My father had been sick for years. He could no longer stand on his own, and his list of medicine was lengthy. Every time the phone rang, and one of my sister’s phone number appeared, I would hold my breathe as I answered the phone. Several times came the message that my father was being rushed to the hospital via ambulance. He turned 90 years old in November, and we all knew that an awful moment was in our future.
His last trip to the hospital, the doctors detected pneumonia. There was more to his condition this time, and he was having trouble swallowing, so they gave him a Swallow test. Then came the news that was very difficult to believe, even at his age. He could no longer eat or drink, and surgery to install a feeding tube would kill him. Surgery of any type would kill him because his heart was too weak. My final trip to the hospital, after receiving the news that he had 2 – 7 days to live, was very difficult. He had not eaten for days, and he said, “They won’t give me anything to drink!” He also said, “Dump me over the edge!” He said this about 30 times that night. Finally, the nurse gave us a cup of water and a little brush, and I could dunk the brush, shake it, then rub the brush on his lips and palate. He kept telling me to do it again, and then he would say, “That’s so good.” He kept trying to chew the water out of the brush, and I had to admonish him because, as I was told, anything ingested would go right to his lungs. “Dump me over the edge!”
I asked my sister, Gladie, to take my photo as I leaned my head next to my father’s head and told him to smile. He smiled and she shot the photo from her phone and texted it out to family. Then I asked her if she wanted me to take her picture, which she did, and then texted that out as well. The rest of the family arrived and everybody took selfie-style photos of themselves next to my smiling father. I needed this photo badly because I knew it could be the last.
When we left that night, having spent a few hours with the whole family around him, we promised him that we would take him home the next day and he would have a veal parm grinder. It would go straight to his lungs because the valve that would send it to his esophagus was broken. That’s why he had the gurgle sound. It was that or nothing. He wanted to go home, so since there was nothing more the hospital could do for him, they would send him home to die, along with a hospice nurse for his final week.
The next day he came home at about 2:15 PM. I was planning to go over to see him that night, and it probably would have been a little after 5 PM. My sister, Lee called to say that due to scheduling, it would be good if I could get there right after work, so I got there by 4 PM. When I walked in the door, I saw the Hospice nurse doing paperwork with my brother, Frank, Jr. I looked off in the distance and saw my father snoring away in his recliner. It was more so gasping for air, but sleeping away. The Hospice nurse said that he was given Lorazepam, but was unsure if the hospital had given him Morphine. The nurse seemed concerned that she had taken his vitals and he didn’t even stir. She wanted to get Morphine from CVS, so my brother called it in, and would drop off the script en route to an appointment. I would pick it up.
I kept telling/asking the nurse about the Lorazepam, figuring/hoping that it was the meds that was making him so tired. She didn’t seem to be acknowledging that, and continued to voice her concern, but he was so awake and talking to all of us just the night before, when he was looking so forward to eating and drinking. When my sister, Lee arrived, the nurse told her that she should get family here soon. She said that they should be here at least by that evening. The calls were made, and the door kept swinging open. Karen and Gladie arrived, and he was still breathing heavily with his head back in the recliner. Everybody was touching him and kissing him on the head, awaiting the worst. I was devastated. I walked up to him and placed my hand gently on his head, touching his gray hair, connecting with him and knowing that he would not be alive very soon. He made a loud grown, and I pulled my hand back. The Hospice nurse came rushing over. Everybody in the room surrounded him, asking if he was still breathing. The nurse whipped out her stethoscope and check his pulse. When the nurse said his heart was still beating, albeit slowly, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then he groaned again, and the panic level in the room skyrocketed. He wasn’t moving. His mouth was open. This might very well be it, I thought. The nurse asked if he had a pacemaker, and when we told her that he did, she said that it may be the reason for the faint pulse, because she was not getting respiration. The family and even neighbors stood around him. I just remember hearing my sister, Karen saying, “Bye dad!” You were a great father!” She was holding his arm. I heard Warren, our neighbor, saying “Bye Frank.” I was holding on to father, reaching for his arm under the sheet, but I could not speak. I couldn’t find it in me to say “Bye,” to my father. If I were him, I wouldn’t want people to say “Goodbye” to me. That would signify the end. It would be too final. It would be a message that I was dying, then and there. It was too late for the Morphine. That would only control his anxiety and make it easier for him to die.
When my sister, Lee, asked the nurse if she was pronouncing him, the nurse said, “Yes.” I was numb. The Goodbye messages continued in earnest. The nurse had told the family to talk to him because he could hear us. The messages continued from all angles. I finally managed a message, but the words could barely leave my mouth. I was in such shock that I couldn’t even tell you what I said. The moment was a blur. As soon as my father was pronounced dead, the caretaker dropped to her knees in front of my mother and just lost it. She began crying out loud, her head up and down from my mother to the ground. My mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease blocked her from this moment. Her husband of 64 years had just died in the chair next to her, and she had no idea what had happened. She was looking down at the caretaker, wondering what she was doing. She would have been devastated with a sound mind. People were still talking to my father. One of my sister’s yelled out to get the caretaker out of the room. I nearly tripped over the end of my father’s recliner en route to the caretaker. I pulled her up to her feet and quickly escorted her into the kitchen. She was so distraught and crying. Once I removed her from the scene, I returned to the scene of my father. His mouth was still open. When my brother arrived, he lifted the blanket up over his mouth.
The Hospice nurse told us that it’s okay to leave his body there until every family member arrived, and we discussed what Funeral Parlor we would call to remove his body. Then she cancelled the Hospice supplies. She guided us every step of the way in this most difficult time. She was a Godsend. My sister, Kathy arrived, and when we agreed on Mulryan Funeral Home, the nurse contacted them and got the ball rolling. In the hour that they took to arrive, we all carried out my father’s final wishes. He wanted to have a party with everyone he ever knew. Friends and neighbors who had just received word started pouring in. Warren Fritz, our longtime neighbor ordered several pizza’s to feed everybody and help carry out my father’s final wishes. My brother kept making beer runs. We stood around the kitchen drinking beer and telling stories about my father’s life as he lay on the recliner in the other room.
Mulryan came in and swung my father’s body onto the gurney and zipped him up. As much as I didn’t want to see this, I had to look. They swung the body bag over him and zipped him up until he was gone. They rolled him into the kitchen, and I reached over and touched his foot. “Goodbye, Dad.” I said. It was so surreal. I could not believe what was happening. He was ushered out the door, and he was gone. The party continued. People kept showing up and offering their condolences. I had never seen anybody die before. My father was the first. I’m not sure I ever want to see it again. For now, Goodbye Dad. Now I can say it, but only by typing the words. It’s been five days. The wake is tomorrow and the funeral is the following day. I don’t know how I’m going to survive, but this is the story of my father’s final moments. Goodbye.