Thursday, March 11, 2010

End-of-Life Dad

Dad in one of the last photos I took of him before his jaundice set in and turned his skin yellow. He is doing his best here at saluting the camera.

Dad's illness--actually his illnesses--have begun to be stronger than his own determination to live. The pancreatic cancer has entered his bile ducts and he is now bright yellow from jaundice for the second week. He is having trouble keeping food down, and his speech has grown soft and, sometimes, strange and rambling.

But yesterday was a good day. So I talked with him about his life and what lies ahead.

"I'm just about dead," he told me, when he was having trouble at breakfast.

"Do you think you are dying?" I asked him, using the yellow pad I use to talk with him because of his hearing disability.

"Well, Faye hasn't told me that in so many words, but I guess that's what she means."

Faye is our mother who died three months ago.

"Are you going to heaven?" He's gone to church all his life, so I wondered what he would say.

"I guess so," he said. "But in a roundabout sort of way." What he meant by that, we can only guess. Protestants don't believe in purgatory.

"Heaven is a nice place," my sister wrote on the pad. She's been here visiting this week.

"I'm sure it is," he said. "But I don't want to go there yet."

He still has such a strong will to live, he gets up each day and dresses with the help of the nurses and sits in his wheelchair in the dining room for breakfast. I usually feed him. During my sister's visit this week, she has taken morning duty many of the days. He relishes his food--even though it doesn't always stay down anymore. And if you put butter and jam on it, no matter how sick he feels, he will always eat it. Ice cream too. He never turns that down.

The nurses told me yesterday that before he got up in the morning he was calling for Mom as he slept, saying; "I'll be right there. Don't worry Faye, I'll be right there."

Some people think this means he was speaking with her across the divide between life and death and telling her he will join her. I think he was dreaming that she was down the hall and he was telling her he would be getting up soon to join her for breakfast.

But who knows? He is mortally ill. But still loves life. We think he has only weeks or months before he will join his beloved Faye. But he may surprise us all.

I gave him a hug yesterday, having finally forgiven him for telling me that I'm dispensable (a big word, by the way, for a dementia patient; but he uses the large vocabulary he always used, an oddity for someone with dementia) and he said, "Oh, that is so nice. I love you so much Robin."

And that was my joy for the day. And these days, I take the joy where I can find it.

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1 comment:

Polly and Thad said...

Polly and I are moved by your thoughtful and sensitive essays and look forward to each one. We knew you were a talented journalist, but we are increasingly impressed by the quality of your writing and style. I remember that William Zinsser spoke of good writers expressing "humanity and warmth." That's certainly what you do. Many thanks!