on death and letting go….

the words have been waiting…swirling around the edges of my consciousness for days now…the long days of the past week….

last monday a phone call from  my mother…my father was in icu, critically ill. she was scared. she’d let me know the next day how he was doing….

my father had a kidney disease and had been on dialysis for many years now, awaiting a transplant. in july he had his second leg amputated. now, there was an infection…..

monday night i decided i’d better fly home. he’d been in icu before due to other health complications, and i figured that he’s pull through this time as well. but either way, my mom needed her children there.

on tuesday the next phone call. “he is really bad…they may have to intubate him”. dreaded words for my mother to have had to say. it was the death knell for her brother who had died last year. i spent a busy day at work preparing to be away the rest  of the week. another call in the afternoon. “they are intubating him”. if i wanted to talk to him before he was sedated, i would have to be there very soon. i told here that i would be there late that night, the soonest my flight could arrive. when i saw him the next day, i saw a smaller, weaker version of the man i’d always known. it was the first time i’d seen him since the second amputation….the shape of two half legs under the hospital blanket….tubes connected to his body….his face contorted from the tight straps holding the tubes down his throat…he had sepsis. the infection in what was left of his leg had spread through his body….

my mother was now a woman i’d never known before. she was a frightened shell of the robust, optimistic woman i’d always known. she was scared. and in her eyes lay the haunting vision of the man flailing in pain she’d seen before he was sedated, the man who said he was afraid of dying, the man whose eyes she described as those of a deer caught in headlights moments before he lost consciousness…

some family had arrived before me, and more came in the following days. we all took turns by his bedside, two at a time according to icu policy, donning the gloves, masks, and gowns required to limit the spread of infection, while others waited in the room down the hall, trying to alleviate our worries by making jokes at each other’s expense…a long held family habit…

the days were a roller coaster ride, moments of optimism when his fever lessoned, and vital signs were stable, followed by periods of despair when his fever worsened or no progress at all was seen. the waiting, the not knowing wearing each family member and friend down layer by layer. still, we clung to any and every hope of recovery.

the last hope came saturday….do another amputation farther up his leg, hopefully removing a large part of the infection and allowing the antibiotics to work better on the rest of his body. this could only be done though if it had not already affected his heart.

and we had the family talk. what to do if the worst scenario happened -no hope of recovery, and dad alive because of life support only….we knew his wishes. he was a man who lived his life with dignity, and wanted to pass on the same way….

the next morning, my mother already at the hospital first thing, as she had been every day for a week now. my brothers with her….others of us, puttering around at home. many of us, optimistic that the operation would work, were heading back home for a few days, planning to return the following week-end. my flight was that afternoon. i would drive back in two days to help my mother and father in his recovery….

then the phone call. my brother “come up to the hospital as soon as you can. we just signed the dnr”….minutes later, all family and freinds in a hospital conference room. “they can’t do the operation. two doctors flew up from vancouver. his heart has already been affected by the infection”……

my mother, two brothers, sister and i in a small room, making the next decision….medication was the only thing keeping his blood pressure from crashing yet again….he could no longer be given dialysis….he would ony continue to swell with the fluids that could no longer be removed from his body….there was no hope….we had to decide to let him go…..

over the next hour the medication would slowly be decreased, which would cause his blood pressure to fall until his heart finally stopped. at that point only would his oxygen be turned off….

gowned, masked, and gloved, we encircled my father’s bed for the next hour and a half. we filled the room watching what was left of his life slipping away…. he died at 10:30 a.m. on sunday, september 14th, 2008, at the age of 61.

tonight, the house has been filled with people coming and going, as they have been since sunday. relatives have been arriving since last night, and more will be here in the morning. tomorrow afternoon we gather to say our collective good-byes….we gather amid tears and grief to try to celebrate my father’s life.

i hear laughter right now flitering in from the living room, as i sit here in a bedroom just beginning to process the last days through words, as i process so much of my life….laughter is how our family holds itself together. we find the joys in life, and hold on to them with every once of determination we have….and i hear music, as one of my mother’s brothers plays his guitar….and some family members sing along…the music a medium for the love we hold onto to carry us through tomorrow and the days beyond….

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One thought on “on death and letting go….

  1. Knowing that you’ve “done the right thing” by your Dad doesn’t ease the ache in your heart right now, but someday it will help. That he was surrounded by those he loved and who loved him is hard to do in this modern age when families spread all over the globe. That he was loved so very much shows in their being there!

    My heart goes out to each of you; may you find comfort in each other through this!

    Thinking of you…

    alan

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