date: Dec. 10, 2008
subject: This is VERY long. You may want to print it before you read it . . .
Dad died Monday, December 8th at 11:15 a.m. His passing was very peaceful.
As many of you know, Dad went to St. Mary’s Residential Hospice center on Wednesday, December 3rd. Within an hour of his arrival, he wanted to lay down and take a nap. He never got out of the bed again. Late that afternoon he did awake and have one last latte with his best friend, Reese. Our sister-in-law Sheila sat with him early Thursday morning and joined him for his last meal (which he only partially ate, he had enjoyed his real last meal during our impromptu picnic the day before). Afterwards, he had no more interest in food.
Mom stayed with him Wednesday and Thursday nights; Hannah, Friday night; and I, Saturday night. The three sisters then stayed with him Sunday night. As he slept he slowly withdrew from this world. The hospice books told us that he was preparing himself for separation from this world. The books also spoke of someone lingering only if they have any fear of death or “unfinished business.” To ease his release, we each told him in our own way that it was okay for him to go when he was ready. “We are all fine and you don’t need to worry about us. We will take care of Mom.”
The nurses thought that Sunday was most probably the day. Jan arrived from Pittsburgh, and some other family members also gathered. As I wrote to you earlier, in the late afternoon of Sunday, the immediate family and Dad’s best friend gathered around Dad to read his favorite Psalms (121), sing some hymns (albeit in our pitiful but loving way) and share good DAD stories. As you can imagine, as we all spoke fondly of Dad, belly laughs came as well as tears.
Dad’s last night was peaceful. He slept comfortably and even began to snore in his more typical way. I made my nest in his wheelchair with its deluxe $400 cushion–tipped the chair way back and set my feet upon an adjacent pillowed chair. Hannah took the not-so-very-comfortable reclining chair. Jan set up her camp at the table where she was finishing 10 pages of photos with relating copy . . . pictures of Dad as a kid, Dad with his grandchildren, Dad at the beach, etc. (remember, she’s the Creative Memory pro).
Just about when Hannah and I had managed to sort of relax for half a moment, Jan said, “I need some copy.”
“That’ll be Susan,” Hannah replied.
The last thing Jan was designing was a large poster. She wanted to add a few lines about Dad. The first two sentences came easily, then it all just started sounding incredibly hokey and NOT like Dad. I said to Hannah under my breath, “He could also be ornery too.” Hannah burst out laughing and said, “Put that in, I like it.”
We three kept working on it when I said, “Well, we all know that Dad’s not your average bear.” That made the cut too. I volunteered to take the guff from Mom when she reads it and tells us it’s not proper (earlier in the evening she’d told us, “I don’t want any of that digital nonsense at my funeral. It’s just not proper!”)
Dad’s last morning (in this world) was incredibly peaceful and beautiful. Mom and Tony (Tony graciously offered to take Mom home Sunday evening) arrived around 6:30 a.m. Jan has just laid down on the small 2 person couch a few hours prior. So she proceeded to move to a more comfortable couch down the hall in the family dining room, I took her place on the small couch. About an hour and a half later after a deep, deep sleep, I awoke to find myself in the room with just Dad and Tony. Mom and Hannah had gone to IHOP for breakfast. I was awake but just deeply exhausted, so I chose to stay comfortably cozy on the couch with Dad’s tennis quilt wrapped around me (Hannah gave Dad this, his quilt on his 87th birthday on the 8th of March earlier this year.
It’s very colorful with tennis rackets and balls woven into the design, as well tennis type prints throughout). Tony was simply sitting at Dad’s side holding his hand. He then pulled out his ukulele and played a variety of pleasant tunes. He also began singing (something that you who know Tony know he rarely does). It was beautiful.
“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”
When he started playing “Michael row your boat ashore” I couldn’t help but join in and sing. “Hallelujah. Michael row your boat ashore, hallelu . . .u jah.”
Next came, “Daddy loves us and we love him, Hallelu . . .u jah. Daddy loves us and we love him. Hallelujah.” Followed by, “Go in peace and worry not, Hallelujah. Go in peace and worry not. Hallelu . . u jah.”
Tony continued to play and sing. “Oh when the Saints, go marching in. Oh when the Saints go marching in. Oh how I want to be in that number, when the Saints go marching in.”
I contemplated getting up and going to Dad’s side but thought, “No, he knows how exhausted I am and he’d want me to rest.” I then closed my eyes and gave thanks to Dad for his wonderful early birthday gift. As I remembered him singing and then bursting out laughing, “Happy Birthday me again Daddy!” (a unique trait of mine–since childhood I would ask Dad, “Happy Birthday me again Daddy!” and he would), Dad sent me another gift. I don’t know how else to describe it but to say that within my very core I felt my father’s presence. He was within me, yet separate from me. With my eyes closed yet fully awake I saw his right arm (which was also my right arm) rise up and show me how he had held me in the palm of his hand when I was newly born.
And then I knew (I suppose this may sound presumptuous to some, but I really felt it in the core of my being) what he’d been doing for the past four days as he slept, he had been going through memory after memory, looking at it, cherishing it and then moving on.
I stayed in my cozy nest for a few minutes more before Tony sat down his ukulele and joined me. Still reclining and wrapped in the quilt, I draped my legs over his. We cuddled and I told Tony what Dad had just shown me.
A few minutes later, my brother Dayton arrived. He asked if there’d been any changes. “No, not really. He’s resting well and breathing more calmly. But his feet are very cold now.” Dayton checked them and said, “One’s cold and one’s warm.” “It keeps changing,” I replied. Jan then returned from her nap in the family dining room. She readied herself for a shower and disappeared into Dad’s bathroom. Dayton sat down at the table to open his address book for numbers of friends to call. Tony and I stayed snuggled on the couch.
“His breathing has stopped,” Dayton said as he rose from the table and went to Dad’s left side. Tony and I got up and stood next to Dad’s right. We waited and maybe 15 seconds later there was a very short exhalation, more like a muscle spasm really. Dayton rapped on the door and called for Jan to come out. There was one final puff and he was gone.
I cradled Dad’s head and sang, “Go in peace and worry not, Hallelujah. Go in peace and worry not. Hallelujah.”
Mom and Hannah came in the room maybe 30 seconds later. We held hands and gathered around Dad and gave thanks for his life.
I’ve wondered at times whether it was appropriate for me to write such personal thoughts and experiences to you all, but then your replies would come and I’d feel a confirmation of how connected we all are and that you DID want to be informed of the changes . . . . I thank you ALL for “being there” in spirit and remembering my family in your thoughts and prayers. I know I’ll miss my Dad, but I can’t help but feel so very thankful for his very full life, and for the time we got to spend with him saying goodbye, and for his quick departure. And mostly, I am just so very thankful for getting to have him as my father.
And as if this missive wasn’t long enough, I’d like to end with a bit of humour. It ends up that his older sister Hannah was mistakingly included in the “preceded by” section of the obituary (she’s still alive). No one, and I mean NO ONE, caught it before it went to print! (Please realize that Dad died at 11:15 a.m. on Monday and the deadline for the obit was 4 p.m., I think it’s amazing we got anything in there on the same day at all. Well yes, we had a draft written, but still . . .)
So, guess who called yesterday morning saying, “I’m still alive!”
We’re all calling it a Freudian slip . . .
love and hugs to you all,