For about 20 years, I had wondered "what will it be like." Specifically, what will it be like when my father dies. I never even considered that my mother might go first. Thankfully, she did not. She is alive and thriving. But Dad, well, he was like a cat as he tricked death several times starting when I was about 15 years old.
So I wondered, what will it be like to get The Call. There were moments when I thought he was dying and he did not. In one such moment I was there right with him. I was panicked and calm and not thinking of anything more than being right there. And then, grateful. Eternally grateful when he came back to consciousness. That was last April when I took our new daughter down to see him and he had what he liked to call "An incident" with his heart. There was another time in I think 2004…maybe 2005. I had to get on a plane when he was unconscious. That was pretty terrible. In that instance, I was pretty useless and paralyzed. My then boyfriend, now husband, had to pack for me. I was visibly upset and unable to manage tears the whole flight. I landed and learned that the minute my flight took off, he had stabilized. Those 45 minutes in the air, in limbo, were some of the worst moments of my life thus far.
And then of course there was the actual event, just over two months ago. He had been home from the hospital for about a week. We had all been there the weekend before to spend time with him. Hospice had taken over in our house, and that was a god send. I talked to him around noon that day. He and my mother were on their way to one of his favorite places, The Olive Garden. He wasn't eating much those days but on that day, he had a hankering for some soup and breadsticks. When I spoke to him that was the last thing we talked about, how he and my mother were going to go out and he was going to get some soup. He said "Let's talk later."
My mother called me later that day just to mention that she had spoken to the funeral home to get things in order. I asked if she thought the need was imminent. Always the planner, she said she did not know but wanted to be prepared. Interesting timing. I think she knew.
Later that evening, my father, mother and the hospice nurse sat down to dinner. He offered up a toast to them, thanking them for all of their help. This was odd. I am not sure I remember him initiating a lot of toasts, but on this night he did. He had some hamburger, one of his favorite meals. Only a few bites. Then my mother made him an old favorite, a chocolate milkshake. He drank the whole thing.
Several hours later he was experiencing restlessness. This is a sign. It's even somewhat official, from what I understand, Terminal Restlessness. My mother and I were keeping in close touch that night on the phone. Things continued for the worse. I won't go into the details. Near the end – we did not yet know it was the end – my daughter who is a pretty sound sleeper all of a sudden started dramatically crying in her room. This was around 11:45PM. She had been asleep since 7PM. I went to calm her. A bit later, the phone rang again. My husband answered the call. I was in with Avery but I heard him on the phone. I knew this was The Call. I took the phone and my mother said she thought this was it. She put the phone up to his ear so I could speak to him. I said a few things – things you might imagine one says at that moment. I did not hear him but apparently he was alive, yet approaching death. Hearing they say is the last thing to go. After only a few seconds of this my mother got back on the phone and said she thought he was gone. It was 12:05AM. I told her I would call my sister.
Deep breath. That is what I did. I stood in my living room and took a very deep breath. That was quite a moment. My husband came out with my daughter – and then took her back to her room. She calmed down right away, right around the very moments after he died. I called my sister.
And then I felt an incredible sense of calm. Calm like I had not felt in years. All anxiety about pain and suffering was gone. He had finally found peace. And for me, his daughter, that was joyful. I know it sounds odd to say – surely, I was not happy. But I was calm. I thought I would be non-functional. Not at all. I had traded anxiety, fear for him, hurt for him and concern for him (and much for my mother too, by the way, who was a saint through the entire 20 year health management process – that is another story) for loss. Big, deep, fundamental loss. But not entirely. I did not and do not feel emptiness. I thought I would.
I miss him a million times every single day. I cry. I have so many unanswered questions. But I don't fear for him anymore, and I must say, there is a lot to be said for that. He lived an amazing life, and I had an amazing time with him. I can still see him and hear him. I have no regrets about my relationship with him and I don't think he would either (though I am sure he would still say I should go to church more often). We spent never enough time, but it was excellent time. I have a lot to hold onto. And for that, I am eternally grateful.