It was a typical spring morning that May 4, 2010. The pollen was making me miserable as always, but this morning my allergy suffering was set aside as I walked down the hallway to the doorway leading to my parent’s bedroom. There, my Mom and the hospice worker were talking to one another in hushed tones. I greeted them with a “Good morning!” and asked what was going on. The hospice worked looked at me and she placed her hand on my shoulder, “This is the day we talked about a few months ago, it’s very unlikely your father is going to survive beyond today.” My heart raced and my stomach turned in knots. She went on to tell me that she wanted to show me how to give him the Morphine that would keep him calm. We walked into the room and the first thing that hit my ears was a rattling sound coming from my Dad’s chest. It was loud, it filled the room. With each breath you heard the sound of fluid gurgling in his bronchial tubes. The best way to put it was, it sounded like someone sipping through a straw when there was only a few drops of liquid left in the glass. I had never heard anything so horrible sounding. The hospice worker showed me how to do the Morphine, with a small syringe, squirting the medication under his tongue. She went back out to finish talking with my Mom, who was visibly shaken and upset. The man she had been married to, the man she had loved for 51 years, was nearing the end.
I stood by my Dad’s bedside and he was completely out of it. The rattling in his chest was deafening. I stood there, helpless, unable to do anything for this man who had done so much for me from the day I was adopted into his family as an infant. No, the word helpless just isn’t descriptive enough. I couldn’t save him. I walked out of the room and grabbed my cel phone and called my uncle in New Orleans. Thankfully I got hold of him and told him, “you better get a flight ASAP and get up here. Your brother isn’t going to make it through the day.” He said he would get the earliest flight he could get. Then I started calling other family members who I knew couldn’t make the trip, but needed to know that my Dad’s life was coming to an end.
Memories of a day two years earlier came rushing back to me. The day he came home and told me that the chemotherapy had stopped working, that he would be entering field trials at the National Institutes of Health. I remember hugging him with tears in my eyes and telling him, “Dad, I don’t want you to die!” and he returned my embrace and said, “Son, I don’t want to die.”
The day went on and every four hours or so I would give my Dad a few drops of Morphine under his tongue. When I asked him to open his mouth he did so, but in the way a person would if they were half-asleep. I told him I loved him every time.
That evening I was on the phone with a friend and we were talking about this whole experience I was going through when my mother came to the door and said, “Kevin…” I told my friend to hold on, she continued, “…I think your father has died.” I hung up the phone and walked into the room and realized it was absolutely quiet. It was the most surreal thing I have ever experienced. The deafening gurgle from his lungs, that rattle, was gone and replaced with utter and complete peace.
I walked over to him and his head was tilted onto his left shoulder, eyes closed. I reached for his left hand and felt for a pulse, there was nothing. I then checked his carotid artery on the right side of his neck, nothing. I remember stroking the hair on his head a few times and then looking at my Mom and saying, “He’s gone.” My mother burst into tears and I took her into my arms and held her, telling her that he is now free of pain and is with God. His days of suffering are over. The funny thing is I felt nothing. I was absolutely numb to the emotions surrounding his death, at least at that moment. I felt I had to be strong for my Mom and not exhibit any emotions. As I am calming my Mom down, the doorbell rings. I ask her to sit down and I run down the stairs. Opening the door I am greeted by my uncle. I feel sad for him because he just missed my Dad. In fact I told him, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you just missed him.” My uncle went upstairs with me and he stood by my Dad’s side and there was some emotion on his face but he controlled it.
About a half-hour passed and the hospice doctor on call came and did all the official legal stuff he had to do, making out the death certificate and pronouncing him dead. I found some grotesque humor out of that, I felt it was kind of funny that a doctor has to say he’s dead before it’s official. I mean, really, the man is dead!
Around midnight the funeral home arrived and wrapped my Dad’s body in a blanket and carried him out to the wagon. My Mom was very emotional at this point, all I could do was hold onto her and watch. Shortly after they left, my uncle said he was going to check in to his hotel and would see us in the morning for breakfast. There was nothing more to do, so I went into the family room and turned on TV and laid on the sofa for a while. After my uncle had left, my Mom came into the room as if she was lost. She simply didn’t know what to do with herself. She asked me if I was ok and this was the time for me to say, “No, I’m not.” I sat up on the sofa and she sat next to me and I looked her in the eyes and told her, “Mom, I can’t hold it anymore…” and just started crying really hard in her arms. She told me she was proud of me, that she knew I was being brave for her. After about a half hour of crying, I was done. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I went upstairs, closed my door and went to bed, to escape from this horrible day, when I lost my best friend, my mentor, my father.
Today is the fifth anniversary of these events. They say that time heals all things. It may heal to a certain degree, but the wound will always be there, waiting to be opened again by a stray memory or thought. I miss you Dad.