A lot of us go through the end-of-life journey confused and overwhelmed. Talking about what happens before, during and after death is often taboo or steeped in religious doctrine that feels alien or confrontational. For me, as someone who has made a concerted effort to get informed, I am okay with all that I am seeing.
My father went from sleeping 90% of the day, looking like a skeleton in a bed, hardly eating, refusing water… to coming back to life! What did it? All three of his children in the same room, together, saying good-bye to him. His eyes lit up. His smile came back. He refuses now to sleep during the day. He’s become chatty. And, even though my siblings have gone back to NY, he has remained in good spirits. For a man who always said his biggest and best accomplishment was raising three wonderful children, the visits were his sustenance – more than food or water, which he was rejecting.
In the last two weeks since the sibling visits, my father has seemed in better spirits. We went from hospice helping us find a skilled nursing care center to let dad pass with medical staff around him, to having him stay at home with twelve hours a day, seven day a week aides. Trustbridge Hospice has been phenomenal in supporting our family through this rough time. Our case manager (Sharon) and social worker (Donna) have provided advice, supplies, resources and information that we so need!
Our aides (Elsy, Ima, Marie, and Dee) have made our lives easier and more joyful. What a comfort to have them on this journey with us.
Dad and I talk. He calls me by all kinds of names. He told me I couldn’t be 61 because he had only just turned 65 (he just turned 88). “Would you like a drink?” my host asked me. “No thanks,” I answered. I’ve gone with him on his Navy ship and watched someone slide down “the pole”, watched as a friend got his arm blown up by a bomb, helped him line the softball diamond in high school before playing a game, fretted with him over the loss of one of his best fish in catch of the day, and admired the pocketbook (his brown blanket) that he thought was quite nice. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink?” Nope. I’m good.
I’ve helped him stock the shelves for the opening of the new store and thanked him for promoting me (even though I was a woman) because he knew I’d do a good job. I told him I didn’t remember Robin. And I apologized for sitting on the lap of a spirit in the room that I did not see. “Can I get you a beverage? I have coke you know.” Nope. I’ve got my water right here.
“I’m going in three days,” he told me yesterday as his pale, puckered fingers picked at his blanket and t-shirt. He examined his fingers on all sides, looking for something. And then he wanted to know where his shoes were. When he tried to sit up to find them, he just collapsed back into bed and said, “I’m too tired to get up” and went back to looking over his misshapen fingers that seem to be curling into themselves (as do his toes) for no apparent reason.
The reality is that dad is experiencing all the signs of someone ready to cross-over to the next life. The stories he tells may be from this life, but they are also from other lives he’s lived I am convinced. The people coming to see him are welcoming him to his next life. To where his soul can rest. And he seems ready to go. Eating less, drinking less, seeing spirits, telling stories, are all signs of someone at end of life. So I smile and go along for the ride. I don’t mind being the redhead that’s about to go on stage. I disappoint him because my back-up singers and dancers aren’t with me. Whoops – change character. Here they are; they’re coming. He smiles. All is right. “You want a drink now?” he asks hopefully. My father, the consummate host, wants to be sure I’m good. For anyone who has joined him for his daily 4 p.m. cocktail hour – you know what I mean.
I could be letting all of this get me upset but I am grateful that my father is not in any apparent pain; that he is finding joy. He is laughing and trying to keep his aides (and me) entertained. He loves me in all the many forms he sees me – even if he doesn’t know I’m his daughter. And I am blessed to be here on this journey in this lifetime with him. I kiss him and tell him I love him every time I see him. I tell him good-bye (not, I’ll see you later), every time I see him so he knows he is free to go when he’s ready. And maybe, when I go home tonight, I’ll have that drink and toast my wonderful dad.