Dear friends and family,
I am sharing the news that my father passed away at 3:30 this afternoon.
It was an amazing experience to witness his last breath and to assist him in leaving his tortured body. The beauty of it will never leave me. I was blessed that I was with him when he died. It was truly the most loving gift he could have given me as I begged him to let go.
I do not yet know about when the funeral will be, but I estimate that it will be probably on Wed. or Thursday of next week. I will email the info when I know.
You are receiving this message from me because I feel close to you and wanted to share my intimate feelings. Sharing has helped me cope, and I am honestly relieved and happy that my father is finally free. I will miss him, but it would have been selfish to expect him to suffer any longer for that reason.
With much love, Judy
Yesterday, I wrote: “You know you are a songwriter when you write a song while your father is dying.”
That is true. I am in the process of composing the chorus for a new song, which already has two verses. This happens in my mind, no matter what I am doing.
Today, I can write: “You know you are a writer when you feel the urge to write about the experience of your father’s death while it is still fresh in your mind.”
That is also true. I can close my eyes and be at his deathbed in a fraction of a second. It has only been a few hours since he took his last breath and I am writing because more than anything else it comforts me.
Why is writing so comforting? It is because I am hopeful that by sharing my experience I can touch other people and be inspirational. I feel like there is a light shining all around me. It lights up what once used to be darkness.
I grew up with a lot of fear surrounding death. For me to watch my father die, without repulsion or fear, simply fills me with amazement.
I am no stranger to grief. Grief has been my companion for so long that it would be easy to become intimately reacquainted. But today, my grief has taken a back seat.
I’ve had no experience with watching someone die. My first experience with death was seeing my own child’s corpse four hours after he died. It was shocking and haunted me for many years.
That is why it is so interesting for me that I did not carry any fear with me into this experience with my father.
I am not a doctor – so I can only guess. But I believe my father had sepsis. He did not appear to have had a stroke. He was dying from the constant infection he had been plagued with for almost a year. His catheter was truly a terminal condition and he was always moaning.
Only a few weeks before, I was called by his urologist’s office and told that my father had a resistant bacterial infection again. He was miserable because this time he would be given antibiotics through an IV. I asked what kind of bacteria, and was told E-coli. I knew it was a matter of time before my father would tell me he was done with antibiotics.
When he could not be awakened on Monday morning, which was his 88th birthday, my complete focus was to fulfill my father’s wishes and help him die as comfortably as possible.
I felt like a midwife coaching a birth. My priority was to get my father through as best I could. But all along, I felt like I was only a coach. To witness the birth would be miraculous.
I did it my way. I rested and made sure to pace myself. My father wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It was always hard when I left his bedside to go home. I did not know if he would still be alive when I returned. Every goodbye felt as if it were the last.
I wished it were, because watching his body struggle was the saddest thing I have ever seen.
I countered that sadness with the knowledge that this was exactly what he wanted. However, it wasn’t quick enough for me. He could not move, speak, nor swallow. My father was aware of his circumstances up until the end; I saw many signs of that.
An IV would have prolonged his agony and was something he told me long before he adamantly did not want. The hospice nurse told me, “If he had any liquid, it would only end up congesting his lungs in this situation.”
“The Greatest Gift”
Last night my father gave me one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received. He indicated to me that he appreciated my presence. It was encouraging.
He might have been snoring with his eyes closed, but I knew he heard everything.
The tiny tear that escaped the sides of his closed eyes was more beautiful than anything in the universe. His clear hand squeezes that night to my oldest son, confirmed it even more.
But today he gave me an even greater gift.
He allowed me to witness his death and soul soaring free.
I was able to leave his side knowing that he didn’t die alone and was free from pain.
I felt so happy that I had become so close to him over the last five years. He lived 88 years and was deeply loved by many people.
I wasn’t nervous as I entered his room. I hadn’t received the phone call announcing his death, so that meant things were still the same.
My son was with me. My oldest brother had already visited my father earlier in the morning.
I could tell it was getting harder for my father. His dryness was even more evident; he was skeletal and had been that way for a while. Watching the effort of his breathing reminded me of a machine that was going until the batteries ran out. Although I knew he was more than ready to quit, his body was not going to oblige.
I asked my son if he could feel my father squeeze his hand. My son said he felt a very slight movement. Then he asked him, “Grandpa, are you in pain? Squeeze my hand if you are.”
My father squeezed his hand. I said, “Dad, do you need more morphine?”
He squeezed my son’s fingers again.
I went to check on when he was due to receive his next dose.
As I walked down the hall, I wondered why a pet could receive a shot to relieve pain and end their tortured existence while my poor father had to suffer. For what purpose was there for him to go through this?
I had entered into this fifth day with all my coping mechanisms intact until I found out that my father was not receiving morphine every two hours as I had instructed his hospice team. I was incredulous. It had been agreed to the day before!
I might not be able to overdose my father, but I wanted to do whatever was in my power to relieve his situation. “His situation” was one I would definitely deem as suffering.
His wish was to be dead, not to be prone on his bed with a high fever and without water for five days.
How can anyone tell me that is not suffering?
My head was pounding as the charge nurse explained to me that hospice had written orders of every four hours, but it could be given every two hours – as needed.
My voice was shaking with anger, “Excuse me, it COULD be given – but that hasn’t been happening. It hasn’t been given because no one wants to make that decision. My father cannot move or talk or tell you he’s suffering. Why take that chance? I trusted that when I left his deathbed last night, he would be given this comfort measure every two hours!”
Within five minutes, calls were made and the orders were rewritten.
I went back to be with him. My heart was racing and tears of fury filled my eyes. I took deep breaths to calm down.
I had left my father’s side during lunchtime so I could briefly visit with my mother. I went home and rested for half an hour. My son planned to go back with me in the evening.
My son said, “I’m going to go over to grandpa’s apartment and start helping clean it. I was going to do this with grandpa anyway today – we had a plan for me to take him and to eat dinner together afterwards.”
I took a shower and decided not to wait until after dinner. The ticking in my head was getting louder. Time was running out. I just knew, I was drawn to go back. I couldn’t wait until evening.
I looked forward to being alone with my father. Then I had an idea. Earlier in the morning, I thought it would inspire me to write my father’s eulogy if I listened to a recording of his memories. I had done this a year ago with him. We both sat in the sunshine as he recounted stories about his life.
I found the twenty-minute recording and put it on my iPod. I brought a speaker so I could play it aloud for my dad.
I came into his room and could see my father was definitely weaker. His pallor was almost completely white. He was struggling to breathe and it was awful.
I tried to moisten his sandpaper lips, but it was useless. All I wanted was for this to all be over.
The room was quiet. I began to play the recording. My father’s clear and strong voice filled the room. I said, “Dad, can you hear your voice? I am so glad we made this recording together! I can listen to it and I’ll be able to have you with me. Everyone will know about your beautiful life!”
His breathing started to relax. He was no longer struggling. I could tell that he was enjoying it. I just knew.
The recording was twenty minutes long. His very last words at the end of the recording were in response to a question. I had asked him, “Dad, tell me, what was the best part of your life?”
My father’s voice on the recording answered sweetly, “Shirley, my beautiful Shirley.”
The recording was finished. I looked over to my father.
His breathing stopped.
Then it started. Then it stopped. I became excited. It was happening!
I said, “Dad, you can do it! Give me the greatest gift you could give me. Be free and go, go to Jason! He’s right there taking your hand!”
My father suddenly opened his eyes. It was for the first time in five days.
He definitely saw something I could not see.
He gurgled and a noise escaped his lips.
It was over.
Click the blue link below to play my instrumental version of Set You Free:
Lest anyone tell me it is inappropriate for me to be happy that my father has died, I am unapologetic.
I am happy that my father received his wish.
I am happy that he loved me so much that he trusted me to help him.
I am happy that I am not afraid of death anymore.
On Monday, my deceased son, Jason would have been 25-years-old. He and my father are now together.
I celebrate how fortunate I am.
I mourn my father, but how blessed I was to have had such a wonderful man to instill within me all of my gifts.
Thank you, God.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2012. 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.