“He can’t do it anymore.” My brother’s voice was tired. It had been quite a year, particularly the last 5 months.
“He aspirated again and asked me how he can stop this. I told him only he knew how. He decided no more eating or drinking. He’s off fluid and on comfort measures only.”
I remember in the beginning, when the Parkinson’s started to be really noticeable, right after my mother died. He had just spent the last year being the main care-giver for her as she was dying of colon cancer. He was the only one who would change her colostomy bag…even in the hospital for the last 3 months…he took that on – not the nurses. .
We brought him home with us after the funeral, and he stayed with us for about a month in North Carolina when I noticed his Parkinson’s was starting to show outward signs. My son was 4, and he would mimic Papa’s shaking hand as he walked along with him. My dad would get the biggest kick out of that. Yes…bless him, he would chuckle and love my son for it.
He moved on, married again – a woman from Tennessee where my brother lives. They were happy, and he seemed content.
We moved to California that year, and he came to visit several times over the years, once with his new wife. That was his last visit. It was just too much for his body anymore.
And we would go to Tennessee. His 75th birthday was great…a 4th of July baby, he was, and he made every effort to play on that all the years I’ve known him…including fireworks. My marine-turned-cop dad, born on the 4th of July.
As it got worse, he would call with stories of him falling, laughing at himself. I was always a bit stunned at his humor and self-deprecation around his weakening body. His faith in God was his rock…and even though I no longer agreed with his Catholic views, you had to be a little bit in awe of the strength it gave him…though in the end, I believe he was becoming more spiritual than Catholic.
My brother and his wife were his caretakers in so many ways – making sure he was taking the right medicine, taking him to the doctor (and hospital when necessary), and finally, doing all the work to get him into a decent nursing home when it became apparent he needed the full-time care…and they visited most every day.
I went to see him and spend some time in early December that year, wondering if it would be the last time I would see him. It was a fun, yet at times disturbing and heart-wrenching, visit.
And now…Comfort measures only.
As soon as I heard, I made arrangements to leave on the red-eye that night. My brother needed me and I needed him…and I needed to see my dad. By the time I got there in the morning, he couldn’t speak any more. I didn’t know whether it was a rapid progression of the Parkinson’s or it was his bone tiredness from fighting this illness so bravely and with such humor – and stubbornness – for about 17 years.
He talked to me with his eyes and his grunts.
At his grunting insistence, I made calls to family. He wanted to say goodbye. He grunted his love and heard his sister-in-law, my mother-in-law, my youngest brother (who was making arrangements in NY where the burial would be) tell him they loved him as I held the phone to his ear…and he grunted back. His eyes said it all.
This means drugs…no fluids. You basically dehydrate to death – which is legal – because we don’t believe in euthanasia in this country. And because he was allergic to morphine, they could not continue to give that to him even though they only expected him to live about 4 or 5 days.
It took 8 very long days.
If he had been on morphine, they could have sent him over the edge – legally. But it was darn near impossible with the pain medicine he was on. 8 days. Sores in his mouth, temples sunken, wearing a dry diaper. I would put a pillow between his bony knees to offer some comfort, and looked for blankets to keep him warm.
And we waited. He slipped into a coma (was it?) And he would not let go.
As stubborn as always, my dad.
He died on Valentine’s Day.
A valiant fight all those years. He waited until late, after my brother and I left.
My brother came to tell me “He’s gone.” I thought…who’s gone? The first attempt at protecting myself from the very reason I had come to Tennessee.
We took the very late-night drive back to the nursing home.
If my father had been in a line-up of dead bodies, I would not have recognized him. His spirit was gone. It is what made him who he was…
I knew he was elsewhere, sending love in his own way on that Valentine’s day. And I truly got he was ok now.
The 4th of July baby, kid, teenager, marine, husband, father, cop… being strong, showing us what loyalty and humor and grace and caring look like in real life.
And now reminding me, every Valentine’s day with the anniversary of his death (as only my dad would), what one face of real love looks like.