What people never tell you about somebody dying is what an incredible pain in the ass the whole thing is. And it’s pretty gross too.
We went to see my dad with the boy at the end of April. He was fine. Some time in July I get a call from my sister he’s in the hospital. He couldn’t piss- a problem that put him in the hospital for a few days last year- and apparently there was a fall involved. A second fall, he had one a month before and didn’t tell us.
A cousin was taking him home from the hospital, and he assured me that everything was just fine. They were sending him home with a walker and a catheter, which didn’t sound just fine to me, so I went up for one night to help. He was pretty fucked up, and totally in denial. I had to go back but pressured my sister into coming to help for a few days, our cousin filling in.
A week and a half or so later I was in the area on business, and with a weekend off I drove over to see him. On my way I find out he’s in the emergency room with our cousin. I get there, cousin goes home, and they start X-raying him. They see lumps, get him a bed, and a cute young blond girl doctor tells us he’s got cancer of some kind.
I go to his apartment and come back in the morning. This is a university hospital so a steady parade of interns comes through, and everybody is quite matter of fact that he has advanced cancer but they don’t know what kind, and don’t know when any tests might be scheduled. Dr. X will be in tomorrow, and we will ask him…….
I tell Dad we need to start calling people and he relents. A young Indian girl, an oncology resident, comes by and gives us the straightest answer we get the whole time- not a very straight answer, but relatively speaking. She says with concern Dad will need to think about the future, and while it can’t be cured, it can be treated.
I’m thinking a single course of palliative chemotherapy at this point but nobody is committing to any kind of diagnosis.
The next day- I think, it’s all kind of a blur- the oncology attending comes in, a rather unpleasant middle-aged Hispanic woman. (No white males at all, and I’m pretty sure no straight males. Medicine is not a career for them any more I guess.) She’s all like yeah maybe you can get chemo maybe you can get radiation. Our cousin is visiting, and having been a health care administrator for a long time, follows her out of the room and buttonholes her. She tells him- as he tells me later- Dad is not getting any treatment and is going straight to a nursing home after this. It would have been nice if she had not lied to us, but apparently this is what oncologists do.
Dad had never wanted to come to live with or close to his children, even after he lost his mobility, but now he’s scared and wants to. He can see he can’t go back to his apartment. I’m thinking he can go to assisted living and will maybe live six months, and at least he can live decently and we can have some time with him.
I have to go, but my sister gets family leave and comes up. He is discharged from the hospital to a nursing home in the same city. He recovers a little but the nursing home does not want to release him to assisted living and my sister doesn’t want to push it. He gets worse, then better, and finally we get him on a plane and into a nursing home near us.
He’s in worse shape and my sister is still afraid to put him anywhere other than a nursing home. She won’t make any decisions, he won’t make any decisions. They finally accept that he needs to be on hospice care and get that set up.
I get some time off and I go to see him on a Wednesday. He was mostly rational, but couldn’t stand sitting up. I told my wife we could go to the beach on Saturday and see him all together on Sunday. She told me to go again Friday so I did.
My sister was there and he was worse. I told my wife we should all go on Saturday. He wanted a poached egg on toast for lunch so we got it for him and helped him eat it. My wife was very effusive with him. We left about 3 PM. I was thinking it was going to end pretty quick.
My sister called me at 11:30 that night and said the nursing home had called her and said he was deteriorating. I drove over- about an hour- and my brother and sister were there. Dad was breathing with great difficulty. My brother declared nothing was going to happen that night and left. I sat there with my sister and waited for him to die. It didn’t seem possible he could go on like this, but at 3 AM I told her I had to rest, so we went back to her apartment to sleep a little.
She woke me up at 5:30 to tell me he had died. We went to the nursing home and there he was. We cleaned up the room and waited for the funeral home to come. The guy finally showed up close to 9 and we walked him out. They drove off with him and we had breakfast, went back to her place and fell asleep again.
Due to the scheduling vagaries of my sister’s Catholic church the funeral wasn’t until almost a week and a half later. I got really sick the night before and threw up a bunch, got almost no sleep and then had to drive because my wife couldn’t cope with the traffic. I kind of wish I hadn’t seen him at the end. He was totally ruined by the disease and in great distress. And then the thought of him waiting in the reefer at the crematorium for a week was not pleasant. Per Catholic practice and his wishes, the body was at the funeral and only cremated afterwards.
The cremation was performed and my sister picked up the ashes. They will be interred with our mother but that is another difficult chore that can wait. We will have a memorial service in his hometown and then it will only be administrative stuff. My sister is quite overwhelmed by everything, but she’s the executor and has to do most of it.
Anyway Dad is gone now. I wish things had been different, I wish we had had more time, but that’s how it goes. He changed mentally around a year ago, and in that way the person I knew was gone before he had died.
His death- or the process of it anyway- had not made me feel more religious, or spiritual, but the opposite. Death is only the end of the process where life and vitality leave as the body decays. Eventually the person is still alive, but only experiences pain, no clarity of mind, no thoughts, no joy, no recognition of others. Death at that point is a blessing, because nothing good is left.
And when the person is dead, there is nothing left. You have memories of them, but that’s it. Their stuff, their money, but it isn’t theirs any more. My father leaves a modest estate, to be divided three ways. He leaves one grandchild who will not remember him. My brother and sister being childless, I hope he will eventually inherit something from them and on top of what I am able to husband for him this will provide him with some modest security in a world where only the propertied have any dignity. Hopefully he will have a few kids, and I can tell him again and again, and he can tell them again and again, their modest, decent position in life comes from Grandpa’s hard work.
Or so I hope. Our hopes, of course, die before we do. I hope not in this case.