Reliving. Hmm. What a title. However, it is just that - for me.
All day today, I have been doing just that. Reliving. Reliving a day eight years ago. There are so many mental flashes of this time. In some ways, it comforts me.
In others, it brings me to my knees.
I keep seeing my cousin and I gathering up things we would need to have a sort of sleep-over.
Pajamas. Toiletries. A deck of cards. Wine. This was no ordinary sleep-over, though. The two of us would be camping out with my father. Camping out; hmm. Maybe that's not quite the right term. We would be sleeping on sofas and cots next to my father's bed.
His death bed.
He was receiving inpatient hospice care. He was at the very end of his life. At times he was lucid. Mostly not. When the two of us went to see him, he kept trying to get out of bed. My father was frail, thin. Being an amputee, because he was so ill, we did not bother to include his prosthetic leg upon his admission items. Thus, trying to get out of bed was dangerous. Even sedated (end-stage lung cancer), he would be hell-bent on getting out of bed. But it was only because he was close to the end. He didn't know he was doing this. So, upon seeing this, and learning that this was happening quite often, my cousin and I decided to spend the night at his side.
Hospice care is a wonderful thing. When I asked if we could both stay with him overnight, the nurse caring for my father encouraged that. They would make sure that we were comfortable. The only things we would need to bring would be toiletries, clothing, something to do (cards, books, etc), and perhaps a bottle of wine. We left to pack, stopping by my cousin's place. She had a wine tote. I thought that was awesome.
We returned to dad and unpacked. We changed into our pajamas. My cousin probably went to the kitchen to chill our wine. I was closet-smoking at the time. I even hid it from my cousin, although she probably already knew. I felt like a kid trying to hide from a teacher. Guilty. Very guilty. After 'getting some air,' we settled in.
Every little move my father made, made us stop talking. We watched him. Then, back to talking. A few times he would suddenly sit up. This terrified me. I had been told by his nurse that when the end is near, sometimes patients suddenly sit up. But, then he would look for his leg and get extremely agitated. We would gently coax him back down, reassuring him. He was on heavy pain medication. Morphine. It didn't seem to do much. Later, he was given something to try to relax him more.
My cousin and I talked a lot. Even laughed some. I couldn't tell you what we talked about. I don't remember. I do recall how much I loved having her stay with me. I didn't want to be alone. I mean, I had dad, but ... I'm glad she was there.
After we turned in, a few times dad tried to get out of bed. And again, we both eased him back into bed. It was a long night. I don't think anyone slept well.
I recall getting up around 3 am and going into the kitchen to make coffee. I took my cup and my crumpled pack of cigarettes outside. Family members could come and go 24/7, but after a certain hour, you had to be let out for security purposes. I went into the garden. I sat on a lovely bench donated by a family of a loved one that passed away. In the middle of Arlington, VA, was this lovely, ornate garden. I'd say that most of the plants, flowerbeds, and shrubbery were donations from patients' families. I sat and drank my coffee - really good coffee - and smoked. And cried. I cried because I was smoking while my father lay dying of stage-4 lung cancer. I cried because I felt like I was contributing to what was killing him. I cried because I wanted to stop smoking, but felt that I couldn't. I cried because I was missing my husband. I missed him so much. I cried because I could not kiss my children good-night. I cried because my father was dying.
I don't remember much after that. I knew that time was short. I called my husband and told him to get to VA (from our home in Columbia, MD) as soon as he could. My father died that morning, before my husband and my children made it there. I truly believe that he did not want his grandsons to watch him pass. They were already having such a hard time. Dad knew this. I believe it was his gift to them. And his gift to me was to allow me to be there with him when he did pass. It was peaceful. He died with love all around him. His great-nieces were with me, holding his hands. His sister and her husband were present. His nurse. Again, I have memories that I'll keep for myself, but as peaceful as his passing was, it was still very traumatic for me. This was my daddy. My hero. My silly, smart, cool, handsome daddy. I was now an orphan. What was I going to do without him?
I would live. I would live with him. His grandsons would have great memories of their Poppy. They recall things about him all the time. My husband reminds me of things he said. He lives on within all of us.
Still, August 24th is a difficult day for me. And for all that knew and loved him. It's hard not to be sad. I try to recall and focus on all of the good that 24 hours gave me. It does make me smile. But if I seem a bit distracted, just know it's not you. I'm reliving.
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