I wrote about my father last month for fathers day but I didn't tell the whole story because I wanted to save something for this month. I have lost the women in my family in September. With both it was the right time to go. July is when I lose the men of my family. Neither one was ready to go.
My father passed away in July 2001.
People often find it strange that I don't mind hospitals, I am very comfortable there. I also have very little fear of death. They sometimes seem to think I seem under concerned. This is not true. It is simply that I take these things as a matter of course. Part of everyday life. You see I was prepared at an early age to accept the possibility of death for my loved ones. Most particularly my parents and especially my father.
The summer I was 10 going on eleven my mother had cancer and had surgery followed by radiation treatment. My father took care of me of course and I remember he took me shopping for some clothes because school would be starting soon. While we were there a police officer approached him and began to speak with him but I couldn't hear. Concerned I moved closer and heard my father reply, "no I think I have heartburn." "You're very pale, said the officer, are you sure you feel alright." My dad said he was fine but he told me he was ready to go because he didn't feel well. What was happening? A warning sign. Signaling the heart attack he had about a week later. Just as my mom came home.
I spent a whole lot of that year in the hospital snack bar. It was my haven. I feel perfectly at ease in hospitals and around illness. The one my parents were in that year feels as familiar to me as the home of an old family friend. Over the years he was in this hospital in ICU multiple times. His heart was very damaged. He needed bypass surgery more than once. He changed his lifestyle dramatically which is why he survived as long as he did. He passed away just shy of being 76. He was a fighter. His cardiologist called him his miracle man. He made it to walk his last child, myself, down the aisle and see all 10 of his grandchildren born.
In the end he still was not ready to go.
From the time I was ten I was prepared for my father to die. What I wasn't prepared for was .....
Looking at you coming in one day and seeing a thin and frail man standing there. A fringe of fully gray hair.
Your hands and arms with thin skin often with ugly bruises from years of blood thinners. The wide back becoming narrow and slightly stooped. You still seemed the same most of the time and I was caught off guard from time to time when I focused on this fragility. Something that had never been part of you before. One of those moments when you suddenly see the change that has been slowly progressing over a long time without really being noticed. What I was not prepared for was seeing you age. Watching you become old. Seeing you be "unable". You didn't like it much either. We teased a little when you decided to wear slippers even when you left the house, not out in public of course but if you were coming over to visit. But you earned that right.
I wasn't prepared for the day I came by to help with housework and was surprised at how far behind you had become. Mom was still working and was concerned because you no longer could keep up these little chores or felt up to cooking the wonderful dishes you would prepare for her and her co-workers to enjoy at lunch. Something you deeply enjoyed because it added some socializing to your day after you had retired.
The last painting stood on the easel unfinished. It took you forever to finish a painting so it was a couple of months before I noticed that nothing had been changed at all. "Haven't really felt like it you said".
I bleached the bathroom. When I came out I mentioned a new product I was using that might help with it it. You sat in the chair in your usual posture, arms and legs both crossed. You had the saddest look on your face. I could always tell you had to search for words to explain things. You would talk around an issue.
You said, " I really haven't been doing so well Sweetheart."
Well I was used to that. "Have you talked to the doctor," I asked
"Yes," you answered, "he knows."
You just sat there with that look. You looked at the floor.
"Well maybe you should talk to him again," I told you. Being matter of fact as always.
You nodded, "I guess so..."
Was I refusing to hear what you were saying without words? No, I knew what you were saying and also that you did not wish for it to be said. I bustled and fussed with my work. Told you to call your doctor and kissed you goodbye. You had already talked to your doctor.
What you were saying was, I am dieing.
In the last weeks in the hospital you still refused to give up. Insisting on a pacemaker even though it was risky and could only possibly provide you a few more months. You convinced yourself that it would "do the trick." It didn't of course. The doctors kept giving us that look. We knew but at the same time had our own denial. We had heard it many times before and it had been for nothing. During that time the kidneys were failing. The doctors put you on dialysis. I think they tried to tell you but you made plans anyway. You asked if I would be able to drive you in to town for it and were very insistent that Mom would not be capable of it. You said, "Because your Mom.....she probably won't be up to it......she hasn't driven up there in a while". Was this a hint? Were you already seeing the first signs but didn't want to say? Were you protecting her?
You were convinced you would be coming home when you healed from the pacemaker. You didn't have the time to heal. But you were able to breathe better and speak with us easier for a few days. We weren't there. All the hours in that place over the years and years and none of us were there during that one. You were improving some. We could take a breath. You so insisted you were doing fine that you fooled us. You seemed fine that morning. No one got to say goodbye. You had talked to each of us in turn in the previous weeks. We learned later that you had privately spoke with each of us. It had seemed casually, you spoke of things we should do in our future. I know what you told me to do and I'm sorry I haven't done it yet. You told our loved like a sister S to remarry and find a good man. You know she has. You told Biggest to be good. Losing you didn't help. But you see her now. All of us got our message and didn't even realize it because you would not admit you were going anywhere.
I had the dream though. Probably my own unconscious mind consoling itself. There was that hallway. Peach with green bumper walls. Clean clean clicking floors. Last door on the right just past the nurses station. You are walking out of the room. You are wearing your burgundy robe with green paisley pattern and your favorite brown leather slip on slippers. Your skinny white legs that you hid for years seem to be of no concern. Your hands are in your pockets. There is no IV pole with you. You are strolling down the hall. You nod to the nurses at the station and turn so that I see you grinning from ear to ear. You are leaving that hospital forever. You feel fine. You are happy. You are ready to go now. Your face reads "I am out of here, and that is good.......it is absolutely fine....very, very fine."
You were prepared.
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