when the tide receds

Parents are like the ocean.  You know they are a huge presence but, it’s not until they recede that you see the imprint that they made on your surroundings.  I have always talked about and referenced my father. But, now there is such a constant patter in my head, “Daddy, would love this, daddy would like her, daddy would hate this guy, etc.” When you haven’t lost a relative and you know someone who has it might seem odd that the person of the deceased brings them up so much.  But, in death they feel even more with you.  Or maybe it’s that since they can longer say, “I love this song”  you have to say it for them.

We lost him a week ago and my sisters and I are still wading through this new terrain. It’s hard slogging.

Yes, my dad had been in assisted living the last 3 years.  The first two there were pretty darn good.  I enjoyed picking him up and going out to dinner or taking him to the Container store with me.  He was with us at all family gatherings.  I called him up when I miscarried and when I found out our money was stolen by somebody named Madoff.  He was always loving and comforting.  One of my favorite lines of his was when I sobbed and sobbed when I told him I lost my baby.  He said the right things.  I am so sorry, I know you are hurting.  When my sobbing slowed a little, he changed tack ever so slightly.  “You know honey, when you called I thought you were calling about, about, well, about someone we have known longer.”  It was such a kind way of saying it.

In February he got worse.  The dementia had really come to roost.  It was harder to see him sometimes.  He didn’t know me once, which broke my heart.  But, even drifting in and out of present day he was still my dad.  Even when he said, “Don’t we need to go?”  and we would say, “Sure, dad, whenever you say” it was still his eyes, his voice, his touch.

About ten days ago I visited him and was shocked.  I spoke to the caregivers, “What the hell?”  He had stopped speaking and wasn’t sitting up.  They thought he was over medicated. They were contacting the doctor and so would my family.  Four days later my sisters and his caregiver got him in (HMO).  The doctor said, “If we do nothing he will die in 48 hours.  If we do something, he will last longer, but I don’t know how long.”  He went into the hospital.  I will spare a lot of the details, but he was very sick.

Two days later my mom was trying to get him hospice at home.  My cousins arrived to say good bye. I was saying to friends, “My father is dying”  yet, I think I didn’t totally get it. Or thought it would be longer.  The hospice company took days to get everything in place. He never made it home.

I spent a good portion of Monday with my dad in the hospital. I had been warned by some family that I wouldn’t want to be there.  I am so glad I did go.  He was in a nice room and they were playing soft music and pretty pictures of nature on a TV.  He would have liked the music.  He would periodically open his eyes.  He was breathing very hard with an open mouth.  I sat there and I held his hand.  I spoke with him.  We are lucky that we have always said “I love you” very easily in my family.  So despite any conflict along the way we were solid in that department.  I emailed my sisters that it looked pretty bad.  I told Mark to come and say good bye.  He did.  I was holding my dad’s hand when I noticed an oxygen tank across the room.  I thought, “Maybe that stupid hospice company delivered it here instead of his home and that’s why it is taking so long.”  I got up to go look at the tag.  But, as I started to get up my dad strongly grabbed my hand.

“Ok, honey, I’ll stay right here. Did you see that Mark?”  I was elated.  He squeezed my hand another time as well.

I was alarmed my dad didn’t have morphine.  The nurse said, “He isn’t in any pain.”

I said, “How do you know?” If I miss lunch I’m in pain and he was being starved of fluids and food.  She didn’t know how to administer it.  I suggested to her under the tongue.  She found another nurse who agreed , the doctor was called and he got his morphine.  My sister Cecily came and we sat with him.  Sometimes I just read the paper and listened to him breathe.  Other times I put my head down and listened to him breathe.  I reminded him of some good times. I wasn’t crying I felt happy. I was savoring this time.  I now understand the family of Terry Schivo in a way I didn’t before.  I always thought, ‘Oh, let the person rest and have some dignity.’ Now, I know any sign of life was a comfort to them. The finality is too much to bear.

Maybe it seems silly now, but I thought he would make the journey home and be there a couple more days.  We were gathering for dinner at my other sister’s and I thought Cecily should have the time  alone with him that I had enjoyed.  So I kissed his forehead, “I love you daddy, I will see you tomorrow.” I walked out the door and I thought, “Turn around, kiss him once more.”  But, I didn’t.  Then I heard in my head, James Taylor, “Fire and Rain”.

I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I would see you one more time again.

I didn’t turn back. Cecily stayed with him one more hour. Then the paramedics came to drive him home.  They pulled up there.

I was driving with Vivien and my mom to my sister’s for dinner.  I got a call.  It was Gladys who is the administrator of his assisted living. She made a very nice comment on my last post about my dad and she has been very good to my family. She told me my father had passed.  I was cognizant to not scream in the car with Vivien.  I was aware I had to keep driving.  She then asked what we wanted to do with the body.  It was like she was speaking Arabic.  I handed the phone to my mom, my rock.  She took a paper out of her purse.  She had it all planned.

For the saddest night of our life it could not have been better.  My sisters, my brother in laws, and yes, Mark brought great food from Campanile and wine.  We talked and cried.  A couple of times I sobbed like a child when it hit me I would never, ever again see my dad. Hug him.  Have him end our conversations like he always did.

“Take care of my girl.”

I had some adrenaline the first few days.  To get his obit’s done.  Clean out his place.  Now, that has left me.  I take deep, very needed naps in the afternoon. So tired I crawl into bed.  I am so grateful for my sisters and my mom.  Carole and I drank  a lot last weekend.  Cec and I saw a movie today. Yet, we both knew the minute it was the marking of the week he had passed and we hugged in the dark theater.

“Your mom and I always wanted you girls to have each other.” my dad would say.

My lovely kids are also a great help.  I looked at Rex the other day, “Is it too late to name you John Carl?” My dad loved when he would visit. Poor Vivien is told by me almost every day.  “Don’t forget Papa.” Yesterday she looked at one of his photo books and declared, “Okay, now I remember Papa.”

“Life is relentless” Carole said the day after his passing.  It’s true, everything goes on.  Like any major news event I expect my dad’s death to have similar coverage.  Won’t Larry King be doing an hour on him?

“Debbie Reynolds, what are your memories of John Carl?”  Later in his box of photos I found a picture of my dad with Debbie Reynolds which shows how on the money I was.

Where are the Kennedys and the Jacksons? I mourned for their loss.  I want a black wreath on the door and a long black dress so that everyone knows, “Hey, I’m going through something over here.”

I did receive some flowers which I really love.  I made a little shrine with them with pictures of my dad.  Some other friends dropped off wine and cupcakes.  My neighbor had me over for dinner.  That meant a lot to me. But, mostly life goes on.  My co host Lawrence has been exceptionally attentive.  As I climbed into bed the day after my dad died I got a text.

It was Lawrence, “You made it through the first day.”  Only someone who has also lost a parent would have done that.

I had only thought of my dad’s end being a time where he would be at peace.  I hadn’t thought of how painful this would be.  I like to go through the photos. He has a scrapbook where he tracked our every  accomplishment.

It was wonderful to be loved like that.