Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Passage - My Father

It has been raining for so many days in a row, I've lost track.  The last month has been a blur of events and emotions.  I've wanted to post something, but honestly have been unable to think of what I want to say.

My father died this month, May 8, 2015.  He had been hospitalized (twice) a little over a year ago, and we nearly lost him them.  He was left weak physically, on oxygen constantly, and initially lost nearly all his memory. It was not an easy year for him.  He gained a little strength and gained much of his memory back. Then plateaued for a number of months, living mostly indoors, mostly in his recliner, and frustrated with a life that was a sliver of his active productive past.  Pain was often a factor.

My father had a strong belief in an afterlife that is better than this world, and over the past year expressed many times his desire to be there.  At age 89 and with many health problems past and present, it was remarkable that he had survived as long as he did.

It was very noticeable when his health began to seriously decline.  He suffered a fall about 12 weeks before his death.  That may have been a turning point.  No-one can be sure.  His decline was slow at first, but became very accelerated in the last two weeks.  I notified all my siblings (there are eight of us) that dad was looking bad and declining fast.  Many were able to pay a last visit before those last few difficult days.

My mom was in denial that the changes were occurring, but one brother and one sister and I took charge and got the in-home help we needed including hospice.  On Monday we brought in a lift chair as he could no longer stand on his own.  Tuesday, we called in hospice who visited on Wednesday.  Wednesday morning dad had been able to walk to the kitchen with his walker. Within hours and while the hospice nurse was there, he lost the ability to walk entirely.  By the end of the day we had a hospital bed in the house and we had been instructed on administering morphine and end of life drugs.  Hospice nurses and aides are only with you an hour or so at a time, so we arranged to have at least one of the siblings at home around the clock.  After that, dad had little ability to communicate with us, though there were a few lucid moments.  Thursday morning, he distinctly said to me, "I know I'm dying."  He died Friday morning at 6 a.m.

It rained and rained and rained.

I arrived at his home at the same time as the hearse from the mortuary.  I held the door as he was brought out and stood in a light rain as he was taken away.

Then we were plunged into the frenetic activity of arrangements, funeral, burial, notifications, and the many details that all entails.  Utah funerals are big. Our extended family is big.  This was to be a big event.  I found myself somewhat in charge by default -- not by choice.  Mom was not capable of organizing things and others were too far away or, for whatever reason, unable to take a leadership role.  I parceled out various tasks, made numerous trips to Ogden, and tried to ensure we covered all the bases. 

It rained hard, with thunder, lightning and hail.  Sometimes driving was treacherous. I neglected my duties at my own home. But sometime during that week, Alberto and his crew arrived and made my yard absolutely beautiful.  My son arrived from Delaware.  I was at a sensory overload and aware I was numb and functioning on autopilot.  I had to keep going.  So many things still to arrange.

The final rites would be traditional Utah Mormon style.  The funeral and burial were to be on Saturday, May 16.   There would be military honors as well.  The funeral was at the church house, with a viewing the night before and again just before the service.  A private family prayer followed by the local scouts performing a flag ceremony preceded the funeral.  Talks, music, a life sketch, the funeral was very nice.  I couldn't help thinking how much of his life was left out.  But time only allowed for so much.

The drive from Ogden to the Newton cemetery is an hour in good weather.  The rain was pouring down in buckets.  I rode with mom in the car provided by the mortuary along with a brother and brother-in-law.  On the freeway that day there were numerous accidents but all of our group arrived safely.  The mortuary had provided a small tent-top shelter, but with a family numbering over 150 attending, it was not enough.  Umbrellas were shared around.  Still, everyone was soaked before it was over. It seemed all right.  It seemed appropriate.  Dad's 160-acre dry farm nearby was getting the rain it needed and surely dad would have been pleased.

A bagpiper played Going Home as the casket was carried to the grave site in that tiny remote cemetery.  A group of old war vets from Cache Valley provided a three gun salute, a final flag ceremony and presentation of the flag to mom, and played taps. The bagpiper ended with Amazing Grace.

The family quickly dispersed to the cars and drove to the local church where the ladies of that Mormon congregation provided a kind "compassionate service" of a lovely luncheon for our huge family.

We drove home in the pouring rain.  Said goodnight to mom and finally sitting in my own warm, quiet house, it was all over.

Well not quite.  A new phase of activity has begun. There are many things to settle.  More arrangements to be made.  And mom, at 86, needs some looking after.

But I will try to keep my trips to Ogden to once a week now. The grandkids will soon be out of school for the summer and I'm watching them full-time for three months.  Life has entered a new phase.

I don't find funerals and burial rituals to be effective means of saying goodbye or for closure.  I will have to find my own way with that in the coming months. Each day I awake with remembering all that has just transpired.  And I begin my own private process of absorbing, accepting, and beginning the "new normal".  I don't cry a lot.  I watched my father dying by inches for over a year.  I came to terms months ago that he would soon die.  I did not want to watch him suffer or linger in a state unable to care for himself.  I was glad I was able to be there once a week or more during the year to help mom and dad in whatever ways were needed.  My acceptance process has been going on for quite awhile really.

Today it is still raining.  I'm not complaining. After a terribly dry winter with almost no snow, the spring rain is welcome. My world is green and lush and growing. Things are blooming.  Life is moving on.  But things are also changed forever.


The Blog of Bee said...

Life is never the same when one has lost a parent cor both. When my father died unexpectedly I remember standing on a snowy, cold winter day just before Christmas on a road in my London village. Everything was going on as normal. Around me, people were shopping, laughing, hurrying; children laughing, familiar faces greeting me but not knowing what had happened. And inside I was screaming.How could everything carry on as normal when I had just lost my much love father? It was a very strange feeling which I have never been able to put behind me.

I am sorry for your loss. Treasure the memories.

Bekkieann said...

Thank you, Bee. And I do treasure so many years of memories. I recognize the feeling you describe -- it's so strange that the world continues on with ordinary, everyday things. I feel like I'm not part of that world right now. But I don't feel like screaming. Instead, I just feel lost and out of touch with everything. It's going to take some time.

troutbirder said...

Well done.... The good memories will stand in his place. My dad was 92 and passed on in his chair with cash in his pocket waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up and head off to a casino. :) My son was 27 and it's the future he missed that leaves that never to be filled empty space...:(

Bekkieann said...

Oh yes, that is all the difference, TB. My dad had a long and eventful life. His family and friends will miss him. But it's not the same sadness we feel when such a young person is lost. I have a sister and a close friend who each teenage child to cancer some years ago, and I know for them the pain is always there.