My father passed away on the Fourth of July. He was 93 years old.
It sounds a cliché to say he was “surrounded by his family,” but he was, and it was an experience none of us in that room will ever forget.
My mother, brother, husband, sister-in-law and four nieces (along with one fiancé and one boyfriend) were all crowded into Dad’s little room at his memory care home.
His condition had deteriorated the previous night, and we knew this day could be his last. He was not conscious and his breathing was labored.
As we talked, cried and laughed among ourselves, we took turns holding his hands and reading to him. When my siblings and I were children, Dad always read Dr. Seuss books to us at bedtime; it seemed fitting that we read those same books to him now.
His caregivers checked on us periodically, quietly bringing us water (it was a really hot day) and plates of food (the rest of the community was having a Fourth of July barbecue).
When my father died at 2:30 in the afternoon, his four granddaughters were singing to him.
Later, we retreated to my brother’s house for dinner and swapped “dad” and “grandpa” stories.
We all agreed he had had a good life. With help from hospice and his other caregivers, he had a good death, too.
I wrote another post just a couple of weeks ago about how we had reached a point in my Dad’s illness that we thought hospice was a good idea. Hospice would give us a plan as his health went downhill.
Our family was agreed on all the important points: We wanted Dad to be comfortable; we wanted to keep him out of the hospital; and we didn’t want him to die alone.
Hospice made all these possible.
It wasn’t easy, however. A week before he died, his dementia and agitation became so much worse, and our hospice nurse counseled us that to keep him calm might mean making him so sleepy that he couldn’t eat and drink.
But he wasn’t really eating and drinking, anyway. And watching him when he became so delirious and distraught was painful, especially for my mother.
“He wouldn’t want to be like this!” she insisted. “No, of course not,” we all agreed with her.
Still, as we talked with the hospice nurse about increasing his medications to control the dementia (hospice is about treating the symptoms, not hastening death), it was so hard because we realized that the end was closer than we had thought. Once he stopped eating and drinking, he would probably only live a few more days to a week.
So even though we knew we were making the right choice, the compassionate choice in accordance with what he and my mother had discussed between themselves, it was so hard.
But on that final day as we cried and hugged each other, we were so grateful that we had been able to follow our plan and fulfill our wishes for Dad’s last days.
We kept him comfortable, we kept him out of the hospital, and he didn’t die alone. He was surrounded by family.
Goodbye, Dad. Miss you already.
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