfully asked if I wanted to be there for the interment. So on Monday, my son and I are going to Graceland (cemetery, not Tennessee).

My mother passed away when I was 20. I was young and callow then, and forged ahead into my future without much thought. Older and maybe wiser now, when I look back, I see what a hole was left by her death. Dad's demise is another hole. Even though I am 62 years old, I feel abandoned and orphaned. I miss him very much.

1 comment:

flurrious said...

I'm so sorry, Abby, and hope you find some happy and peaceful moments in this bit of time.