Tuesday, July 19, 2016

and now he is gone

My dad passed away on Sunday, July 17.  I've had so many thoughts about him and his passing and his life.  Some of the things I've thought:

  • I know people's dads die all of the time.  I know that in my head.  I do.  But I had no idea how it would feel in my heart, watching him slow down, realizing it was soon, and then acknowledging he was gone.
  • As the end neared, it felt a bit chaotic to me.  When it was very close, people, understandably, got stirred up.  For just a few minutes, I wished we had a doctor there, someone who had been through this who could calmly take control of the situation.  Probably wished there had been a wise, fatherly figure to ease us through that difficult time.  But I'm sure my dad would have chosen to be in his home, in his room, with his family close by.  He was and we were.
  • When my brother called Sunday morning and said he thought dad wouldn't last much longer, I finished mixing the banana bread I was making and got Jr and Jack to agree to watch it and take it out of the oven when it was done so I could go to my parents' house.  When I got there, I could see that my dad's breathing had definitely changed.  It was disturbing to me to watch at first because it was so even and fast and shallow, but after sitting with him for a few minutes, holding his still hand, I knew he wasn't suffering or in pain but I also knew his mind wasn't still with us.  Holding his hand was comforting to me.  But the protective mom in me didn't want my kids or my grandkids to experience my dad like that.  My initial reaction when I walked in the room and saw him breathing like that felt like a punch in the gut.  I wanted to protect my kids and grandkids from that experience.  After a while, I realized it wasn't really my call to protect my adult kids or their children from seeing my dad like that.  They are adults and if they wanted to see him alive one more time, that should be their decision.  By that time, Jack had already told our kids about my dad and they were making plans to be there for me and my mom.  My nieces and nephews were all there when my dad passed.  My kids were there shortly after.  And I'm okay with all of that.  I know my kids have all spent time recently with my parents when my dad was more like himself and that was enough for them.  Everybody gets to do this thing called life in the way that works for them.  And we all did.
  • After my dad passed and everyone gradually left the room, it was very quiet in there.  I thought of how much life and death are alike.  That when a child is born, there is lots of time waiting, then a flurry of activity, some various infrequently-heard human sounds, then the birth, followed by that moment when you're waiting for the baby to take its first life-giving breath.  I realized on Sunday that dying has many of those same components.  There was the waiting, the flurry of activity, some sounds I've never heard before, the last breaths, and then silence and he was gone.  It was as if the air had gone out of the room for everyone like it does when you're waiting for that first breath and cry of a newborn baby.  We are not here, we are here, and then we are not here, and our brief bright light is out.  Even 91 years can seem so brief.
  •  We didn't know how long it would be before my dad passed, so my sweet sister-in-law and her daughters went out and bought lunch foods for all of us.  My parents' house is not big enough for all of us to sit in together so they set up chairs in the back yard under the shade of the big maple tree out there.  I know my dad would have been delighted to see all of his kids and grandkids and great-grandkids together at that time, sharing food and memories, and comforting each other.  It was a warm afternoon, but there was a nice breeze and it was good to see everyone together.  It felt like a scene from Steel Magnolias where you recognize the sadness of life ending but also the hope of life going on and on through the generations.  My sister-in-law had put a bunch of cans of soda with ice in a wading pool she found in my parents' garage, and for just a moment, I found myself walking towards that pool of ice with the intent of scooping out some to slip down my brothers' shirts, which would have started a water fight and would have been totally inappropriate considering the situation.  But it's something my dad would totally have done and would have totally approved of.  All the same, I'm glad I had some shred of self-control in that moment.
  • That thing people say about grief being like the ocean, coming at you in waves?  Confirmed. 
  • My big brown dog is stuck to my side.  She still seems to sense when I'm emotionally hurting.
  • I know lots of people say that someone who is dying might wait to die until all of their family is there.  Or until everyone leaves the room so they can die in private.  Or some version of that.  When my gramma died on my birthday, I had to throw away that concept because I couldn't bear to believe that she would have chosen to die on my birthday.  That was too painful.  But then my dad died when he did.  Just before his 83-year-old baby brother arrived.  The brother who is eight years younger than him, who was his best buddy, who he shared with and protected and whose tender heart would have been broken by watching him go.  There is a part of me who wonders if dad saw Judd coming and stayed as long as he could without causing more pain to his dear brother.  And who knows, maybe gramma died on my birthday so it would be easy for me to remember when she left.  I'm still pondering all of this.  But I wouldn't ever have forgotten.

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