Friday, February 16, 2007

Dad’s Passing

At 12:15 they came in and repositioned him, shifting his weight to his other shoulder. The PSW offered me tea, coffee or juice and I asked for some tea. He brought me a tray. I held dad’s hand, rubbed his boney shoulder, rearranged his blankets and looked at his mottled hands again. I counted his breaths at 12:50 and he was breathing 7 times every ten seconds. By 1:00 a.m. he was up to eight breaths. At 1:15 I heard Cheynes-Stokes breathing. His breathing stopped for about 10 seconds or so – it was hard to tell as time stopped for me. It wasn’t upsetting at all. I sat beside him holding my breath. When he started breathing again I was upset. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this! He needed to finally be out of pain. Mom, his parents, his cats and dogs; all were waiting. I had three cups of hot tea and made several visits to the bathroom, darn glad I had had the toilet seat changed back. I think I nearly took out the PSW in the doorway, the bathroom door being behind the entry door, when he came to check on us.

The PSW told me that he quite enjoyed caring for my dad. He told me he gave dad pain pills as needed on those nights that dad was loudly vocal, some days they could hear him singing down the hall and around the corner in the nurse’s office. They made sure that they gave him the pills before they moved him. I was grateful. Dad appeared uncomfortable every time they had put him into the swing lift for several weeks now.

He spoke of how they had had to watch him carefully. Dad liked to get out of bed in the night. Holly, his first charge nurse, found him a bed with raised sides. Even then dad would position himself at the end of the bed, feet hanging over the side. They had to laugh. He was a challenge, but The PSW thought that he must have been a good man in his prime. Always polite and thanking them for things they would bring him.

I took a break, the room was dry and I needed to stretch. I walked out into the hall. Here was Donny, a resident, using his feet to wheel himself back and forth across the end of the hall. It looked like a Monty Python skit. Back and forth in the darkened hallway. I asked The PSW if Donny was always up at night! He said no, that likely he had slept all day. Back into the room I went, trying to get some sleep. I was on edge and wary.

At 1:24 dad had an apnea episode and stopped breathing for two seconds. I thought back to a time in the Manor, when I was running back and forth between work and home and Gravenhurst, Dad said I looked tired. Then he patted the bed and said I could sleep there! Now, here I was keeping him company at last. He had his way.

I had another flashback. When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark hall I had to travel to get to the bathroom. I remember that there was a red light in the base of the light, a reflector of some sort. It scared me. I would go and stand and wait beside his bed until he woke up. He would ask, “What is it, Jen?”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Well, off you go then.” I think I just need to know that someone was there for me. I was glad to do the same for him.
I settled back into bed around 3:00 a.m., feeling that it would be a bit longer. I drifted off to sleep. I jerked awake after 4:20. I turned my head slowly. All was quiet. Too quiet. I could see that dad’s colour had changed profoundly. Nervously, I approached him and felt him. His face was cold. He had stopped breathing, with his eyes one quarter open, as they had remained for hours. Suddenly, The PSW came back in. He said he had just checked in on dad and found him dead – he didn’t know whether to wake me right away or not. He went and told the nurse. I was glad to get some sleep and there was nothing I could do.

The nurse came and checked dad. His core was still warm and it hadn’t been long ago that he had passed over. I felt as if a burden was lifted from my shoulders. No more guilt, or worrying over whether I had done enough or done the right thing. I asked what had to happen. The doctor they would call at 7:00 a.m., there was no rush. They had rounds to finish and I decided to pack up dad’s room. I couldn’t face going back there that day. They told me I had a couple of days to clean out his things, but felt awake and I didn’t want Brian to lift anything. I carefully removed his Valentine decorations from the door and the window. I went into the bathroom and through out his toiletries and other personal items. I checked his drawers, folded up my comforter, placed the family photos into the pillowcases. It was a two-step process, walking through two passcode protected doors, one floor and a locked front door! They lock the door at night and, having gotten stuck last week, I knew it was hopeless to try and figure out how to get out before the morning staff came on. The PSW came in and washed dad’s body while I took things down to the car.

The PSW helped me out with some of the things. It was a lonely process going up and down to the second floor. I loaded up the car, under the starlight, and drove home. It was quiet and peaceful. I didn’t phone home, I knew Brian needed his sleep. The place was quite dark, the snow crunched under my boots. I unloaded just dad’s plant, not wanting to let it die in the minus 15 degree Celsius cold. I didn’t bother bringing anything else in. These things would wait until dawn arrived. It was 6:00 and I saw Brian at the top of the stairs. I asked him if he’d make me a coffee. The cat was halfway towards the stairs, not knowing if she was going to be fed or if I would go to bed. Brian went to get his robe and I followed him upstairs. I said, “He’s gone”.

Brian responded, “I thought so.” He made me coffee, as he does almost every day, and I started to make a list of things to do. Writing always helps me. We sat and talked. Brian pointed out that we would be hard-pressed to get over the habit of giving visiting dad so much of the time. I began to make a fire in the wood stove. I thought, as I often did, that I could phone mom and tell her how well I had done. Foolish thought, but a habit I cannot seem to break. I knew that she was in her new home and getting things ready for dad! The house was quite cold, as we turn down the thermostat at night. The fire made it cozy in no time. We talked.

By 7:00 o’clock I phoned my daughter, knowing she had to get ready for work, and to tell her the news. I woke her husband and we chatted. I explained that Robin and I would not be doing a funeral until spring. JL said that Caitlin wanted to come, but with my brother arriving Saturday, we would cope. Jesse was to visit on Wednesday, and that would be great. We had the roof shingles to finish and chores to take care of. I have found that the time immediately after a death in the family is the easiest. With things to do and comforting words of those one meets there is a sense of purpose. When everyone goes home and the void begins where the loved one used to be – that is the most difficult. A funeral demands much time and energy.

I made phone calls. Made an appointment with the Funeral Home for the afternoon, I gathered papers; birth certificate, certificate of marriage and so on. By 9:00 a.m. the roofers were back. The cat was quite perturbed. Brian said she was quite worried about the BIG squirrels on the roof. She would sit there and look up at the ceiling with great concern. The banging went on all day. It began to irritate me after some time. I mentally kicked myself. Here are these men working in sub-zero weather giving us a new roof. Eventually it was time to go into town for the errands.

Brian and I went into town for our appointment at the funeral home. By then dad’s body had been brought from LTC to the Funeral Home. He went into LTC and gathered up dad’s clothes for me while I met with Cathy, who worked there. We planned out what we needed to do, more papers we needed to find, and I gave her a copy of the obituary notice I had written with input from my brother. We wrote up a contract for services. My brother had begun this process for mom last May, by the time I had returned from Toronto. It was my turn.

There is a set form, with lines for the various components of a funeral arrangement: consultation, fees, funeral home reception and supervision, procuring and completion of documents, embalming, shrouding, use of facilities, memorial stationary, visitor’s register book, transportation, transfer to the crematorium, coroner’s certificate, death registration fees, casket and urn. I, as executrix, had to sign the contract. We priced various urns. Then Brian and I went and saw dad’s body and said our goodbye. He would be cremated immediately. That gave us time to plan the memorial service later in the spring. In hindsight I shouldn’t have gotten the register or the thank you notes from the funeral home. The register was barely used. I did not call all of dad’s friends – I assumed people would know from the announcement in the post office and the newspaper. What a mistake, I think. I could have picked out a few very special notes.

Brian took me out to dinner. It was good not to have to cook and think logically in one area. We had a living room full of dad’s things and there was lots to do. We watched a DVD that evening. Escape was welcome. The problem was I fell asleep about 10 minutes into it! We decided to go to bed. Neither of us had slept well the previous night.

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