I grew up with an abundance of rules. The religion I was raised with has a lot of rituals and laws. Although I was raised with Conservative Judaism, my mother was very strict about the particular laws she chose to follow while I was growing up. My father was not as religious as my mother, but he did whatever my mother wanted.
I have chosen my own course. I have hardly written about religion on my blog; it is one of those topics that I rarely wish to discuss. I am conflicted. On one hand I have always been an agnostic, with many doubts about god’s existence. However, because recently I’ve decided I am “blessed,” I have begun to lean toward a different mindset and one that is far more spiritual.
I did not watch any of my grandparents die. My own son is intimately involved now in the process of watching someone die that he loves deeply. I am so proud of him that I want to give him a gold medal. I am amazed that I gave birth to this unbelievable human being.
My own parents did not keep vigil when their parents died.
However, I’m aware that there are many observant Jews who believe that when someone dies it is necessary to have a family member there with them at all times. There is also a rule of not attending or participating in anything “musical” for one year of bereavement. That I certainly could not follow. I plan to sing my heart out, and my dad would want me to.
Guilt is a horrible thing. It can wreck a person’s ability to live peacefully. Every time I have left my dying father at his facility, I’ve tried not to think that I was dooming him to a lonely death.
Did I owe it to him to sit there until he died?
It wasn’t like I didn’t want to. But I also knew how much my father instilled in me the ability to take care of myself. He always told me not to get overly stressed with my mother’s situation. He would say, “You have done so much for both of us and if you never did another thing, it would be enough! Cut back!”
So I listened to him and I cut back.
I decided that my course was mine to follow and no one else’s.
My mind told me that if I didn’t pace myself better, I might get sick. It wasn’t an excuse. My oldest brother was there in the morning and late afternoon. His wife (my sister-in-law) came every day. My middle brother came after work. During the day I was often there at the same time as my brother, and late at night I would come back again.
I have chosen to get through this difficult time by writing about it. Sharing is a beautiful thing, because yesterday I received a comment from a total stranger who told me that my writing is helping her deal with a similar situation.
Tonight, one of the nurses who read my blog told me that my writing is very sad. That led to an interesting discussion. I admit that I write about very sad things. I have written a great deal on my blog over the past two years, and I know that there were also times when I was humorous and witty.
But my writing is truly about honesty.
As a writer and a person, I am transparent and completely open. I do not hold back. There are no filters for me. My current situation might be sad, but I also see great hope and optimism with my writing.
Even with this story about a very dark time, I see light shining all around me.
I am living through something that many people go through at some point in their lives. That is watching someone you love die.
This is a different experience than losing my child. I have always known it was expected and inevitable. My father lived to be 88-years-old and he had a good life. He was ready to die and looked to me to help him.
My son and I took separate cars. I needed to get gas and he waited in the parking lot for me until I arrived. He did not want to go into the room alone.
Before we went into the room, I stopped to ask the charge nurse how my father was doing. She told me she had administered Morphine a few minutes earlier. It was every two hours now. She said, “I’ll be checking on him after an hour and if he needs it, I’ll give him a boost.”
What a change from earlier in the day when the order was every eight hours.
I had no idea I could make such a difference. I was so glad that I went from observer into warrior mode!
Not much had changed from when I was there earlier in the day. My father was still snoring away. But he was obviously dying. He had not had anything to drink or eat since Sunday night.
He was as dry as a human could possibly be. I remembered that I always considered death to be something ugly. My father actually looked beautiful to me. I was not afraid.
I held his hand and I kissed his sandpaper-like forehead. With the morphine now, I wondered how aware he was of my presence. His eyes were glued shut, but it looked as if his eyelids were fluttering for a moment.
The nurse told me his temperature was 102. My father was always cold and wore blankets and a scarf whenever I took him out anywhere. I wondered how he felt with only a sheet on him. Measures were being done to cool him down, and I knew he probably hated it.
His nurse gently sponged him and spoke so kindly to him. All my life, my father’s name was Lee, but at his facility everyone called him Leo. While she was changing his gown I went outside the room.
I spoke with another nurse in the hallway who was close to my father. She spent a lot of time with me and seemed very experienced. I asked her how much longer she thought it would be until my father died.
She told me that the frequency of the morphine would hasten his death. She said, “Oh, if he’s getting it every two hours now, I think he’ll be gone within 24 hours.”
I felt like the wind was knocked out of me with her words. I was astounded to think that I had not only given my father a comfort measure, but I had also assisted him in getting to the end of his tunnel through death into the light.
I didn’t know if I believed her, but I sure wanted to!
I went back in as the nurse was lifting my father’s limp body into a better position.
Time ticked by as my son and I talked reassuringly about whatever we could think of. I let my father know how I had found all the papers I needed. I appreciated how he had made that job easier for me. I told him the mortuary arrangements were clear and helpful. I remembered to share that I had received a check for one of my recent art jobs. He had worried about whether I would receive payment on a particular job. How I would miss being cared about by him so much!
My son just kept telling his grandfather what a difference he had made to his life. He repeated over and over how he made Dean’s List again. He recited his GPA and told him that it was all because of his wonderful grampa.
Every single word was true.
Since Monday, my life had blurred into one where every minute ticked louder than usual. At the same time, I tried to do the normal things of eating and sleeping even if things weren’t really normal.
The ticking was about knowing that those minutes were the very last ones on earth for my father. Although I didn’t grasp every possible minute by maintaining a vigil, I never tired of telling him I loved him. But I was getting tired.
Tired of hearing him breathe, and waiting for the breathing to stop.
Was there a purpose to this time? It was one-way communication. My father couldn’t really move, nor speak. I certainly knew he loved me and without saying this negatively, my father often nagged me. I joked with him, and let him know that I wouldn’t forget all the things he nagged me about.
When I stopped biting my nails at the age of 51, it was a very happy moment for him. As a child, I still remember him promising me a dime for every nail I grew.
My son and I were talking to him, when his nurse came back in to check him. I moved over to allow her to get closer to my father.
Her words changed everything.
She said brightly, “He’s crying! Do you see it? There are tears coming from his eyes!”
Once again, I felt shock course though my entire body. She was right. My father, who was completely dehydrated, could still make tears.
This was huge. It meant that he could hear me – and my son. The revelation caused my emotions to swell to a state where I could feel my heart almost burst. I still had not really cried and the waves of emotion almost caused me to faint.
With that knowledge, every word counted even more.
Suddenly, my father moved his mouth to clamp down on the swab the nurse was using to wipe his mouth. It was obvious; he was thirsty and trying to suck on it. The nurse went to use another swab and he did the same thing.
My heart was breaking. My poor father was thirsty. I had been told that liquid would cause him to aspirate, and he could not swallow.
Doubt, like poison began to seep through me. Should he have been given water? Was this a painful death? Why was he crying?
Then my son said loudly, “Mom, he squeezed my hand!”
Both of us became more and more excited. He was able to communicate now by gripping my son’s fingers.
We began to ask him question after question. If his answer were yes, he would squeeze my son’s hand.
We asked him, “Are you in pain?” His hand was still.
Do you know how much we love you? My son yelped, “Mom, his fingers are really moving!”
Our last question as we walked into the cool nighttime air, was if it was ok for us to leave and come back in the morning.
I wondered if this was our final goodbye or whether I would see him the following day. I wasn’t sure.
But I felt inspired to write when I got home.
I had written my song “Set You Free” a year ago when my father’s decline truly began. I had no idea that the lyric line “our love remains with each tear” would play out this way.
Such are the mysteries that my songs hold for me.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.