Monday, July 12, 2010

Accompanying Dad in his dying . . . .

As Starling mentioned in an earlier post, my Dad is dying. We had been vacationing with her parents in Alabama, but things started getting much worse on Friday, and by Saturday evening, it was looking like he might not make it to today (Monday), so I changed my ticket to come back early. I didn't take that decision lightly -- I miss the kids, and poor Starling has to fly back with three kids, a baby, and a carseat through three airports, with a midnight arrival -- but it really seemed as if he could go anytime. The hospice nurse said that his breathing was erratic, and my sister said that his apnea had lengthened to about 30 seconds.

When I arrived at about 6:30 last night, my parents' rosary group was just arriving. this is the group that my parents have been meeting with to pray the rosary for years and years. At first, I was uncomfortable with the notion of seeing my Dad on his deathbed at the same time as a bunch of people I hardly knew . . . but the love in that room was just palpable. It turned out to be quite a blessing to have this group of close friends praying and quietly reminiscing and telling my Dad goodbye.

Since then, I have been spending time in the room with him, either alone or with others, on and off. The hospice nurse -- who also has a degree from a Methodist seminary -- has been very good in ensuring his comfort. He is on morphine and Adavan, an anti-anxiety drug. He sleeps much of the time, but has been awake and conscious occasionally as well. He has not had anything to eat or drink for several days, and his kidneys are slowly shutting down; he seems to be no longer capable of speech, although he tries to respond a little bit when we say things to him. (He has had dementia, which would also impair his ability to respond.)

The rhythm of life around here reminds me a little of labor before childbirth -- the way the normal routine is suspended to completely focus on the one doing all the hard work . . . the long nights of quietly waiting and catnapping and meals on the hoof . . . accompanying the one doing the hard work, and doing everything we can to make them as comfortable as possible . . . the total focus on "getting there." In this case, we are praying for a peaceful transition to the next life.

I am going to quote my sister's last few posts on this, since she brings a different perspective. (This is my sister Becky, who had her own brush with death in December -- she has a blog called It's Still a Blessing):

SUNDAY, JULY 11, 2010
Maybe it seems weird that I keep blogging about my Dad when he is going. I suppose it's my way of coping, and letting out all the things that are on my mind in my heart but to hard to say out loud. And is hard as it will be, I know looking back on these posts will bring me some comfort, because it will remind me that not too long ago, my Dad was still alive.
I don't think it will be long now. Today I'm packing my bags to spend the night at my parents house. I don't know if he will go tonight or tomorrow, but we all have the very strong feeling that it will be soon. For some odd reason, they tend to go at night, when all is still and quiet.
My Dad developed a fever this morning. He won't recover from it, and it will end up putting him in a coma-like sleep. It will only be hours after that.
My sister and brother are both coming today too. My sister lives in WI and has about a 6 hour car ride over. My brother was vacationing in AL with his family but is coming in today on the 4:00 flight. I'm glad. I know my Dad has been waiting for them.
There are 5 of us in the family (kids) and although this is so painful, not one of us would miss this moment to be there for my Dad in his last moments. All the hardships of having him home to care for him have been worth it because now he can die surrounded by family. No medical things around, no strangers. He can go in the house he brought up his kids, had hardships and joy. He can go in his own bed with all of us saying the rosary by his bed. I know now why they call this beautiful. Death is hard, but being there to pray someone off to the next life is a blessing. A real blessing. Despite it all, I feel so blessed.
Yesterday my Dad said he saw two men standing at the foot of his bed. It won't be long now.

MONDAY, JULY 12, 2010
Still hanging in there...
My Dad is much more peaceful today. I spent the night on the couch listening to his breathing. It wasn't as morbid as you might think.
Last night my mom's rosary group came over. I admit at first I didn't want them there. It's a private time, and I wanted just family. But to see them all kneeling around his bed, praying for him brought tears to my eyes. To tell the truth, for the first time, I broke down and now I can't quit crying. I'm glad they came, it's been a great comfort to my mom to have people around. Most importantly, I know it was comforting for my Dad to see his friends there for him.
His apnea is up to 30 seconds now. When he's awake, he whispers, "Oh God", and "Oh Jesus". It breaks my heart. We hold his hand constantly, someone is always there whispering that he is ok. That he will go to a loving God.
I am home right now for a few hours because this is hitting too close to home for the kids right now. Max is afraid I won't come back and keeps asking who his new mommy will be.
I'll go back later today and then come home to make dinner is things are still holding steady with my Dad. This will be his 4th day of no food or water.
Thanks for the comments left, the emails and those who are constantly checking on my mom. I am not the most gracious person in these moments, yet I have noticed that she continues to be. She is always thinking of others.
Please continue to pray for him. We are praying to his favorite saint, St. Philomena. I especially am praying to St. Joseph Cafesso. He was a friend of St. John Bosco; he was especially known for comforting the dying.
Pray that my Dad will not be afraid. Pray that he knows he will always be with us.
In birth we must go alone and in death.