dying is a very dull, dreary affair. and my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it. ~ w. somerset maugham
my dad died last saturday. his death was the first one i've actually ever watched. practically speaking, it was a good death. the kind most of us probably pray for. he knew he was dying. he’d made his peace with God. he was at home when he finally decided to give up the ghost, and everyone he loved most was present. but i have to tell you, it wasn't pretty.
i'm not really sure what i was expecting. i think relief is what i thought i would most feel. he had his prostate removed about 15 years ago to get rid of the cancer and then was diagnosed with diabetes about ten years ago, but he kept it under control with his diet and pills. then a few years ago he fell while carrying one of my daughters on his shoulders (by the by, i don't recommend carrying small children on your shoulders when you're 70+). a few days later he fell in the shower and hurt his back badly enough to necessitate surgery. looking back, this is the point I can look at and declare this was the beginning of the end. while in the hospital, his electrolytes got all shot to hell and he was disoriented and confused. he had a hard time with his rehab and his kidneys started giving him fits. then he was finally diagnosed with senile dementia. . .a diagnosis that was actually long overdue according to my mom, but with all these delightful HIPAA laws, the senile and the demented are allowed to be so until they actually hurt somebody, but that's another blog. . .and given more pills. these were the pills he refused to take because the bottle read “alzheimer’s” and he didn’t have alzheimer’s, g*ddammit.
watching my dad the past few years was like watching a balloon slowly deflate. it happened slowly enough that there was time to almost adequately adjust, but quickly enough that it was frightening to witness. about six months ago, dad finally started dialysis, which he despised with a passion, and i kept wondering how much the doctors could put him through before they finally admitted that there is no cure for Old.
when did we decide that we absolutely have to keep our loved ones, or ourselves even, alive at any and all costs? i don’t understand it. is it that if we can keep the body alive, we must? is it science? is it an ego trip for medicine? is it fear of dying? is it selfishness? is it just to see how long the insurance holds out? i do not understand it, but i know i do not agree with it. and i pray to God that when it is my time, i will be able to go gentle – not clawing tooth and nail for a few more misery laden hours or days or weeks.
my dad had two massive heart attacks before Christmas. the doctors went into his body to see what they could do and came right back out, telling my mom that to operate on his heart would be like putting gasoline in a car without an engine. finally! i thought. a voice of reason. but then they admitted that he probably wouldn’t survive open heart-surgery, so they sent him home to die. but two weeks later, the home healthcare nurse discovered he had pneumonia and sent him back to the hospital where they pumped him full of more drugs. for some reason they did an MRI and found a brain aneurism. when they told my mom she asked, so? what do you plan to do? you said he wouldn’t survive open-heart surgery, you want to perform brain surgery? i was so proud of her.
God forgive me, at the end, i was fervently praying for my father’s death. i begged, yes begged, Mama Mary to take him into her arms. i couldn’t imagine that anything but relief would wash over me when he took his last breath, but i was wrong. wretchedly wrong. no matter what your head may tell you, your heart won’t give a crap. the protestant in me said, he’s finally at peace. this is the ultimate cure. he’s no longer suffering. and the catholic said, even purgatory has to be better than this. he deserves heaven after all this suffering, maybe he is already there … but my heart said, who cares? i don’t give a damn. this sucks. it sucks bad. it hurts. it hurts like hell. one misery has just been replaced by another. and I don’t care what anybody says, no matter how you slice it, death has one hell of a sting. i wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the pain.
now that a whole week has passed the pain is numbing. the sadness is like a tide. it comes and goes. when it’s far enough away, i can talk about my dad without the sadness and can even joke about him and laugh out loud. when it comes back in, and it always seems to choose very bizarre moments to make an appearance, if it’s low tide, it washes over me slowly and i can keep it in check; but when it’s high tide, it threatens to carry me away and i can hardly breathe. but here’s the rub, the worst part is worrying about my mom. if i feel this miserable when dad wasn’t even a part of my every day-to-dayness for the past 24 years, what unspeakable, horrible emptiness must she be dealing with?
and now, to speak of death makes me feel isolated. i don’t want to talk about it, so i keep it inside. perhaps this is why grief is so private. people want to tell me how great things are for my dad now, how i should rejoice and know things will get better for the living and, blah, blah, blah. i love them for their love, but hate them for not understanding. and so, i keep it in. and my mom, as the protective mother, keeps her grief inside, too. and so it is. and so we are. and life goes on.