Aug. 13th, 2012 @ 09:39 pm
Well, I posted the bare facts on facebook, but I'll go ahead and use this as a place to go into a bit more detail into my family's issue.|
As stated in my last post, my dad wasn't doing very well when my sister and I visited a week ago. He was unable to eat and so he was loosing weight and strength. My mom quietly wondered if he would make it to his appointment on Wednesday. He did and he briefly seemed to be coping a bit better than expected, but was still deteriorating
I, meanwhile, had traveled to Chicago for a tournament called Puck Cancer (a hockey tournament/fundraiser for cancer research), something my team always attends. At the beginning of the week, I wasn't sure that I'd be able to make it, but my parents seemed to want me and my sister to go about our lives like everything was normal. After our third and final game, I was at the hotel and waiting on my turn for the shower (and running late for dinner), so I impulsively looked at my cell phone, and I had a text message from my sister. She told me, via text, that my dad's friend, Jim, had called and said that our dad only had a few hours left, so I'd probably want to head down. I took a shower, packed my stuff, gave a vague excuse to my roommate and headed home.
I'd been up since 6am on Saturday morning (early game), yet I left the north of Chicago (Mundelein) at 7:30pm. One of my friends on the team mock-chided me by text (not knowing the circumstances), so she was one of the first people that I explained (via text) about what happened. I think I held up pretty good until I got into my car, but I had purposely swiped the spare toilet paper roll from the room, because I knew that it'd be an emotional trip. It was ironic that I'd just finished with a tournament fighting cancer to attempt to see my dad's last minutes of his battle.
I honestly didn't expect to get there on time, because of the text and the 6 hour (all highway) drive from Chicago, so I texted my sister and told her that they didn't need to wait on me for any arrangements. Honestly, to borrow a phrase that's been bandied about in my family, I didn't want to see him at his worst. I wanted to remember him as he was and not hear his death rattle.
I went through several emotional states and sped all the way from Chicago (within reason - I knew my mom wouldn't make it through two deaths in the same weekend). I decided that if I was stopped by any cops, I'd have the best excuse for speeding ever. I stopped once in Terre Haute, where I refueled, used the rest room, and bought some coffee (which I later spilled all over my self, though fortunately after it was lukewarm), since my eyes were ready to escape from their sockets, just so that they could get some rest.
I finally made it home around 1:30am, and I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. My dominant expectation was if he was still alive, everyone would still be up holding vigil, but if he was dead and delivered elsewhere, well, then they'd probably also be unable to sleep. When I entered quietly, I saw a bald head in my dad's recliner, and I initially feared that it was my dad, and he had lost all his hair in 5 days. I later learned that, instead, it was my uncle Rodney. Still, I heard the oxygen going, so I knew my dad was still alive (barely), but I was chicken and quickly went to the bedroom and bathroom and closed the door.
Of course, for as much as my eyes had wanted to close in the car, I couldn't get to sleep. I changed clothes and laid down. I didn't know anything about the oxygen, and I started to wonder about it's purpose, DNRs, and the like. I've tried to be a bit analytical about the last days, so I've found that there are websites out there (plenty, sadly) which explain what to expect in the last days of terminal cancer. So, I went on my iPad and read up on that. I closed my iPad and tried to sleep, but I couldn't sleep while hearing the oxygen - knowing that every gust could be the last. I searched for my earbuds to tune out the noise, but I'd left them at the hotel (along with my phone charger). No sleep was coming. I soon heard noises from the living room, which I later found to be my uncle Rod (dad's side) and aunt Linda (mom's sister, who had lost her husband to a brain tumor a few years ago), But, at the time, I didn't know if the male voice was hallucination induced utterances from my dad or someone else, and the female voice, I didn't know if it was my mother's voice strained with emotion or a hospice nurse. The two pairs of voices sound nothing alike, but illness and emotions distort them so greatly, it took me a long time to know who they were. Actually, I didn't know until they started calling people on the phone and gave their names.
I looked at the clock on my phone when they called the hospice nurse, and it was 3:39am. They said that they thought my dad had passed (actually, they had to leave a message first), and later, they said that the nurse said would be there in 30-45 minutes. Linda went to my mom's room, and woke my mom up to tell her the news (she had been lightly dosing after a long two days). All this time, I was a chicken, hiding in my room and eavesdropping, but not ready to actually join the others. I was quite cold and really had to use the restroom, but I sat on the floor, door progressively more cracked, trying to hear the others. My uncle Rod, and to a lesser extent, my aunt Linda, called everyone they could think of, while also trying to support my mom, who was distraught, but kept consoling herself that he was no longer in pain. At this time, I heard a lot of what had happened since I had last talked to my mom, though I'm not sure what all I overhead then and heard later when I wasn't hiding.
When I had talked to mom on Thursday, my dad had some company (one of his siblings, I think), so she went into the other room to talk. They had found something that worked on the nausea and the pain, and the hospice nurses seemed to be working out. He was supposed to be getting his pain patch changed the next day, I think. I didn't talk to her Friday or Saturday, but apparently, on those two days, the bottom dropped out. He was incredibly weak, and I think that my mom struggled to keep him upright in his bed or chair more than once. Even though he had lost a lot of weight, this was an impossible task for my mom, but she was able to call for help from the nurse, my dad's friends Jim & Jim, and my uncle Rod, over the two days. It is my understanding that on Friday and Saturday, no one got much sleep. My dad started talking less and less sense, and he had coughing fits that had my mom worried that he was going to strangle himself. One issue (with the talking sense part) was that his oxygen level (I'm assuming blood oxygen level) had greatly decreased. When they started giving him Oxygen on Tuesday (something my mom didn't tell me), he was at 96%, but on Friday, he was at 70% or so. The tanks didn't seem to be helping. The coughing they took care of on Saturday. It was apparently an easy fix, but having dealt with so many other issues, no one thought to explain the problem to the nurses until it had gotten so bad.
I don't know if it was then or a little later in the day that the nurse checked on him and said that Dad only had a couple hours left (as of 4:30pm), and they started calling everyone (or one of the Jims did, actually - my mom wasn't fit to talk on the phone at that point). To the best of my knowledge, by this point, my aunt Linda and uncle Rod had already arrived, rather unexpectedly, but they were gratefully received. I don't know that my dad woke up from then on, but if he did, I don't think he was really aware of much. I think that everyone just hung around the living room (my dad was in a hospital bed set up in the dining room) holding vigil as long as possible. My brother came by, having to rely on his ex-wife for a ride. According to my mom, he seemed to be having an especially hard time with this. I think this is because of the three of us, he had easily spent the most time with my dad - not just because he's the oldest, but because of life experiences. He was the first born and around before my dad's business took his presence away as a father. As a boy, and as a worker for my dad, he had a rather complicated and often unhappy relationship with my dad. And of course, with the inherent expectations that come with being the eldest male grandchild and only male son, they probably weren't helped by his blindness.
Anyway, I'm not sure when Jeff left, but my sister arrived around 10:30pm or so, and I think she had laid down by midnight or 1am, as had my mom, after repeated harassment from my aunt and uncle. And also after having thrown up her dinner. My aunt and uncle had stayed in the living room until the fateful moment. My aunt had seen her husband's last breath, and my uncle had seen his own father's (who, btw, was an undeniably horrible man), so they seemed to be up to around so that he wouldn't breathe his last breath with the room unaware. My aunt laid uncomfortable on the chair that's not quite a love seat, and my uncle positioned himself in the recliner so that he was facing my father's sleeping form. That's how he saw the slowing and eventual final breath.
After my aunt and uncle had made their calls and were waiting, with my mom, for the nurse to come in to call the death, I eventually came in, I still didn't feel the need to see my dad's body, and I only had the fleeting accidental glance before they took the body away. My mom said that they wanted us 'kids' to remember him as he lived, not as he died, which is partially why they're doing a cremation with no body viewing whatsoever. She still remembers seeing her dad after his death, and it seems to be an image that haunts her more than 40 years later.
When the nurse came in, she was very nice and tried to console my mom the best she could. I couldn't imagine being a nurse, let alone a hospice nurse, but apparently, this one had lost both of her parents to cancer, so she knew how everyone was feeling. My uncle gave her the details and she confirmed his suspicions. She explained everything she had to do calmly, but essentially, she cleaned the body a bit (I don't know if there was any mess, or if it was just a general sponge bath for the any of the sweat and phlegm) and disposed of all the drugs. Then, I think she called the funeral home, who in the middle of the night on Sunday morning, were able to send a pair to pick up the body. Again, they were calm and talked to my mom sweetly, knowing that she had been through a lot. They warned us when they were about to retrieve the body, and my mom and I left the room because we really didn't need to see that. Linda went with my mom, but I was quite happy to return to my room and get my emotions back under control. My uncle Rod stayed in the living room while the people from the funeral home took the body to their waiting vehicle (I didn't look to see the type). I think they were gone by a few minutes past 5am.
We returned to the living room, and shortly after, Rod went home, and my mom harped on me to try to get some sleep. I knew it wasn't happening, but I humored her. I laid down for a few minutes, but gave up quickly, returning to the living room. I hadn't had dinner the night before, and my mom hadn't kept hers down, so we went to get some breakfast at McDonald's. I was still on a soft food diet, so I couldn't got for the most appealing options, but it was still a very tasty breakfast, particularly from a fast food place. Still, it would be a great debate to decide which is higher quality - their breakfast or the frozen breakfasts from the store, because that's what it really reminded me of (not that it's a bad thing - I like the breakfast bowls, but they're not exactly homemade). We also picked up some donut balls for my sister. Soon after we returned and started to eat the platters of food, Tara came in, having woken up, but she was aware of what happened. She might have gotten a little bit of sleep, but I think that she was playing possum with her door closed just as I had done earlier.
The rest of the day mostly consisted with us sitting around the room, talking rubbish, and mom occasionally chiding me to sleep (as she knew that I had to drive to St. Louis so that I could go to my doctor's appointment and arrange things at school). My aunt went to the store and bought food for the house, as the potential count for company kept increasing. My grandmother (who the doctor would probably warn against traveling so far) and aunt Rose Mae were coming in, and later, my brother, a couple of his kids, and my cousin Michelle and her kids (and new husband) all came by. I'm sure they all felt that they were helping by coming in, but I daresay that my mom would have preferred a smaller crowd.
Also during the day (before the house got so crowded), my mom and I went to her office so that she could get some work done (just the minimum) and get gear so that she can work from home for the week. I really wish that she would listen and call the locksmith to change all the locks on the place, because I think that some workers with keys will come in and rob her blind, security system or no. The manager is an untrustworthy man with a gambling addiction, and some of the workers are simply opportunists - it's just the type of person my dad employed, because I guess he felt that he was helping them somehow. My mom says that she wants to try to keep it going through the month, but I wish that one of the people supposedly interested in buying would skip the respectful mourning period and sign a deal for the store. Anyway, while my mom was doing things at the office, I roamed around for what will probably be the last time. It's been so many years since I'd done so.
The building has had it's better days, and will probably need to be knocked down for a parking lot or extension. However, I love the design of the place. My guess is that it was probably built in the 40s or so, and there are many secret passages or cupboards. It's truly a unique design. There's a hatch to the two sides of the attic underneath a built-in desk and in a closet in the upstairs. Then, in the basement (which used to look much bigger - absolutely cavernous), there is another cupboard that might have even been used as a shelter, as it's big enough...and underground. My mom had told me if there was anything I found that I wanted to take to do so, so in the upstairs area, I snooped about a bit. There was a duffle bag up there which had been there for years, which apparently was my dad's navy duffel. I impulsively looked in the side pocket and found some sort of naval assignment/orders from 1984 and in my dad's name. It was faded, but I took it anyway. I also took down a portrait of my dad with his siblings and a painting that his mother had drawn. Oh, and there was also a Dale Carnegie diploma in my dad's name that I took from the walls. Then, I moved on to the closet, where there was an old navy uniform and thick naval coat which I took. I brought them to St. Louis with me, but I think I'll bring them back and put them in my closet back home. I don't think I can do the whole constant reminder thing, but I don't want them to go to Goodwill.
Anyway, it was soon after the work trip that everyone started arriving, and though it was interesting to see everyone, I had to leave to get back to St. Louis. When I made it back to my apartment, I didn't do much past going to bed. It was a long two days.
I'm sorry I didn't see this sooner (I don't use facebook for much besides art networking so I never see anybody's actual life updates) but I really appreciate you putting it on here too. I hope getting it all down helped. I know I've said "I'm sorry" a lot so maybe it's stupid to repeat it again, but I'm really sorry for everything your family has been through in the last few weeks. I'm glad to hear that you managed to be there with your Mom when it happened and I'm glad he didn't experience much of it.
Other than that I hope you get some rest and as always, my love and prayers are with you and your Mom.
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