Saturday, April 27, 2013

Friday with Daddy

daddy never went through the front door of our house.

always through the back, by the carport and into the utility room where he might scale a fish (much to my mother's chagrin) where the dog sat and scratched at the door during our supper, where he stitched up a rabbit my sister found injured in the yard. where one morning when he was in his 40s he collapsed into my mother, sobbing because his friend had died at home while reading the paper in his wing chair and daddy had to pronounce him dead.

the front door was reserved for prom dates and the rare trick-or-treater, for strangers stopping by. but when daddy came home on last friday — april 19 — they brought him through the front door. 

he came home the same way he left town way back in february, in a giant transport filled with fancy machines, a blue tulip-like flower emblazoned on the side. 

we had made the decision to bring him home two days before, my family and his hospital team crowded around his bed. he'd been asking to go home for more than a month, to leave behind the machines and tubes and take his rest in his bed at home. pat, my father's pa, carefully listed off the options for a man who could no longer breathe completely on his own. a long-term care hospital. palliative care or Hospice. 

when i heard the word 'home' i looked to my mother, praying she would choose that option. in a wheelchair herself, she would be going home herself the next day, to 24-hour caregivers my sister would meet later in the day. my brother leaned into mama, asking quietly: what do you want to do?

'home,' she said. 'let's take him home.'

a week ago now, the transport team pulled up in front of our house drew him out into the crisp spring air. and i was waiting.

'you're home daddy!' i shouted, and he looked around. home, his wish finally granted. i stood there— my family waiting just inside the front door — watching him look around at the sky. they wheeled him into our front hall where the Christmas tree stood in december, down the hall he had walked so many times in the middle of the night in his pajamas toward the back door and a patient waiting. down the hall, toward the linen closet, that when i was five i was convinced held a witch. they wheeled him to his room, to a bed he had last slept in on february 5, the room he had shared with my mother for 50 years. 

it felt like a long ride to me, down our hall. across the creaky floorboard that gave my brother's Christmas morning crawl away. past my childhood room. a mile it seemed, as they shifted the gurney to make room for this 6-foot-two man, squeezing him through the door into a room softened by carpet and soothing blue.

daddy brought with him a host of people. the Hospice doctor and two nurses. a respiratory therapist, Pat, who had been caring for him all these weeks. a priest who's liberal views challenged daddy's conservative ones, but in his years as their minister, the two had become good friends. 

the team to settled him, and my mother's caregivers helped her into place beside him. it was mid-afternoon.

by the time we gathered next to him, daddy wore his familiar pajamas, sat propped against his favorite pillow, talked to us. i took hold of his hand, and he said something i couldn't grasp... what, daddy?

he looked straight at me and said: your hands are COLD! he wanted chocolate milk, but we had only vanilla ice cream.  i spooned it carefully into his mouth, he swallowed, not seeming to care that we could not grant his original wish.

the day before he came home, daddy talked to all of his grandchildren on the phone. somehow, after all these weeks of quiet, he had much to say. it was a miracle, really. i talked to him, too, as did my mother and sister, all of us overjoyed at hearing his voice again. 

last thursday was her first day home as well, after her fall. we had fixed her crab cakes — the best meal she had ever eaten! — and watched as she pulled herself up on her bed, straighten out that broken leg, beginning the first steps toward her recovery.  


when we gathered everybody around in the room, daddy said: we didn't plan for all these people.' for daddy, it has always been about the plan. each day i visited him in the hospital, he would ask: plan. toward the end, when we had no idea, i'd shrug my shoulders — one of his exercises — and say, 'who knows? that's the plan.' which seemed to satisfy him.

this time we had one. we all joined the priest for last rites from the good ol' Book of Common Prayer. and then daddy thanked everyone for coming. thanked them, which is so what my father would do. later on, he FaceTimed with my daughter and my niece. strange, that, this 84-year-old dying man saying when asked by his granddaughters how he felt, he said:'pretty good.'


i will tell you that it's something, when your siblings gather round your dying father. 

my brother, a physician, is good with those who are critically ill. i have watched him with my father all these weeks. he leans in, speaks softly, but loud enough to jostle daddy awake when need be. this day was no different. i can't imagine how hard it is to be doctor, lawyer, indian chief, son, for he has been all these things since february, and again on this afternoon, our last friday with daddy. 

my sister brought the dog in, picked her up and put her on the bed with daddy, knowing just how long he had waited to touch her head.

we spent the afternoon and evening gathered around my parents, telling stories and praying and singing. After supper, i sat with him and read him the story of his life. 

we kissed him goodnight, leaving he and my mother alone in the room. she lay by his side the whole night, and ruby did for most of it. 

and then, a call, footsteps in the hall, my sister running toward the room where i had tried to sleep a little. 

it was over. 

we surrounded his body, talking and crying, naming all the dogs he was now getting to see. our grandparents. his friends. so many who have made this journey before him. 

and then we left the room, all of us, to wait for the next step.

in the wee hours, as we sat up and waited for the Hospice nurse and the funeral director to arrive in the pouring rain, we listened as mama told stories about him and their life together, their early years. Despite all the uncertainty and the trauma we've experienced these many weeks, what a treasure my father's last hours were to all of us.

dawn came, and we called all the children, made arrangements for them to join us in this new life without their Pop B. not one of us has wanted to go there, but at least we will travel together, his legacy to us that he was the magnet that drew us together, keeps drawing, even in his absence.

in the days since daddy died, we have heard a hundred stories from his patients and friends, many reflecting his wry humor, others his humble, caring nature. 

'he was quiet, but he was powerful,' the man, a patient, who has kept up our lawn when daddy no longer could told me yesterday. yes he was. 

my father was a great man, so many have said to us in the past week. but aren't all our father's that? 

"so with the sleight of his magician's hand, he will end the show,' i wrote back in 1997. and i don't know who will miss him more — his patients, or the doctor himself..."  those very words caught in my throat as i read them to him one last time just a few hours before he died.  words appropriate for retirement so many years ago, and, it turns out, for his last friday with us. 

i can't imagine now  how much i'll miss him. it still isn't real to me yet. but i am not alone, because i have a full family and a whole town gathered around me, and we are all holding each other up.

 bye daddy. guess it was finally your time to hit the road. be careful. and have a safe and happy trip. sbr

ps: thank you to all who have called and visited, who have sent food, cards and facebook messages, who had loved my daddy at times it seems as much as i did. your generosity toward my family is overwhelming. maybe now daddy understands just how much he meant to all who knew him. susan

read more about him here

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