Last year my Dad passed away just before Thanksgiving. Early in the evening on November 20th we received a phone call saying he'd fallen and was being taken by ambulance to the hospital. I wasn't particularly worried. My father was always in a hurry and at ninety years old he'd spent the day decorating the exterior of his house for Christmas with my son-in-law's help. Over the last several years Dad had taken a few spills, banged himself up, but like the EverReady Bunny, he kept on going. I often wondered what it would take for him to slow down, that night I found out.
When I arrived at the hospital and went to the window to inquire about him, an EMT asked me to come immediately to the double doors. He said the doctor wanted to speak with me before I saw my Dad and I knew then, this wasn't a simple fall. I imagined a few catastrophes, a broken hip, a concussion and having spent many years working for Office For the Aging I was already putting a care plan together in my head as I went through the doors. We didn't exactly live next door. I only had one sister locally but I had daughters and nieces. Everyone would help out until he was back on his feet, I was sure of it. Everything would be alright.
"Wait here," the EMT said as soon as the doors closed behind me.
He went into Exam Room 1 and returned immediately with a tall doctor I'd never seen before. He didn't mince words.
"You're father has suffered a massive stroke. He's in A-Fib and I believe he has Sepsis. He's not going to survive this. What do you want to do?"
I couldn't wrap my mind around what he was saying. Wait! Wait! I wanted to scream. I need a rewind. I knew what A-Fib was, my husband had just gotten out of this same hospital with A-Fib. I'd stood in the hall by Bill's room and cried as the woman across the hall flat lined, her family sobbing out their grief in the corridor. Now you're telling me this about my Dad? I couldn't comprehend.
And where the hell was everyone? I have a huge family, why was I alone, hyperventilating in the hall? I'm the youngest, dammit! It's not my job to make these decisions! I took care of my Mother every day when she was dying of cancer. She lived with us. It's someone else's turn.
All of these thoughts happened in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
"I can't make these decisions," I finally managed to croak out.
The doctor nodded and held open the door to Dad's room for me to enter.
Inside the room was exactly why I never watch medical dramas. The scurrying nurses and technicians jostling for position, the wildly beeping heart monitor, the IV tubes, oxygen and my father.
To say he was laying in the bed would not be accurate. He was damn near levitating off it, his tremors and shaking so violent I immediately reached out to him. Dad grabbed my hand and arm like a lifeline, his strength incredible for one so close to death. I stroked his head as his beautiful blue eyes looked to me for some kind of explanation. I didn't have one, so I lied. I told him everything was going to be alright, he was going to be alright. The doctors were going to take care of him, he needed to try to relax.
"Just breathe, Daddy."
Finally he whispered to for me to call my brother and sister.
Yes! Praise the Lord.
"I'll be right back," I promised as I gently pried his hand from my arm.
In the hall I collapsed against the wall and dialed the numbers in Colorado, Georgia and Indiana as I sank nearly to the floor. I choked out the details, wiped my face and charged down the hall and through the doors, ready to rip someone a new ass and skidded to a stop.
They were there in the waiting room, huddled together in a small group. My husband and daughter, my sister and her husband, my niece, a cousin and my son-in-law. None of them had any idea how critical Dad was, but they were there, my family, my back-up, my support.
We took turns, caring for Dad. He was never alone for a moment from the time I got to the hospital until he passed. I sang to him. When Mom was dying my sister and I played all her old 78's on the record player for her. Song's from the 40's, her heyday and beyond. I didn't have that available so I sang 'Over The Rainbow and old show tunes until I was hoarse. It seemed to soothe him, but on the other hand he may have been thinking, "I wish she'd just shut up." Who knows. I couldn't think of anything else to do. I couldn't save him.
Mike, my son-in-law slept in a chair by Dad's bed each night, giving us a break to get some sleep. In a lucid moment Dad asked him if he was the 'Look out?'
Mike assured him he was.
The elders flew in the next day. (Sorry guys). After that I was just part of the endless entourage that commandeered the waiting room on the second floor and filed in and out of Dad's room every few minutes, like the palace guard changing shifts. Comfort Care is what they called it and the nurses kept an endless supply of coffee and cookies available. Bless them.
Dad passed away on the 24th with his loved ones counting the seconds between breaths. His funeral service and Mass were on Wednesday afternoon. When everything was over I went home and baked eight pies. On Thursday, we had what passed for our usual Thanksgiving dinner, but we were missing someone. I didn't have time to think about it then. Everything happened so fast in that week.
This year it's hitting home. I really miss him.
I always go all out for Thanksgiving, using my Grandmother's china, my Mother's crystal and linen tablecloths and napkins. I have a nice set of silver Bill bought me many years ago, but this year I have something new. I found this treasure going through my Father's things and immediately snagged it as my own. I mean who else would appreciate such an ornate set besides someone who breaks out the 100 year old china for holiday dinners? Thanks, Dad. I''ll be thinking of you.