Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gifts from My Father: Parting Gifts

Had I known then what I know now, I would not have left, but I have no regrets, if that makes any sense.

Dad had been in the hospital since Wednesday, when he'd finally gone in to see why he had been feeling so weak and had such odd bruising on his legs. On Friday, they confirmed that Dad did, indeed, have acute myeloid leukemia. (It was just like my Dad to be 78, still working part-time, and walking around with cancer like it was indigestion, not even knowing that he had seen his last Christmas. Those farm boys don't go down easy.)

Dr. Lacey had suggested that Dad might make it another six weeks without treatment. We had discussed it as a family (with Dad) and determined that the treatment would probably kill him and wouldn't be worth it. Hospice was called, and they were planning to go to the house in a few days to help Mom care for Dad.

Ever since the bone biopsy on Thursday, Dad just seemed to be having trouble pulling himself out of a ditch of unconsciousness he had fallen into. I had spent the day at the hospital overnight on Saturday. All day Sunday, Dad basically "slept," though it seemed like he was more in a coma of some kind. Six of my eight siblings and I camped out in that small hospital room with Mom and Dad that night, wrapped up in hospital blankets on makeshift chair "beds," overflowing into the hallway.

Every now and then, Dad would open his eyes and say something to whoever was standing near the bed.

"Well, hey there, Mary! How're you doing?" he called out cheerfully to my sister (and then drifted back to sleep.)

To me, "You're an angel," (referring to my holding his hand on Friday) ...and back to sleep.

At some point, Dad began breathing a very heavy, labored breathing that Mom insisted he "always" did when he slept, but it was odd to me--so loud, so forceful. It seemed exhausting to me. This went on for hours.

Confused (I had no experience with terminal illness) at one point, I asked a nurse, "Is he dying?" She replied "No one ever knows." (I wish she had been more direct.)

In the wee hours of the morning, my younger sister, Judy, arrived. She had been in an airport when she heard the news and just wanted to come right away, instead of continuing home to Memphis. When she arrived,  Dad opened his eyes, smiled, and said hello to her (as if he'd been expecting her) and fell back to sleep.

By Monday morning (9am or so, I think), I was deliriously, shakily exhausted and in bad need of a shower. I just needed to go home for an hour or two. I weighed the consequence of being gone if he passed when I wasn't there and decided that I wouldn't have any regrets; I felt like we had already said everything that needed to be said. (Having had no direct experience with death at that point, I didn't realize there might be another reason to stay.)  Besides, I hadn't really accepted that he was dying; honestly, I thought he was just having a really hard time coming out of medication he'd been on for pain or something. I went home, took a nap, and had just gotten out of the shower when my brother Dennis called and suggested strongly that I hurry back.

I wasn't there when he passed, but in a way, I feel like I was, having been told the details when I returned...

Suddenly, after hours and hours of labored breathing, Dad's breathing calmed dramatically, and he opened his eyes. Mom was at his side, holding his hand.  He stared at her with the eyes of a little boy, for several minutes. She sang to him, and when the song was over, she told him, "Jim, I've taken care of you for 50 years. Go be with your mother now; she'll take care of you."

...and he quietly closed his eyes and breathed his last breath. 

I don't regret leaving, but I do feel like I missed out on something very powerful and beautiful; a human being passing from this world to the other side. That experience was a gift, and while I didn't receive it directly, six of my siblings did, and I know that Dad would have been proud of doing that for us (passing away within days of his diagnosis) rather than going through the whole Hospice thing and dragging it out. He would have been so happy that Mom didn't have to go through that, and after all we'd been through growing up, he kind of owed us a favor.

Thanks, Dad.


  1. I'm sorry for your loss, but glad he found peace. Hugs to you and your family.

  2. I went back to that earlier post. That help answer one question I had since I don't recall ever reading about your father's passing. Passing is a nicer word since it conveys going on to another place.

    Both my parents have passed. My father quickly with no family there. My mother in her bed at home with family.

    Those last few days and even minutes are very special. Thanks for sharing yours because it reminds me of mine.

    all the best.

  3. Wow, I have chills. Beautiful story.
    I understand what you mean about being a gift. And although sad, I love to hear stories like this. I gives me a kind of peaceful feeling.

  4. I have a dad like that....75, still working and seems very healthy still. It's never easy to lose your parents, even if you are prepared. You have my deepest sympathy. Peace to you.

  5. Very true. Your mom was/is very wise to encourage him to go. Both birth and death are very moving.

    You have my sympathy; your dad was amazing to be trucking so strongly until so close to the end of his life (here).

    I know your family and faith will be a comfort.

  6. This is so very touching and I know it had to be hard for you to write.

    Thank you.

  7. Barb I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family. I'm glad he went in peace and with so much love. (( hugs))

  8. Sounds like an amazing man....

    There is nothing like sitting next to the bed of someone who you know are taking the last of numbered of breaths in this world...

    Scary, an honor, tragic, heart breaking, comforting... nothing like it...

  9. Dear Barb,

    As I am writing this, I have tears in my eyes. Your writing put me there at the hospital with your family. I loved the fact he called you an "angel". I also love how you decribe the experience of leaving the physical body to go to the spiritual. May God hold you close and comfort you all at this time. *many hugs* mo

  10. It was no accident that you were by his side and "elected" to hold his hand. The impression it left on you and the memory it created is a gift.

    And wow, the way he went home? He seemed to know it was time when his breathing eased and he opened his eyes. It was as if he was waiting for your mom to say it was okay.

    This is a very powerful story.

  11. My grandfather waited until everyone had finally left his room when he passed. They had stayed with him for days, by his side, but the brief time that he was left alone was when he chose to go.

    I'm glad that part of your family got to experience the passing. It's truly a remarkable thing, I've heard.

    You tell a wonderful story. I got all choked up.

    Kristin _ The Goat

  12. Honestly, I would not refer to my dad as an "amazing" man. In spite of his many mistakes in life, though, he was blessed with the opportunity of giving his family this gift, and for that I am truly grateful.

  13. I have been through several experiences with my dad, mil, and my aunt died. my dad was 47 and ws diagnosed with cancer at xmas and passed 9 months later. The hospice i put him in was wonderful. They take such great care of him and with such dignity. They helped me understand the whole death process and what to expect. It mad eit easier for me to handle death after him. That labored breathing you heard is known as a death rattle. It happens hours before the death. I was the last person my dad opened up his eyes to. he lifted his head, kissed ,e on the forehead and closed his eyes. he died later that night. as sad as it was it was a miracle to witness. just knowing that he wasnt alone and gone to a better place. I am so vry sorry for your loss and your family will be in my prayers

  14. This was had for me to read. As I have said before my dad has battled leukemia for around 30 years. He is always 'growin' something and they are always cutting something off.

    Yesterday was my birthday and I spent the day on the phone with my Mom, Aunt and sis. Dad had yet another biopsy only this time he is really in 'frail' condition. He lives ll45 miles away and I do have a trip planned on the seventh of Oct.

    One just never know when we walk away from a loved one if it will be the last time we see them. Not one of us is promised tomorrow. I'm so glad you have no regrets.

    God bless and have a beautiful day! :o)

  15. It takes far longer to process the death of a loved one than you would ever think. I sense the mix of feelings you have and can relate. It has been over 20 years since my mother passed away. Best wishes on your journey toward comfort and peace

  16. I know you are still missing your Dad and though you say you don't regret not being there in his final moments I can sense a sadness about that too. But you were there in your Dad's heart and he in yours.

  17. Thanks for sharing such a personal and touching story about your Dad. I did feel like I was right there in the hospital as you told the story. Peace to you Barb.....

  18. This is beautiful - so touching.

    I've never experienced anything quite like this, but I feel like I'm mentally prepping myself for my grandfather's passing. He had a heart attack two weeks ago, and although he's back home now and fine, he has been giving things away, making somewhat of a "bucket list" and doing the things on the list, and told my mom that his funeral has already been arranged and paid for, so none of his 10 kids have to deal with that. :(

  19. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Your story is touching. Reminds me of when my grandmother passed away only shortly after my mother left her side. My mother had been there for a week and not left the hospital. Now, I believe my grandma could not go with my mother being there with her. I know it sounds strange...but it's what I believe. Thinking of you and your family in this difficult time. Onreeone~ Angie

  20. *seems like I've said this before*

    sorry babe, but nurses learn NOT to be more direct. simply because we DON'T know. ever.

    I've seen people go from one moment to the next...and then my grandfather whom the ICU nurse called in the whole family in the dead of night because it looked like his time was near....only to have him sit up and eat breakfast the next morning...and live out another 5 years.

    and as one commentor said, sometimes folks wait till everyone's gone, sometimes they will wait for a particular person to arrive.

  21. Thank you for honoring us with this story. Thank you.


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