Tuesday, March 5, 2013
The final week
Since the first of February, I have been writing about my dad’s life. Since it is March already, I will wrap up this series of stories.
In April of 1993, Dad was up all hours of the night, sometimes becoming belligerent, sometimes just wandering. He would put things, mostly his dentures, in the strangest places, sometimes it was in the linen closet amongst the bath towels, sometimes it was in the birdfeeder.
With the support of us four kids, Mom finally made the decision to put him in the nursing home, on an Alzheimer’s unit. She checked him in on a Friday morning, April 22. He seemed to adapt rather quickly, contentedly pacing the halls with the rest of the residents.
Mom told the staff that she had started puréeing his food because he would sometimes choke on whole foods. It’s not that the staff ignored her comments, or that they thought they knew better; things happen and they are not anyone’s fault. Saturday night, while eating his dinner of whole food, Dad choked on something. It wasn’t long before the nursing home staff realized he had aspirated some food, resulting in aspiration pneumonia.
Sunday morning, Mom got the phone call – Dad wasn’t doing well. The physician on call wanted to put in a feeding tube, he didn’t feel there was anything else that could be done. Both Mom and Dad had decided long before that they never wanted a feeding tube.
Eventually, Mom was able to reach their own doctor, and he agreed to admit Dad to the hospital for IV fluids and antibiotics.
Four days later, Dad was still in the hospital when his doctor came in on rounds as usual, asking Dad how he was doing. The other three days that week Dad hadn’t responded. That morning he clearly answered, “not so good”. Mom and I looked at each other. Was this a good sign? Or not?
Later that afternoon, while I was visiting Dad, with Mom at his side, she got a phone call from one of my cousins. My cousin and her husband had planned a trip to Alaska to see her brother, but with my dad not doing well, she thought they should cancel.
Mom, though, told her several times over the phone, “You should go, we will all be all right, you just need to go.”
Shortly after Mom hung up the phone, Dad let out at a slow breath. Then nothing. After a few moments, he took one more breath, in and out. Then nothing. Finally one last slow breath, in and out. Then nothing.
Later, Mom recalled the conversation with her niece. She felt sure that her words were what let Dad peacefully slip from this world. “You just need to go, we will all be all right.”
And somehow, we were.