Saturday, March 14, 2009


A Gereration Lost

Following my last post where I mentioned that my father was quite ill and losing his battle with cancer, I'm saddened to report that he passed away in late February, just about ten months after my mother's death to the same horrible disease.

I was able to stay with him during his last night in his own home. Unable to put up with the discomfort of being helped upstairs to his bed, he chose to sleep on the sofa in the living room, while I sat up by him most of the night. I knew things were coming to an end very soon. He hadn't eaten in a few days, was only able to drink very small amounts of water or Ensure in a day. His feet had swollen, apparently a symptom of kidney problems. And he was taking 10 fast acting morphine and 4 slow acting morphine pills a day as well as many other medications.

I helped him with his medication on that Saturday night, sitting beside him while he tried to take the five pills he was to take at bedtime. We started at 10:00 pm. It took until 11:30 until he took the last of them. Through his morphine-induced fog he was able to tell me in his frail voice that everything hurt. He was in a lot of pain and somewhat disoriented.

In the morning, he was due to take seven pills, but wasn't able to take a single one. He asked to go to the hospital. I called my brother and sister-in-law to let them know what was going on, and they called his doctor to make arrangements. It was around noon when the hospital had a room ready and we called for the ambulance to transfer him. It would be about three hours later when he had his first shot of morphine. Nearly 16 hours had elapsed since his last morphine pills were taken. I can't imagine the pain he felt. Eventually, he was outfitted with a morphine pump which game him a dose every 15 minutes.

Much of the family spent Sunday and Monday with him at the hospital. He was in such pain Monday evening. The morphine pump allowed us to administer additional doses as needed, but with a maximum number of doses per hour to prevent overdose. At one point he was pretty distressed and I'll never forget him yelling out "Help me!" as best as his voice was able, my sister frantically pressing the button on his pump.

I drove home that night, exhausted from the past few days and went to work on Tuesday morning, planning to return to the hospital after work. At 5:30 I received a call from one of my brothers. "Dave, can you come up to the hospital now?"
"Oh, God. Are things getting worse?"
"Ya, they did," he said.
"Is he gone?"
"Ya, he is."

I called The Squeeze and found he was already home from work, scribbled a note and taped it to the shop door and proceeded to walk the dog home. The Squeeze met me halfway and we walked home in silence until I got in the door and broke down. I got in the car and drove to the hospital. It seems that at times like this, it is inevitable that you get behind slow drivers and stuck at every red light. I even had to stop for gas or risk getting stranded in the country. Between bouts of tears, I calmed myself by reasoning that he is now out of pain and at peace, together again with my mother who he missed terribly, and my brother who died nearly ten years ago.

When I arrived at the hospital, I met my brother's widow in the parking lot and we hugged. But I needed to get inside. When I made my way onto the ward, I was met with a throng of family members. I remember hugging my aunt and uncle - my parents' closest friends, whose son is also battling cancer. I walked into the room to see many of my nieces and nephews, my sister, my brothers, and my father lying on his bed. I held his hand, whispered in his ear, told him I loved him and thanked him for being my father, and gently placed kissed fingers to his lips.

The next few days are a blur. I stayed at his house with my dog, crating her as needed while making funeral arrangements or running errands. I drove back home a couple of times to get clothes and grab a shower and touch base with The Squeeze. Most days and nights my father's house was full of family, gathered to be together, sorting through photographs, writing the announcement, and looking after all the other details one must tend to at times such as this.

Friday was the visitation, and I was touched by the sheer volume of people coming to pay their respects. All of my dearest friends arrived to offer their support, and it was so gratefully received.

The funeral service and burial was performed on Saturday, followed by a luncheon put on by the ladies of the church. My brother got up to say some words about our father, and offered up a moment of silence to pray for our cousin who was in intensive care, having just undergone emergency surgery due to complications from his earlier cancer surgery. My brother has a way with words, and there was hardly a dry eye in the place. He spoke of holding my father's hand when he passed away, and reflected on many of the things his hands had done throughout his life. From cabinetmaker to house painter, even mentioning his famous "gehst du!", which is German, loosely translated to "get out of here!", often accompanied with a comical, yet effective backhand to the head when we were acting up as kids. The cousin in intensive care does a mean impression of my father doing this.

And so we gathered again at the house to reminisce and be together, realizing that we are at the end of an era in my family. The glue that held my family together is gone, as it was when my grandmother passed away many years ago. We rarely see each other now, our cousins, aunts and uncles. As time marches on, we become more than the branches of our family tree. We grow and move on. We become roots, and branch out ourselves with our own partners and children and grandchildren. The roots we had are gone now. There's no going back. Those roots now exist only in our memories, and in our own character. They are reflected in the things we have learned and in turn pass on to our own children, wishing only that they had the opportunity to know them as we did, or at least as long as we did.

So very sorry for your loss. Hugs.
I'm so very sorry. It's good to think of him with your Mom. Still sucks, though.

I'm sorry I'm so late, too.

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