Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Part of Life

I spent Christmas 2008 with my Mom and Dad at their home in Delaware.  They invited me to insure I was not alone that first Christmas after Steve died in January 2008.  It was a tough holiday for me - oh, how I missed Steve.  But that is how my Mom and Dad live - always looking out for me.

One sunny afternoon I wandered into the living room where my Dad spent his days.  Hour after hour Dad would listen to the music of his youth and the "easy listening stations" on his treasured BOSE radio and CD player.  Dad closed his eyes and danced with his hands and head - swaying back and forth in time to the music.  I delighted in spying on his dancing - he looked so happy and content as he chair danced to youthful tunes of the big bands and the crooners.

That afternoon my grief was getting the better of me.  Dad asked if I was all right.  I replied "no" and sat on the sofa across the sun beams on the floor from my Dad.  I asked him what he thought about death.

"Death," Dad said without hesitation "Death is just a part of life."  He said it with such peace and certainty that I knew it was true and nothing ever to fear.

"But what do you think happens after we die?"  I asked.  I had been struggling with this question since the death of my beloved husband.

Dad waved an arm into the air like a magician making magic.  "You go on"  Dad said.  It did not matter to Dad what one called "going on" be it the Summerlands or Heaven or a rest between incarnations.  It just did not matter.  Death is a part of life and we go on.  That is the heart of the matter after all.

Dad added, "I look forward to seeing my Mother."

Dad's Mom died when he was a toddler.  He has no independent memory of his Mom, Louise.  But that is not all Dad told me in that single sentence of 7 words ... "I look forward to seeing my Mother."

In those 7 words Dad said he knew his own death was nearing but he saw his own death as not only inevitable but also simply a part of his greater life.  He knew he was going on though he did not need to describe or understand the nature of his "going on."  (I first wrote "the nature of his afterlife"  But that is wrong.  Dad saw death as a part of life, another step in life, a moving on and continuing of life.  No "after" life but just another part of life.)  Dad also was looking forward to his own death so he could meet his Mother - not his Mom - but the Mother he never knew but longed for all his life, even at the hour of his death.

And that is all my Dad said about death - but it was enough.  He did not need to say "look after your Mom" or "Be good" or to discuss financial or memorial arrangements.  All that had already been taken care of and prepaid.  My Dad was so responsible all his life.  And he always took pains to insure that his whole family was well taken care of.  In this final year, he did not need to do anything but act his final scene with us.

Today my Dad is dying.  He fell a few weeks ago and broke a bone in his neck.  He was hospitalized and then sent to hospice.  He hated the nursing home and just wanted to come home.  I believe it was his utter depression at not being home that caused him to stop eating at the nursing home.  Dad was sent back to the hospital for IV's and nutrition.  The family gathered.

I had the honor and the privilege of staying up through the night until 4 AM with Dad at the hospital.  He told me something very special that made my life worthwhile - Dad said I was a most loving son.  A midnight statement that still makes me tear up to recall that moment.  He soon returned to sleep.

The next day the family decided enough was enough.  We had all trusted Dad for decades and years and lifetimes to know what is best.  And he wanted to go home.

A hospital bed was set up in the living room and an around the clock vigil was begun.  There were 11 of the family gathered ... we all sat with Dad during the day.  My sister Candy and I had the 10 pm to 4 am shift of the night.  Such quiet hours.  Such an awesome time.

It was such a rare honor and privilege to be able to feed and clean and care for this man who has loved me all my life.  How I enjoyed each minute, each moment of sitting quietly with Dad.  What joy it was to feed him, to give him drink, to move him as needed, to help clean him.  Such an honor, such an awesome and joyous duty.

But after a week we realized that 11 people was too many.  Dad wanted quiet and a set routine.  Eleven family members talking and caring were just too many to meet Dad's needs.  Two of my brothers and their wives and children and I left.

Today my Dad is proceeding in his dying.  He has stopped eating and moving except for a few facial expressions.  He is not in pain.  Today my Mom  authorized the removal of his neck brace - collar.  That thing holding his head still for weeks had driven Dad batty.  It was very uncomfortable for him to wear and for us who love him to watch him wear.  I am glad it is gone.  My Mom is not certain Dad knows it is gone - but I bet he does.

The nurse from hospice tells us that hearing is the last function to shut down.  Dad indicates sometimes that he can hear us, even today - or so I am told.

I want nothing more than to get on a plane and fly to my Dad's side.  Mom and my brother there tell me not to come ... Dad may or may not, but probably would not know I was there.  And he needs quiet and the routine of the reduced household.  So I ask myself, "What would Dad do?"  The answer is simple.

All my reasons for flying to the comfort of my family and to my Dad's side are selfish reasons.  All the justification for going are based on my needs - not my Dad's needs.  He actually is better off without me.  So I listen to Dad's voice in my head and I choose to stay away from his side.  I choose NOT to be there in his final days.

It is a difficult choice for me.  I am alone here in California and need the support and love of my family.  I need to comfort and be comforted.  I know grief well and I know I am grieving the loss of my Dad.  But I will bear this burden of additional grief alone, without hugs, without family near me.  Until Dad goes to see his Mother.  Only then will family gather once again.

Until then, I write and cry and go on with my life.  Oh, but it isn't easy ... not easy at all for me to act as lovingly as my Dad always lived.  I admire him more and more with each passing day.

I have come to terms somewhat with the death and loss of my beloved husband Steve.  Not totally but close.  I am convinced that my Steve is waiting for me - but as he waits, Steve is caring for all the cats awaiting the arrival of their people.  And Steve is caring for a few select dogs.  Sandy was Mom and Dad's pride and joy.  What a loving poodle, Sandy was.  My folks doted on him with good reason.  I have never known a more loving dog.

Steve is taking care of Sandy as they both wait.  Sandy is probably dancing around as he did as he waits for Dad.  Steve and Sandy and Grandmother Louise and Grandmother Carol and Uncle Billy and Aunt Jean and Uncle Rod are all waiting expectantly for Dad.  I expect though it will be Sandy who first brings joy to Dad when it is time.

I know my dearly departed are fine.  But that knowledge does not alleviate our losses.  We grieve and go on with our lives.  One day we will be together again.  Some days I can hardly wait.  Such a blessing my family has been.  How very fortunate I am to be born to my Dad and Mom when I was.

Mom and Dad - I love you.

Photograph of "My Dad's Chair" by my brother Rob.


  1. Oh Richard, your grief and heart felt words touched my heart. having lost my father I know what you are ging through. I was there with my dad up until the hour before he passed and I wouldn't change it for anything. But several of my siblings weren't there the entire time my father was passing and I know how hard it was for them. We really had no idea how long he would linger and having them fly back and forth was not possible.

    How hard it must be for you to be there all alone. I wish I could be there with you, to support you, to hug you, to be there when you get the call. No one should be alone when they get the call.

    It sounds like your father was a great man. He created you. :) And I don't think he would want you to be alone at this time. You should be with family, to help suport you, and for you to give them support.

    I wish all the best for you kind friend. This is not an easy time, given what you've already been through with losing Steve. Hang in there.


    Shiela (from Ronda's)

  2. Thank you, Sheila. My new roommate and my friends are nearby - my roommate in particular is a real champ to hang in there with me.

    But I really do appreciate your support and all the love and like and support I get from my true friends at Ronda's. this was such a difficult decision for me - but it is the right thing to do.

    Again - thank you so much.


  3. What a poignant picture. You are masterful at invoking emotion with a phrase, a word, a photo.

    Remember, there are many of us who care deeply about you.


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