What I do know is how much I learned through Dad’s journey, both on an individual basis and also as part of my passion and why for my work today.
Dad went into the hospice in early December and at the time I was working on a Year 2000 Program for a very large company. I can remember thinking that I hope Dad hangs around until after we got through that transition. I can also remember thinking how great it was to be so busy with work as it kept me distracted from the reality of my Dad dying.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see the flip side of that distraction. Dad’s hospice was near to where I was working, so I would go and see him at lunch time and I would never stay long. I truly didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want my Dad to die, I wasn’t ready to let him go. In his last few weeks he was barely conscious and the man lying in that bed bore no resemblance to the man I had known for my 30 years as my Dad. My Dad was over 6ft tall, this man looked much shorter. My Dad was strong & able bodied, this man was not. My Dad had very firm opinions about some things, this man barely spoke. And then again, there is another side. I never once remember my Dad saying that he loved me until after his diagnosis. I knew I was loved, he just didn’t say it. After that it was freely expressed. For that I am truly thankful.
Although I was resistant to going and seeing Dad, I felt that I had to, that it was a responsibility and something that was expected. That’s just how it was until January 5. We had gotten through the Y2K transition pretty smoothly and the frantic pace of everything had settled down. And that gave me space to be and to connect with my feelings. This particular day, I went to the hospice as normal during my lunch break and I ended up spending well over 1 1/2hrs with Dad. I felt very comfortable being there and I just sat by his bedside holding his hand and arm and stoking it gently and lovingly. I told him that I was ready for him to go and that he had my permission to go if the time was right for him. It felt so very different to all the other visits and I knew something had shifted, if not for Dad, most certainly for me. I was much more at peace that afternoon and night. I don’t know if what I said made a difference to Dad, but I know it made a difference for me. I now know how much I needed to go through that process and that I needed to let him go, for me if not for him.
The next morning we got the phone call – Dad was down to probably just hours. So my family and I gathered around Dad’s bed and we shared a precious few hours with him. There was laughter, there were tears, there was much love and connection through this sacred experience in which we were all sharing. And we each knew at the exact moment he breathed his last that it was his actual last breath – I had no idea at the time how we all knew, but we did.
Another reason for my work today is what transpired in terms of the beds. In Dad’s stay he was moved a few times. His last move was to a 4-bed ward. I can remember expressing at the time that it wasn’t right – there was no privacy for any of the men on that ward or their loved ones. I was assured that as we got closer to Dad’s passing that he would be moved to a single room. That never happened and I can remember being pretty p!$$*d off about it. In Dad’s final hours, all that separated us all from the other 2 men on the ward was a thin curtain. There was no privacy and I can only imagine how it must have felt for those other men knowing that Dad was dying. Where was the respect for Dad and us as his loved ones? Where was the respect for the sacredness of the experience? Where was the respect for the other patients? There was none. This is the reason I am so passionately against shared wards in hospice environments and also part of why I believe we can live this experience that is dying and death so much better for everyone involved.
So today, I remember my Dad with love and appreciation. I am thankful for the traits that I have inherited, I give thanks for what I learned from him, I give thanks for how his journey is now a big part of my why and I just give thanks for him being my Dad. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but he was still my Dad and I love him and miss him.