Dad died May 3rd, three months after learning he had terminal cancer. My mom and my sisters and I were all with him.
Lou, Anjelica and I were heading to Schenectady anyway, because there was a fraternity event at Union College. I had visited the prior weekend. My dad was weak, and eating had become more of a chore than a pleasure. But he had a craving for French Onion soup, like one he had in a nice restaurant many years ago. My mom tried different soups, but none were like the one of his memories, and he didn’t eat them. I was determined to make the French Onion soup of his dreams. I talked to him while I made a large batch from scratch and then waited anxiously for his reaction when I served it. I don’t know if he was just being nice, or if he really liked it, but he ate the whole bowl, and my mom said he ate the leftovers during the week. He did not eat anything else before he died. They say soup is a comfort food. Hopefully it gave him some. Making it, and knowing that he enjoyed it, gave me comfort as well.
When we got to the house on May 2nd, he was frail, thin, and dehydrated. His skin was tight, and his lips were dry. He could talk, but only a few very soft words. My mom and sister were taking great care to keep him comfortable. I sat in a chair facing him in bed and held his hand. Lou came by to visit, held his other hand, thanked him for giving him such a wonderful daughter, and told him he was a great father. My dad squeezed both our hands and nodded. Lou and Anjelica checked into a hotel and went to the fraternity function together. She may be the only female or non-Fiji to ever go to Pig Dinner, but I didn’t want to leave my parent’s house, and we both agreed she should not stay with me.
I spent most of the day and night sitting with my dad, holding his hand, and reading to him. I talked about pictures and read newspaper articles from old scrapbooks from the days of cruise travel, publicity stunts, and magic conventions. It was mellow and peaceful as he drifted in and out of sleep. One time after waking he looked intently toward the wall and told me that he saw people at the foot of his bed. I asked, but couldn’t figure out who he saw, and just said everything would be all right. He got a little frustrated that I could not explain who it was, but soon relaxed.
Not all my sisters are close with our dad, but everyone was there, doing the best they could and being supportive to our mom. It was stressful at times, and I struggled with the buzz of everyday life activities, televisions and conversations going on around us while I tried to maintain a peaceful serene environment with my father in the dining room’s makeshift hospice setting.
My sister and I stayed with our dad after others went to bed. She was on the phone with the Hospice support a few times for advice on relieving his labored breathing. My dad knew he could have morphine whenever he wanted, and eventually asked for some. A while later, looking much more comfortable, he asked why it was taking so long, apparently thinking the small dose of morphine would end his life, like hemlock in a Shakespearean play. A little after midnight, he was struggling to breathe from the congestion in his lungs. Sensing he would die soon, I woke my mom and other sisters. On the advice of the hospice nurse on the phone, my sisters and I carefully turned him on his side, which seemed to alleviate his immediate discomfort.
After we turned him, I laid down next to him over the sheets in his hospital bed, hugging and spooning with him from behind, and my mom knelt down beside his head, and was stroking his hair and face, holding his hand, and told him that he was the love of her life, that we were all by his side, and it was all right for him to let go. And he did.
I stayed in bed with him for a long time after he passed. Eventually people with a gurney from the funeral home came to take him away. I wasn’t bawling or being a freak; I just wanted to continue sending him love, uninterrupted by the practicalities and business of dealing with his death. There would be plenty of time for that.
After a while, I drove to the hotel, got in bed with Lou, and told him my father had died. He said he was sorry, recounted details of a noise issue in the hotel from a party, and then I spooned behind him until I finally fell asleep.
The next day, we went to my Mom’s house to help reorganize the furniture and convert the downstairs from a medical facility back to a home. She wanted to open up the house to sunlight and take down the many layers of plastic and curtains insulating the windows. There was literally light brought back into the house after years of being sealed up in the name of energy conservation. She even hung some art on the walls using nails. The irony was that would be something my dad would say could only happen “over my dead body.” There ya go.
She needed to do trivial things she had always wanted but didn’t consider worth an argument. Now, she can make her own choices. But she also now realizes that she will be living alone for the very first time in her 70 years of life. Now, she has to make her own choices.