Time and again the Universe shows me how many wonderful people I am lucky to call friend.
My recent break from blogging came abruptly and unexpectedly. Some of you may have gleaned from my surprise post drops two weeks ago that my life got really rocky really fast. Here’s what happened:
December 8th: I took my Dad to the VA Emergency Room after he had been vomiting for two days. He hadn’t been feeling well for about a month and had some diagnostic tests run that week but had not yet received any results. For anyone unfamiliar with the pace of the VA medical services- they run much like any other government entity- at their own pace. Being that this was a Sunday the hospital was pretty bare bones. Dad was taken back fairly quickly after triage. I went back to the ER suite with him. Shortly thereafter the on-call ER doctor rocked our world. Matter of factly the doctor proclaimed that my father’s symptoms could be the result of the large cancerous mass in his liver. (Remember those test results we were waiting on?) Though I was not surprised that Dad’s tumor was cancer I was completely dumbfounded by the delivery of the news in such a manner. Dad and I were both stunned silent as the doctor rambled on about other possible causes. But I couldn’t hear any of it. The world tilted. I bit my lower lip to prevent myself from crying and trained my concentration back to the physician. After a few moments he left. Dad and I just sat there staring at each other numbly. He broke the thick silence “Fuck sis! I’ve got cancer!”. I replied “I know, Dad.” A bit later they wheeled Dad away for an ultrasound. I took the opportunity to grab the nurse and request to speak alone with the doctor. He complied and returned humbly stating he didn’t know that we hadn’t been told the news. He apologized for being so abrupt. He then pulled up the PET scan report and allowed me to read it. My medical background confirmed my worst fears- that it was bad. Too bad to hope. This would be it. While Dad was gone I took the solitude and literally lost my shit in my car. Bawling, banging on the steering wheel, cursing. Then as best I could I went back to that ER suite to be the warrior I know my Dad needed. It was decided that Dad would be admitted to get his vomiting and pain under control, to run further tests and to create a plan for moving forward. The admitting physician was very clear. Dad had maybe 6 months of life left. Once Dad was settled in his inpatient room I headed home. Heavy, weary, laden with the news of impending pain and grief about to wash over me and my family. I called several of my girlfriends who all listened and loved me. I stopped at my best friend’s house to vent and cry. I then went to my home to devastate my daughter with the truth.
December 9th: Dad was out for testing much of the day. After farming my child out to my mother-in-law I went to visit him and find out what, if any options were available to him. I caught the inpatient doctor in the hallway who confirmed what my gut already knew. There were no options and upon further testing the 6 months dwindled to “I think he will make it through Christmas and New Years but I don’t know how much of 2020 he will see. You better tell your family that if they want to see him they should do it now.” Dad and I played it casual together. Talking about day to day nonsense. The physician set up a meeting with the hospice team for the next day to discuss how we could manage Dad’s pain and give him a remaining quality of life. My head is reeling. Having just lost my mom a little over two years ago I don’t feel ready to do this again. I recognize that I have no choice. My girlfriends are checking on me in full force. Texting and calling. Offering to help with whatever I need.
December 10th: Mr. Reinvention, Dad and I meet with the hospice team. They make a point to get to know my Dad. They tell us about the new inpatient 12 unit hospice facility, showing us pictures and explaining that it could be a good option for temporary placement until his pain is under control. I stand at the head of Dad’s bed, behind him. I purposely position myself there so that he cannot see the tears streaming down my face as we talk. I feel immense relief that Dad opts to be transferred there. Though I would honor his desire to go home if he insisted I know that he will receive more thorough care in their hands. He is moved within hours. We leave and later return with Baby Reinvention and some homemade soup that my friend dropped by. Our mood is light given the circumstances and we discuss taking him out for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. We tour the grounds and sit outside. I waffle about our upcoming long weekend trip planned for NYC but Dad is insistent that we go. My sisters are planning to fly in and will be with Dad. We reluctantly decide to go, aware that this is our family’s last hurrah before the shit storm.
December 12-15th: While we are in NYC I notice Dad’s cognitive status declining. Initially, I think it may be the strong pain medications he is receiving but I am also aware that because of the location and size of the tumor his liver is not working efficiently. My sisters and our friends stop in on Dad and keep him upbeat.
December 16th: This is the last day my father is able to communicate. I can see him slipping away and I feel heartbroken. I look at our pictures from Thanksgiving and compare them to the ones taken today and I feel gutted. My best friend drops off food from her restaurant. My tribe is still checking in on me and giving me love and support. My older sister and niece who are still in town come with me to Dad’s apartment. I want them to take anything of sentimental value with them. I gather Dad’s bills and personal records so I can prepare to settle his affairs.
December 17th: My older sister and niece head home. My soul sister swoops in from two hours way and visits with Dad. She will not leave my side as we run errands and pretend to be normal. Dad is in what they call “terminal agitation” and though he is not being aggressive he keeps trying to get up. He no longer speaks in intelligible sentences and he only recognizes me in brief instances. The hospice team are kind. They are working on a cocktail to calm him and using back rubs, walks, aromatherapy and music to soothe him. They tell me that often when people aren’t ready they display this type of agitation. When Dad is settled I make a point to tell him softly that I love him, I am proud of him and it’s ok to let go throughout the day. We switch shifts and Mr. Reinvention tends to Dad during the night.
December 18th: Dad is still displaying agitation and I am told that he has now transitioned into the “active dying phase”. Late in the day he settles. His nurse advises me that if I want to be here for him when he dies that I should stay. I spend the night with him, pulling the recliner next to his bedside, holding his hand, talking to him. Sleep escapes me. I watch him breathe. I watch his apnea. Every time he stops breathing time stands still for me. I wonder if this is it.
December 19th: I catch a few hours of sleep at home then return to the hospice unit late in the day. Dad is calm and quiet. I saddle up in the same recliner and put on his favorite music. My older sister calls and I put her on speaker phone. We echo each other, telling Dad it’s ok for him to go. I have a bag packed to stay the night. In my gut I feel that today is our last day together. Around 8pm I stand to stretch my legs and announce to Dad that I am going to the bathroom then maybe outside for a minute. When I return from the bathroom I see him not breathing regularly. I sit next to him, take his hand and watch. He stops breathing. I stop breathing. One of his favorite bands “The Traveling Wilbury’s” End of the Line plays from my phone. He takes a big gulp of air. I do too. But I don’t move. I watch and wait, frozen. He doesn’t breathe again. I sit next to my Dad holding his hand, stroking his head, telling him I love him, tears streaming. I feel this is goodbye. Several minutes pass. I head into the hallway to grab the nurse. Limply I say “I think he’s gone.” She attends and confirms. Mr. Reinvention wants to come up and wait with me for the funeral home and the honor walk all veterans receive but I decline. I want him to stay put with our girl. Thirty minutes later my best friend is by my side, unasked. She just shows up. Standing with me while the funeral home wheels my Dad away and we read prayers during the honor walk. We head to a local bar to have a strong drink. My niece rolls up to be with us.
December 21: Two friends insist on coming and helping me clean out Dad’s apartment. They arrive armed with trash bags and Rosé. They sort, save and dispose of Dad’s belongings with me. We have a few laughs over some interesting finds. They listen to me lament.
December 22: Two huge pans of food and a handle of bourbon magically appear on my doorstep.
Throughout this entire unraveling my people have been present for me and continue to be. Their love and support provided me with a cocoon of love and the safety to vent. They all stopped their busy lives to hold space for me. In my devastation they swarmed protectively around me. They did not run or shy away. They loved me harder. So that in the darkness and pain of losing my father I am able to see how loved I truly am. Never in a million years, in a million blogs will I be able to adequately express how much their presence means to me. I feel buoyed by the support. I know what it means to step outside of the daily chaos of life and be there for another person. I appreciate it in all forms. The food, the offers to help, the phone calls, texts and messages. Not one of them goes unnoticed or unappreciated.
Here we are, on New Year’s Eve as I compose this and they persist in loving me and my family. Simply because they want to. How did I get so lucky? It truly blows my mind. And while it doesn’t change the grief process or the pain of loss it does feel less lonely.
I thank you all for your love, prayers, thoughts and actions. I thank you for your patience in my time of respite.
I am back. This will be my 100th post since Reinvention is a Mutha’s conception. The irony is not lost on me.