Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sad News

My Dad in the Fall of 1991, age 66

My Dad died on Thursday evening at the age of 84. He went into the hospital last Friday due to stomach pain and it was found he had a bowel obstruction. It was surgically removed on Saturday. Unfortunately, he never regained full conscious after the surgery, entering a state of "anesthetic somnolence." As the week wore on, his systems generally started to shut down and he eventually succumbed to respiratory failure.

My sister was able to spend quite a bit of time on Cape Cod with my Mom and Dad during that last week of his life. She'd give regular updates to my brother and me, at times hopeful and at times concerned with all the issues he was encountering. We're lucky she could spend so much time there, especially as she was once a nurse midwife and so has a good medical background and, more importantly, has a strong, "do it" personality. She kept in touch with a host of medical personnel arrayed in support of my Dad's health issues (though not always organized in support of them, something my sister tried to push them towards) and did her best to sort out for my Mom and the rest of us what was going on and what steps were being taken to help my Dad.

Early in the week, Skip and I tried to figure out the plan we'd use for her care if my Dad went far enough downhill that I had to take the 2-hour drive down to see him. MW was scheduled for Thursday but wasn't available on Friday. We had feelers out in a few directions to see what we could cobble together for Friday, but no Plan B was firmly in place yet.

Thursday morning, my Mom called to let me know my Dad was in respiratory failure. Because there was no plan to put him on a ventilator, his death was imminent, though no one could divine exactly when. I wrapped up some work stuff, ate breakfast, put my out of office notice on my email, got Skip fed, cleaned up and into her wheelchair, then showered and got myself out the door. That actually all took 3 hours, so I made it down to the hospital and the cardiovascular ICU by 2:30. My brother, his wife and two of his kids were there with my Mom. Also there was my parents' aid, AP, who provides wonderful care to my parents. They have basically adopted him, something they've done with special young people they've met all my life. Unfortunately, my sister, who did such yeoman work supporting my Mom and Dad all week, couldn't be there as she was in Vermont with her husband attending an event at the school of her two youngest boys.

When I arrived at my Dad's hospital room, his face was covered with a huge BiPAP oxygen mask, pushing pressurized oxygen into his lungs. His eyes were closed, his hands were limp. He appeared not to be conscious. My mom was there by his side. My Dad was a big guy, 6' 3", but I was struck by how thin he'd gotten. His breathing was quite labored. It was so hard to see him in this state. I wanted him to be alive but hated that he was struggling so much.

For the next 3 hours, we all became obsessed by the monitor showing heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen level and respiration rate. I hated that monitor but I was fascinated by its readout. My Dad's heartbeat was irregular and the rate varied a lot. His blood pressure slowly dropped, his temp slowly rose (up to 104 degrees F,40C), his blood oxygen slowly dropped.

Shortly after 5, we were joined briefly by a surgeon who was keeping tabs on my Dad. In the nicest way possible, he confirmed the situation was irretrievable but it was impossible to predict when death would occur. We decided to head off to dinner then. Those of us who weren't staying on the Cape with my Mom were planning to head home after dinner.

As we were finishing up dinner, the ICU nurse called my brother and let him know death was imminent, my Dad's heart rate was down to 20 beats per minute (before I forget, let me give a shout-out to the nurse, Denise. She was great. The ICU nurses only have 2 patients each, which allows them a lot of time with each. More importantly, though, she had a wonderful, caring temperament and gave much care and concern to my Dad and his family). We settled up and headed back right away, arriving about 20 minutes after the call. Unfortunately, my Dad had already died. I don't know how I would have felt to be in the room at his death, but I did feel badly for my Mom that she wasn't there at the exact moment.

Sadly, we trooped into his room and stood around his body. The human body should never be wholly still; it looks so odd to see no movement whatsoever. The nurse let us stay with my Dad for over an hour while we mourned. After a while, my Mom's minister arrived. Soon thereafter, we all left my Mom and the minister to sit with my Dad for a while before they transported him to the morgue.

So that's it. My Dad is gone and I shall miss him terribly. He was a larger-than-life Renaissance man. He had an amazing abundance of energy and drive which I was in awe of and wish I had as well. He was active in town government in my hometown for decades, he was active in the Unitarian congregation in town as well. When they retired to Cape Cod, they helped establish a new UU congregation and my father helped spearhead a drive to save it from financial ruin when it was still young. He designed and built the house they lived in on Cape Cod. When he was done with that, he acted as the general contractor for a Habitat House and then went on to help rebuild the Cape Museum of Fine Arts. He was on the board of a local foundation that funded college education for local kids and branched out into environmental grantmaking.

With him, our family cut down the trees to clear the lot for the house Skip and I now live in (I was about 6 when I learned to wield an axe). I worked with him over the years in his huge garden, picking rocks, spreading manure, harvesting, pickling, making jam and so on, endlessly over the years. One weekend in my teens, as the last kid left at home, he and I planted 2500 Christmas tree seedlings together. Yes, 2500 seedlings in one weekend. And it rained the entire time. When he decided to get into wine-making, he planted grapes that would flourish in our climate, built an arbor for them and then his own press.

I'm glad that in my later years, I was able to loosen up enough to tell my Mom and Dad, out loud, that I loved them. My Dad's love and affection for all of us was so clear. He was a strong family supporter, generous but expecting much from us. And, too, I'm glad that in the last few years, as he experienced growing health issues with his Parkinson's and other ailments, that I could help out both my parents by regular visits to the Cape, helping with paying bills and such, but mostly just being there for the chance to visit.


Diane J Standiford said...

I hug you and my sympathies to your family. A great man has passed and you were lucky to have such a wonderful father.

Bibliotekaren said...

What an incredible guy -- he did sound like a Renaissance man. And, the New England hardiness resonates in your stories -- both about him and you. Of all his legacies left behind, that of a family who loves him deeply speaks the loudest in my mind.

Cranky, you've had so much on your plate. I hope you can get some time, or whatever you need, to be with this latest loss.

Take good care,

Peace Be With You said...

My own dad's passing was a life changing event as I suspect this will be for you. Please nurture yourself. You've been through a lot.

zoomdoggies said...

Cranky, thank you for sharing this portrait of a remarkable man. He was fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends at the end of his life. I am so sorry for your loss.

Muffie said...

Cranky, I'm so sorry to hear about your Dad. He sounds like a wonderful man, and I know you'll miss him immensely. My own Dad's death left me with an emptiness I could never fill. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you grieve.

Achelois said...

I know I am new to commenting on your blog. I would still like to offer my heartfelt condolences for your loss. Thank you so much for the post about your dad and his life achievements and you sharing your thoughts, memories and emotions. Dying is not a matter often discussed in such an honest and open way and you have shown it is possible to talk openly and honestly with great dignity.

My thoughts are with you.

Webster said...

I am sorry for your loss. Your description of your Dad was lovely.

Herrad said...

Hi Cranky,
Sorry to hear your dad has died.
Thinking of you.

Patrick@Caregivingly Yours said...

"Death leaves a heartache
No one can heal;
Love leaves a memory
No one can steal"

Caregivingly Yours, Patrick

Cranky said...

To all - thank you for your comments. They mean a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

Its Kate from the group- just wanted you to know I'm thinking of you and am sorry to read about your loss. Your dad sounds like a great guy and I know he will be missed. Hope your mom is doing alright, take care.

Cranky said...

Kate - thanks for your note. I've been thinking of you these last few days since your Mom died so recently. I hope you're doing all right. My mom is doing about as well as we can expect, especially since she and my Dad were married for an incredible 61 years. Hard to believe he's not on the planet anymore.

steve said...

How could such a jovial looking man produce someone who calls herself Cranky? As I sit in my parent's living room winding down from Mother's Day, I'm keeping you and your family close in my heart. Bon voyage, cranky daddy.

Cranky said...

Steve - my Mom carries the cranky gene. :-) Safe travels, Steve.

barrie said...

I always read your posts but only rarely comment. I just want to say how sorry I am for your loss. My father died two years ago. Oddly, also while my mother and I were grabbing a bit of dinner - her theory is that he didn't want to put her through the trauma of actually witnessing his death but I don't know that he could control the timing in that way. I still miss him daily.

soulsoprano said...

Cranky, so sorry to hear of your loss. Keeping you and your family in my prayers at this difficult time. Glad to know you have good memories to hold onto. They will help you as you grieve.



Cranky said...

Barrie - I'm sure I will miss my Dad every day, too. Glad you could be with your Mom when your Dad was dying.

Kristen - I agree, the good memories are a help. I never was so active and engaged in life in my free time as when I was with my Dad, helping on one project or another.

awb said...

So sorry to read this, but thanks for sharing it, he sounds like he was quite a guy.


Have Myelin? said...

Cranky, I'm sorry to hear about your dad. I recently lost my father as well. My daughter was his caretaker as well as my grandmother's.

You know...I haven't had a chance to mourn my father or anyone else for that matter. He was a good man.

Take care of yourself and yeah I know...try not to get overwhelmed. Yeah right?

I am sorry about your loss.

Cranky said...

Andy - it's true, he really was quite a guy. Quite a standard to live up to!

Sherry - I hope you are able to mourn your Dad's death, but I understand how you've got a much greater sadness that you're still grappling with. For me, I find, surprisingly, that I am enjoying all the time I'm spending with memories of my Dad, appreciating him anew.