Sunday, March 16, 2008

While Making Other Plans

My beloved Dad died five years ago on March 17th. I can't believe it's been five years. We're a close family, but I never knew how unusual that was until Dad's wake and funeral. So many people commented on that-even the funeral director!

I remember when my Mom was told it was time to take one last look at Dad at the wake because they were ready to close the casket. Mom, me and my three sisters went up together, arms around one another, and said a quiet prayer. I was the last one to walk away, squeezing his arm one last time.

I guess the sight of his girls looking into the casket together made on impression on people. Some said it was lovely the way we supported one another.

When I got back from NY, this is the column I wrote for my paper:

Life became unreal the moment I hung up the phone. Stunned, I repeated the words I'd just heard to my kids and husband.

"Grandpa's doctor said he won't survive the operation. There's nothing more they can do."
I already had tickets to fly up the next day to be with my family. We had been told earlier in the week that if my Dad didn't have this surgery, he would die.

Dad had been in and out of the hospital for the last few years and wound up with a staph infection, which had attacked his heart. A specialist, who dealt with high-risk patients, had been scheduled to remove a heart abscess. We felt hopeful.

Now with a phone call, all hope was gone. Looking at my open suitcase, I realized that I should include something black. This wasn't supposed to happen, I thought.

Images of a younger, stronger man interrupted my sleep that night: Dad playing cards, Dad walking the dogs, Dad coming home and lifting me high into the air.

The next morning, I floated through the airport, found a seat alone and tried not to think. Eventually we boarded. Then the ground was falling away and puffs of clouds rushed by my window. Though I hate to fly, I was so numb that I forgot to be afraid.

Hours later, as we began our descent, we flew straight down the middle of Manhattan, an approach I'd never taken before. I felt like a character in a movie cruising by the Empire State Building in a private jet. Was I dreaming? How could a sight be both thrilling and depressing?

My sister picked me up and, though it was late, took me straight to the hospital. Dad seemed somewhat alert, eyes open, mouth mumbling words in answer to our questions.

He was moved to a hospice the next day. Mom, my three sisters and I spent every moment possible with him. Mom even spent the night, watching his labored breathing. Next day, we continued to hold his unresponsive hands as his favorite music played. We laughed as we reminisced with each other, prayed with him, and told him we loved him.

A little before noon, we were asked to leave the room so the nurse could bathe him. He quietly slipped away just moments after we were gone. He knew he had our love, our thanks and our permission to quit the fight. Lucky man.

The dream continued through the crowded wake and quiet funeral, moving in slow motion, one step in front of the other. The day flowed like the procession of cars I rode in, like trudging in deep water; wanting to run with heavy, earth bound legs.

Then a house of sympathetic faces, the smell of flowers and a pile of food. Another flight among the clouds (Dad? Are you there?) And now I'm home.

There's laundry to be done, Little League tonight and a deadline looming. Responsibility pinched me to my senses. Did it really happen?

7 comments:

JOJOSIE said...

My father also passed away in March. March 14th,1971. My birthday is March 15th so it's easy for me to remember. I always have to remind my sister as she hardly remembers her children's birthdays. I could say it's her age but she didn't remember dates when she was younger either. When my father died it was sad but I had already grieved for him two years earlier. He was in the hospital and the Dr. told me he wouldn't live thru the night so I held his hand and cried all night.
Guess what, he lived thru the night and two more years. My father was a stuborn,but lovable man and liked beating the odds in poker and in life.

caryl said...

jojosie, that's unbelievable! My Dad only lasted a day and a half and I see now that I should be very grateful for that. For all of us.

Was your Dad in a coma all that time or was he alert?

JOJOSIE said...

He was alert, infact after some therapy he went home and lived alone (with my help daily) for about a year and a half. I did make a mistake on the year, it was 1981 not 71. It's been along time but memories still exist and I never want to give the those up and I'm sure you feel that way too.

Karen said...

I am so sorry for your loss. It never does get easier does it? I lost my mother six weeks ago.

caryl said...

Karen- I'm so sorry! What I've found is that at first, you seem to replay the last few days over and over in our mind, but as time goes by the happier times come forward.

My Mom said that someone told her she'd "get over it" in time. She said, "but I don't want to get over it." And you never really do.

Karen said...

Thanks so much Caryl.
It's so weird that when I think of my mother, I don't think of her sick. She was in the hospital for a whole year. Well, she did come home for three weeks and did spend her last Christmas and New Year's with us.

I totally understand what your mom means. I don't really want to get over it. We lived in the trenches of her illness with her for a year, and it's something that's so hard to recover from.

I also wanted to say that I enjoy your blog very much! :D

caryl said...

Thanks, Karen!