Thursday, June 12, 2014

Remembering my Dad

Okay, I'm back. It's been over two months since I've been in the mood to write but I think I'm ready now. Because my last post was about my dad's failing health I'd like to share with you a bit about his passing. It's a challenge to write it all down but I want to remember these moments, which are just as special as every living and breathing moment we had with him while he was still active and alive.

I'd taken a few days off work at my mom's request to stay with my little one. She watches him during the day and with my dad's declining health, she really needed to focus on Dad and not be running around after a toddler. It was Friday morning and I was hanging out at my parent's house just after the kids had left for school. I was sitting with my dad and my mom was fixing her breakfast. Baby D was eating in his highchair.

The television was on but Dad wasn't watching it as much as just staring at the screen in between nodding off. He wasn't talking much at all anymore so when he spoke, I leaned in to listen closely.

"What day is it?", he asked me.

"It's Friday, the 4th".

"Oh good," he said, "I want to make sure your mom gets a birthday gift".

I got up from my chair and knelt in front of him. "What do you want me to pick up for you?"

His tiny face leaned in towards mine. His eyes were moist and after some effort, he whispered, "Flowers and a card".

I reached out and touched his arm. "No problem, I'll take care of it." And I went to the store. Right then. Because I didn't want a moment to pass by without making sure it got done. It was the 4th. My mom's birthday was the 9th. I just didn't want to wait that long.

I returned with a card that was perfect. It was exactly what my father would have picked out on his own. It had a drawing of a big flower on the front, copious amounts of glitter and a sweetly sentimental poem inside.

The flowers on the other hand, not what he would have picked out. Being a practical gal and knowing my mom was practical as well, I chose potted lilies. I knew that she would want to keep these flowers for a long time and not have a bouquet that would die.

He made a sour face at them and said, "Lilies?"

"Yes, I know, you would have bought roses!"

I had him sign the card. It took a few tries, as he fell asleep in between. He wrote, "Love, love Larry". I think he was mid-nap and forgot that he'd already written "love" but I think it's lovely. He really, really meant it.

In the kitchen that afternoon, my mom and I huddled over a guidebook from hospice that outlined expectations of final days. There were descriptions of breathing, eating and sleeping patterns. Skin pallor. Agitation or irritability. How long someone might last in a coma. Some of these were already present but most were not. There was mention of having one foot on Earth and another in Heaven and that thought was immediately stamped on the forefront of my mind.

She asked me in a hushed tone if she thought he might last another month. "A month? No probably more like two weeks, Mom".

Little did we know that it was actually less than 24 hours at that point.

The next morning at 5am sharp, my phone rang. "I think your Dad is gone".

The night before she said that he'd been particularly agitated. He was having trouble getting comfortable. He was requesting more medication. She had nothing more to give him, he'd already taken all that he was able to take.

She asked him what she could do for him. He said he wanted her to hold his hand. So she did.

There was a lot of moaning, calling out to God in pain. Crying out for help, a call to "Mom", which my mother could only assume was him talking to his own mother already in Heaven.

He asked her when she was going to go to sleep. She told him, "After you do".

She said he stared at the ceiling for a long time, head tossed back against the pillow and eyes open. She asked him what he was looking at. "Space", he said. One foot in Heaven, indeed.

She ran her hand over his forehead, encouraging him to close his eyes but he continued to stare for a long while, she recalled. She said at that point she felt that he likely slipped into a coma. He was no longer responding to her or talking, just head back, eyes open.

She said she just laid down for a few minutes. It was early morning, she'd been up all night. When she awoke it was nearly 5 am and she said he was gone. Head still back, eyes open. That's how he looked when I came in shortly after. His mouth was agape as well. I like to think he had his mouth open in awe, stepping with both feet into Heaven at last. My son, who is ten, had spent the night at his grandparents. He'd opened the door when I'd arrived, saying heavily, "Grandpa's gone". We'd embraced and went together to see him and touch him for the last time.

Family started arriving. My brother picked up juice and doughnuts, which is what my dad would have done. My mother-in-law came over from next door to find out what we needed for the day. The hospice nurse came to declare the death and dispose of medications (My laugh of the day came when she walked into the bedroom and saw my dad laying there with his head back and mouth open and immediately said, "Oh yes, he's passed". I whispered to my mom, "How can she tell? She doesn't know that's how he always looks when he's asleep!").

It was the day of my uncle's memorial (he'd passed suddenly one month prior). Much of my family had intended to attend my uncle's memorial that afternoon and then come and visit my dad afterwards. Unfortunately they missed out being able to see him and talk to him but came to pay their respects instead. An aunt and uncle went to Costco and brought bottled water, sandwiches and snacks. Our longtime neighbors brought more food to share. People came and stayed all day. The house filled up like a party. It was a perfect atmosphere. Not sad at all, for which I was happy.

My dad would have enjoyed seeing all the faces. I just wished they'd come earlier. Let that be the lesson. Don't wait. Don't say you'll visit tomorrow. Do it today. I was so glad I'd already bought my mother's birthday card and that my dad had been able to sign it before he passed. Imagine if I'd waited even one more day, it wouldn't have been possible.

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We had Dad's funeral one week later. The Woman's Guild provided a potluck afterwards, which was very nice. I'd made photo collages of my dad which everyone loved. Some younger family members had never seen my dad acting so silly, so I'm glad I included some of our special family shots from Disneyland and birthday parties. We showcased his police badge, Sheriff of the Year award and some of his artwork alongside baby pictures and a school report card.

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There was a basket full of Little Debbie's snacks because, well my dad was a notorious sweet tooth.

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One month after his passing his memorial service and inurnment was held at Miramar National Cemetary. There was a bugle playing Taps, flag-folding and presentation to my mom and prayer. It was beautiful and we'll soon visit his grave site when the headstone is in place.

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Afterwards we all went out for Mexican food because my dad really always loved Mexican food and naturally, because it was Cinco de Mayo and you have to have a margarita on that day!

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My kids and my cousin's kids

On the morning that my dad passed, the hospice nurse was there and we were standing together with my mom in the kitchen. The nurse asked mom how she was feeling and my mom paused and then said with a smile, "Honestly, I'm a little jealous. He's in Heaven!" It was matter of fact and truthful. Yes, now he's free of all Earthly worries. Free of pain. He knows all. What a beautiful thought.

And it was relief for us too. Any concerns we had coming up to the end had finally been answered. How was it finally going to end? Would he have a heart-attack from not eating? We had all been so afraid that he would be bedridden for weeks, laying in a coma while we waited. My son had been bothered by it for months and daily I would remind him that only God knows our future, we never know how or when it will come. It happened as we'd prayed peacefully as death could be for someone with terminal cancer.

Yes, I miss him. Especially with Father's Day approaching and I don't have my dad here anymore. Even though we've known this time was coming, it's still odd to think that he's no longer on this Earth. When he was first diagnosed, he was given one year to live by his doctors. We had looked online at statistics for this type of cancer (Renal) and saw that nobody lived past 5 years. And he seriously lived just 5 years after his diagnosis. In fact, my mother recalls that he was diagnosed just a few days before her birthday so for what we think, it could have been 5 years to the day...It would be like my dad to be so precise!

I love you and miss you Dad. Happy Father's Day.