Friday, May 3, 2013


My Dad passed away.  I have to admit I  kinda knew it was coming.  I am a nurse and I could see signs for about 6 months before.  It was one of those situations where the logical/nurse side of me saw signs but the daughter in me didn't want to accept it.  There is such a huge weight that existed in those six months.  It was an emotional toll that I didn't realize until he passed.  I didn't realize that in the back of my mind for the past six months my Dad has been there.  His illness stressed me and changed me over the past six months.  It was exacerbated the last four months.  He was in and out of the hospital and requiring more assistance at home with each discharge.  My mom was amazing.  She cared for him the way any devoted spouse would.  She was exhausted beyond what any normal person could tolerate.  I have no idea how she did it.  My entire family was stressed.  I think it is more of a helpless roller coaster.  It's like you want him to be comfortable, you want to decrease his suffering but you want him back the way he was.  I wanted him to laugh again, to talk to me like we did so many times while riding horses. The most painful thing to do is watch someone die.  I am an emergency room nurse so watching the process slowly occur over weeks is just torture.  It is foreign to me.  I have coping mechanisms to how this works. I don't build relationships with my patients, I sometimes don't know their names.  I don't want to hear their spouses plead and cry.  It tears me apart.  So, I just build this wall to maintain my ability to work.
But, my father's was terrible but at the same time it was with dignity, peace, and comfort.  He was admitted to the hospital that I work.  Every morning when I would get off work I would go up and sit with him, helping hime with breakfast.  I would go home after he ate, sleep for a while then come back up before work to help him with his dinner.  This process would repeat every time he was in my hospital.  His last admission he became quite lucid.  With his disease process he had severe confusion and with this admission it seemed he finally got turned around with the medications and disease and he was able to understand.  The doctor came in that morning and sat with us, telling Dad that he didn't expect him to live more than 6 months.  The number of times I have heard these talks still didn't change the huge pound that my chest felt.  It was as if I was punched in the chest.  I couldn't breathe for a moment.  It wasn't as if I didn't suspect this.  It was just the finality of it and the sureness of it and the fact that for once my Dad had a period of lucidness and it was going to be spent comprehending this news.  I tried my hardest not to cry.  I wanted to be strong for him.  I wanted to be the nurse that could answer the questions he had.  But there I was, his daughter, his youngest daughter - heartbroken.  Realizing that this is the worst news anyone could hear.
What do you do when someone says that.  It's like knowing the inevitable and thinking...what now?  Where do you start? What has suddenly become important?
I sat with Dad for several hours.  Listening to him talk, recording his talking, only to delete it.  It was as if I wanted to record him talking to hear him say it's ok, but deleted it because it was him understanding.  He accepted it.  He didn't even cry.  I held it together as long as I could but eventually broke down.  He hugged me just like my Dad always did.  I felt so selfish for crying.  I wasn't dying but I was the one crying.  I listened to him talk until he became so tired he just wanted to sleep.  Our nurses were so respectful, peeking in the door to see us talking then staying away.  When he finally slept, I left, explaining to them our talk, watching them tear up, then I went home.  I talked to my husband, asked his advice, woke my sister to tell her what the doctor said.  I called my Aunt to go tell my Mom since she lives a few hours away.  I debated on how to tell my other sister.  She is the one with the biggest heart about things.  I knew she would take it hard and I knew I couldn't tell her over the phone.  I couldn't tell her at all actually.
That evening Dad was well.  He was expecting to be out of the hospital the next day and was planning to not return.  He wanted to stay at home.  The hospital staff was helping him prepare for that transition with hospice care.
He was discharge from the hospital with my mom at his side. They came to my house to sit and adjust for a few hours.  My dog who has known my Dad for his entire 10 year life acted uncharacteristically.  Upon seeing my Dad he crawled up into his lap and gave him kisses on his face.  This is uncharacteristic because my dog, Ritz,  is a 115 pound Giant Schnauzer with a bit of an arrogant side.  It was as if he knew.
Dad went home and over the next three weeks his health and life would slip away in heartbreaking fashion.  He would have days of sleeping and minimal response and days of restlessness and periods of lucidness.  Then it arrived.  My mom sent an email at 7am.  I was at work.  She sent an email that she called the hospice nurse in the middle of the night.  She said she was scared Dad wasn't going to make it.  She said it seemed he had gotten much worse.  Again, my heart sank.  I showed the email to one of my bosses, sat in her office and tried to just think about what to do.  I told her I wasn't sure when I would be back to work and to find coverage for me and my sister. (we both work in the same department)   I got home, told my husband, we packed our bags and our dogs and went to my parents house.  We arrived that Wednesday morning to find my Dad comatose.  He would respond to painful stimuli when we repositioned him but otherwise he didn't respond. Dad's brother was there until about noon on Wednesday but couldn't take it any longer.  He had to leave.  He couldn't see his final sibling die.  He hugged each of us and asked us not to call him.  He wouldn't return.
 I brought Ritz in to see him.  Ritz immediately went up to Dad's hospital bed, licked his hand several times, he rested his big head on Dad's upper arm/shoulder and just stared at Dad's face.  It was absolutely heartbreaking.  He knew.
I made phone calls to family, the priest and the funeral home.  We started to make arrangements for the inevitable.  The priest would arrive that evening to perform my Dad's Last Rites.  I had never been apart of a Last Rites ceremony before.  I had also never met this priest.  Dad's nephew, who had been over every day since Dad returned home was, of course, there.  He called all his children to be present for the Last Rites too.  A close friend of Mom and Dad's came over as well.  My sisters were there and my Mom's sister.   The priest arrived, performed the most beautiful ceremony, explained how it was like confession for those that could not confess.  It was beautiful, heartbreaking but beautiful.  I will always remember the way the priest touched Dad, caressed his head and kissed his head.  His care and compassion was amazing.  When we all finally dried our tears we sat with Dad around the living room, sharing stories about him.  We laughed and cried.
Thursday my Mom and sister went to the funeral home to make plans.  Steve, the director was amazing.   His kindness was palpable and admirable.  He somehow made us laugh through our tears.   We went home feeling still as if we were just preparing.  That night at about 3am we would all be awake sitting with Dad.  Watching him breath.  My sisters and I started to work on a poem for his funeral.  We didn't really like the scripture quotes or other poems that were available for his funeral program.  We sat for the next several hours writing versus.  We finally finished.  I showed my mom, she cried and said it was perfect.  I showed my husband, who agreed it was perfect.  I was called to the living room again by my sister.  My Dad had died.
It was just like that.  The poem was finished and he was gone.
He passed with my Mom, sisters and my husband with him.  My mom was heartbroken.  Her husband of 44 years was gone.  I couldn't understand the pain she was enduring.  I hoped I would never understand that pain.  We prayed the rosary, called the hospice nurse and cried.  I again, went and got Ritz.  He came in the house, went straight to Dad.  He put his big paw on Dad's leg.  He walked up and looked at his face.  He knew he was gone.  He immediately went to my Mom and almost climbed into her lap.  He stared at her face.  She just cried with his looks.
The next couple of days would be a whirlwind of people's faces, stories, and sympathies.
We were amazed by the kindness shown by every hospice nurse.  They arrived with a swooping compassion and support that cannot be described. The funeral home director, Steve was simply amazing.  He was caring, kind and gentle.  Even Duane at the flower shop was amazing.  He asked about our Dad and what he liked before he prepared the flowers.
We ended up adding as many personal touches as we could.  His flowers had a #1 racing blanket mixed in with them.  He will always be a racing man at heart.  He had the call to post played when he was carried up to his final resting place.  He always requested that. I always remember when we would talk about death he would always say...He wanted the call to post played and the old rugged cross.
We did both.  The old rugged cross was played at his visitation along with his Paul Simon Graceland songs.  Those were always his road trip songs and now he was on an amazing road trip.  We played the song that he and I danced to at my wedding - One Day at a Time by Christy Lane.  We also played the theme song from Lonesome Dove.  I remember my family watching that tv movie several years ago and all crying a different parts of it, instantly deeming it a classic.
At his graveside services we drove his truck and hounds up to the grave.  They sat quietly looking out the back at the funeral of their master.  It was heartbreaking to see his hounds so docile and calm.  It was as if they knew.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks I have left my dogs at Mom's.  They give her a little reassurance and noise while she is in the house alone.  My sisters and I have been with her all but a few days per week.  She has said several times that she thinks Ritz just stares at her knowing she is sad.  He does.  He has changed.  He sits near her and watches her when he isn't near her.  I can't help but think he is protecting her and helping her.
I have talked to several people that say there will be good times and bad.  I will cry at the most inopportune times and sometimes I will not know what has made me sad.  Well, it's all true.  I found myself this week crying over my eggs.  I was crying because I cook and cut my eggs just like my Dad. I also was crying because the last meal I made for my Dad was two eggs over easy with two pieces of toast.  He ate them like a champ!  So, I was crying over my eggs this week.  It was just a hard week for some reason.  Maybe because the void of my Dad being gone is becoming more real.  Knowing I won't hear him on my voicemail saying "Kelly, It's your Daddy"  ever again.
My hardest day was Tuesday morning.  I just cried that morning, over my eggs and just really was profoundly sad.
Wednesday I received a text from my best friend.  She has been my friend since we were in middle school.  She knew my Dad well.  She sent the following text.  "I had the most realistic dream about your Dad last night...I don't know what was going on but we were both uncontrollably crying and he had one arm around me and leaning over with his head on mine.  He was telling me everything was going to be ok.  It was so realistic"

I can't help but think this isn't a coincidence.  There were too many things associated with my Dad's death to think that it was coincidence.  His poem being finished just minutes before he passed, our animals behavior, and my friends dream just 12 hours from my profoundly sad day.

I will probably continue to use this blog as a way to remember.  Remember my Dad, my past, my faith, my struggles and those memories I never want to forget.

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