In the last 10 or so conscious days of Dad’s life, he was present in a way that he hadn’t been in more than a year.
He slept a lot. And he seemed to dream because he smiled and reached out his arms. I hoped that he was talking to Mom.
But when he was conscious or semi-conscious, he was able to respond to our questions and if one of us said, “I love you,” he would respond in kind.
This was a gift to his kids in his final days.
First, a back story:
BACK STORY: Cocktail hour (with hors d’oeuvres) was a time-honored tradition in our family. As old world as that sounds, we are Jews and so it was Jewish all the way — mostly food and a little alcohol. Scotch was the drink of choice. And the food was white fish salad, pickled herring, eggplant salad and, in a nod to the “new country,” mixed nuts. Ok, so some affectations but we never forgot our roots. In later years, Dad would alternate between scotch and wine.
So in those last days, we celebrated with Dad, as much and as often as was safe. And we toasted his life. Unfortunately, the serving set was less than ideal . . . .
About five days before Dad died, when he was essentially unconscious, SOB (sister of blogger) had the brilliant idea to move a mattress in Dad’s room so that the three kids could be right there any case anything happened.
SIDEBAR: The usual night aides — wonderful women — helped us change him when needed and mostly slept in another room.
As I was helping SOB move the mattress, I looked at her and said, “You are on the other side of crazy. And I am even more crazy for helping you.” SOB nodded in a way that indicated, “true,” and was pleased that I acknowledged the sibling pecking order of — let’s say loosely — “sanity”.
BOB (brother of blogger) wasted no time throwing himself on the mattress and falling asleep. SOB and I rolled him as necessary to make the bed. SOB got on the mattress and beckoned me in the middle.
WAIT. STOP. My brother tosses and turns and my sister wakes up at the slightest noise. Is this 45 years ago and am I in the middle in the back seat of the car on family trips, feeling nauseated and poked and pinched by BOB? Are you kidding me?
“Nah, I just sleep on the comfy floor.”
“Are you sure? There is enough room.”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
Over the course of that first evening of Dad’s effective unconsciousness, Dad’s breathing changed to a Cheynes-Stokes rhythm — no breath for an insane amount of time and then four deep breaths. Repeat, until you almost kill your children.
So, as you can imagine, that first night, SOB is lunging over BOB to check Dad’s pulse while I am watching wide-eyed and scared because Dad is not breathing. And then he would start breathing again.
At dawn on each of those days, I would pick up my pillow and blanket and go into a different bedroom to sleep a few hours. SOB would go to Dunkin’ Donuts. BOB would continue going through photos. Rinse. Repeat. Wonder about sedation. FOR US.
And so it went. And we shifted sleeping places over the nights. Because, we had some sanity left in us.
Dad died at 2:48am on a Friday with his kids around him. No one pronounces a person dead, like in the movies. You just watch it. And let the initial wave wash over you. And you know that, in the months to come, the waves will wash you up to shore with a mouth of sand while you are struggling to breathe.
Yep, there is pain. But Dad had a good and long life. There is no tragedy here. There is no anger. There is, in fact, guilty joy for being able to celebrate a long life well-lived. An embarrassment of riches.
Ok, because I need to bring it back to humorous.
Here are things I learned:
- BOTH BOB and I snore.
- Do not want to get between SOB and any patient. Every now again I let my head get in the way of her arm reaching to feel Dad’s pulse. A painful mistake.
- BOB thinks I pick wine based on the freakiest or stupidest name. He may be half-right. My real goal was to make sure when Dad was drinking his last “cocktail”, we were giving him a good send off home to Mom.
And now I have to get all emotional.
The greatest lessons I learned are:
(i) we siblings need our own bedrooms,
(ii) we have the craziest memories of childhood and they are all different,
(iii) we siblings are in sync in a crisis, and
(iv) SOB and BOB are the finest people anyone could ever hope to meet.
Yes, SOB and BOB are the finest people anyone could ever hope to meet.
I am the luckiest person ever.