Daughter No More

My father died this morning a little before four. One of my brothers was here, and he kept vigil while I took a nap, and that is when father chose to die. Oddly, it didn’t bother me not being there at the moment of his death. I was holding him during his last bit of consciousness, felt his acceptance. After all his time of not wanting to die, suddenly, he was ready. And so he did what he always did when his course was set — just forged ahead. Things happened so fast (things like arranging for a hospital bed), and he changed so rapidly, it felt like weeks passed but was less than seventy-two hours from the beginning of his steep decline to the end.

It took even less time to remove all signs of death — his body, his pills, his equipment. My brother and other siblings are notifying relatives and working to arrange the funeral, so after all these years, I’m left with nothing to do for my father. My mother died almost seven years ago, so now I am a daughter no more. The price of daughterhood has been paid in full, and I am free. But free to do what? I still don’t know.

The house won’t be sold immediately, of course, and my siblings have agreed to let me stay here at least another month or two, which is only fair considering how much worry I saved them. But after that? I’ll just wait, see what happens. I still have to go through my stuff and get rid of what I can since it will all be going into storage until I decide to settle down somewhere.

But all that is in the near future. I’m still just trying to get through this day, and then each of the coming days. For all of you who have followed my grief journey and so might be expecting me to descend into sorrowful depths again, don’t worry. That sort of shattering turned-inside-out grief only happened to me when I lost my soul mate, and I don’t have that sort of all-consuming pain today, only a strange emptiness. My father lived a long, happy, healthy, charmed life, so there is not a lot of tragedy attached to his passing. Once again, though, my life will be changing drastically due to a death, and that brings its own sort of grief, though this time it might also bring an exhilarating sense of possibility.

Thank you for all your concern and support. As always, you have helped me through a trying time.

Here’s wishing for better days for all of us.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Death Rattle

I am sitting here listening to my father’s death rattle. First, there is the puff of the oxygen concentrator machine accompanied by the gurgling of the attached humidifier, then, like an echo, the rattle of his breath.

Things are progressing, or rather degressing, very rapidly. He started having breathing/panic attacks on Thursday, and by Saturday, he was experiencing them every couple of hours. I thought everything was more or less under control, but Saturday evening, he fell. He wasn’t hurt. Just scared. He kept demanding a doctor. I sat with him and tried to soothe him until hospice came. The nurse and I got him on the bed, but he was agitated, sweating, twitching, having pbedroblems breathing, and experiencing what seemed to be hallucinations, so she suggested he take morphine to open the bronchial tubes and haloperidol for the agitation.

Although she wouldn’t say how long he had left, I recognized the “end signs.” I stayed up with him most of the night, and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully, but this morning, he got agitated again. Tried to get out of bed, couldn’t cough up the secretions (as they so delicately call his prodigious amounts of mucus. I’ll spare you the details of my holding him while he drooled those “secretions” all over me). I finally got him partly settled, half on and half off the bed — he’s too heavy for me to lift by myself. Luckily, right about that time, the hospice nurse came to check on him, and she agreed that he is displaying the end signs, especially terminal restlessness.

I won’t bore you with the story of my (his) day, but the upshot is he is now in a hospital bed with rails (so I don’t have to worry about his falling). He’s mostly comatose, and although he doesn’t have mottling of the skin to show that his organs are shutting down, it does seem he has little time left. The nurse says her best guess is 48 hours. He can barely swallow, so I give him his few drugs with an oral syringe. He stopped eating and drinking yesterday. (When Jeff was at this point, he still had five days left, but dad changes by the minute, so I sincerely doubt he will take that long. Since he’s made up his mind to die — in fact, he asked me to help him die, which of course I cannot do — he will proceed posthaste as he always does when his course is set.)

I am with him almost constantly, monitoring his distress, and keeping him as comfortable as possible. I am hoping he doesn’t wake up — the realization that he is in a hospital bed will be too demoralizing for him.

Still, at ninety-seven, he’s led a very long and charmed life, a lot longer, happier, and healthier than most people. And his end won’t be prolonged. Something to be grateful for on this eve of my orphanhood.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

 

Back to Living a Quiet Life of . . . I Don’t Know

My sister, who has been here helping look after our 97-year-old father, left this morning, and shortly after she took off for places unkown, I went to dance class, leaving him alone. When I checked on him upon my return, he didn’t seem to have been affected by either of our absences, just went about his life as usual.

I’ve lost track of how many times he’s seemed to be at the end of his life, prompting me to plan my immediate future. The first time, I planned a cross-country trip to promote my books. I started gathering the promotional materials, even went so far as to roadwrite all the independent bookstores in the country. He returned to his normal self, scotching my plans, which was just as well — I got such an abysmal response to my USPS mail campaign, that I lost all interest in visiting the bookstores in person. (I didn’t send just a Hi-I’m-an-author-buy-my-books promo. I sent gift certificates for ebooks and offered to interview each of the storeowners for my interview blog to help promote their stores. Not one responded.)

The second time, I planned to walk to Seattle, either via the Pacific Crest Trail or the various coastal trails. (California, Oregon, and Washington all have a coastal trail in the process of completion.) I spent weeks trying to figure out the logistics of such a trip, taking into consideration my age, the state of my fitness, and the prodigious amounts of water and other supplies I would have to haul. Just about the time I realized how improbable (if not impossible) such a trip would be for me, my father got better.

There were a few other quickly aborted plans during some of his short down times, such as my getting a teardrop trailer, perhaps, or renting a room in a house to make it easier to continue taking dance classes. During this last near-death turn of events, I didn’t even bother to plan (though I did have a few nights of panic when I realized I have no idea how or why or where I will live after I leave here). I finally understood the futility of expecting or fearing anything when it comes to such a tenacious old man. And sure enough, he’s dragged himself back to life.

One of my siblings suggested putting him in a nursing home, but there is no reason for such an action. He’s on hospice, so I have help when/if I need it, though he has refused to wear a medical alert bracelet that would connect him to hospice in an emergency and he has refused to have someone come stay with him when I’m gone. Still, I’m only out of the house about twenty-four hours a week (you know where I am a lot of that time — dance class!). I keep my phone with me when I’m away, and I’m in the house all night every night. (And if he gets worse, my sister has promised to come back.)

Now that both my dysfunctional brother and helpful sister are gone, I’m back to living a quiet life of . . . I don’t know. Waiting, perhaps, though I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. Maybe my own life, whatever that might be, though for now, this is my life. Or more precisely, dancing is my life, and being here for my father allows me to continue taking dance classes.

At least he’s still alive. To be honest, the thought of perhaps having to live for a few days with a dead body in the house creeps me out.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Becoming Matriarch

My father once teased me by calling me the matriarch of the family since I am the oldest living female. (I had to stop here to think. Am I? I’m still in middle age though I am sliding down the banister into the early years of old age, so it seems impossible that there is no older female, but I can’t think of any except some distant relatives.)

Today, however, I feel as if I have graduated into matriarch-ness. My father finally conceded (at least for the moment, anyway) that he can no longer do his accounts, pay the bills, keep up with house repairs and everything else that needs doing to make sure everyone is comfortable, so he “passed the torch” to me. (Those are the words he used.) I told him I’d continue doing everything his way, but he said as long as the accounts were understandable to the executor of his estate, he didn’t care how I did things.

spiderSo here I am, matriarch of our dysfunctional little family — one elderly father who seldom leaves his bed, one dysfunctional brother who refuses to leave the area, one sister who has come to help and leaves whenever she is free, and me who sometimes dreams of leaving and sometimes dreads it. Besides that, the house is so big that something always needs to be repaired. I feel like a black widow spider, sitting in the middle of my poorly-spun web, but instead of me twanging the web to attract insects, the insects twang me, keeping me trapped in the center of it all.

There are others in the family, far-flung siblings that I used to keep informed when my father was ailing, but for some reason, during the past couple of weeks I haven’t felt like sending out my usual emails, maybe because no one is contacting me to see how he is doing. The truth is, I wouldn’t know what to say even if they did. He is definitely declining at an ever-rapid rate, but he is peaceful in his isolation. If anyone wanted to come, of course I as matriarch would give permission even if he were not so disposed, but for now we’re just letting the days slip away, one after the other, taking each minute as it comes.

I’ve played many different roles in my life. Some roles, like daughter and sister, have been with me from the moment I was born, but this new role of matriarch will not be long-lived. When my father is gone, probably within a few months, I will slip off the mantel, turn everything over to the executor, and head out on my own, unencumbered by any responsibility. For now, however, here I am, doing the best I can in a strange and bewildering situation.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Making End of Life Decisions

Some of the hardest decisions to make when taking care of a person who is nearing the end of life are not dire life/death decisions, such as taking him off a respirator, but simple decisions that continue to haunt you long after the person is gone.

The hardest decision I had to make when it came to the end days of my life mate/soul mate was whether to take him to the hospice care center. The nurse suggested the move to give me time to rest (he had what is called “terminal restlessness” and kept getting out of bed; considering how unsteady he was on his feet, I had to get up with him.) He wasn’t ready to go, wasn’t ready to face the ending of his life, and yet knowing the truth of the matter — that he wouldn’t be coming home again — he still agreed to go. I, on the other hand, believed the nurse when she said he would be away just a few days to give me time to rest, but still, I felt horrible about agreeing to take him. Afterward, that decision haunted me. I wished I’d let him stay home one more day, especially since I didn’t sleep anyway.

The decision I face now in taking care of my father is even less dire, but infinitely more complicated. Until about a week ago, my father still answered the phone, eager to talk to anyone who called, but now we’ve unplugged the phone in his room because he doesn’t like to be awakened.

He spends most of his time sleeping, getting up a few times a day to eat something — an egg or a bit of jello or a few canned peach slices. He is willing to talk to his children during those times, so that’s not a problem, but he doesn’t want to see anyone. He is very fragile, and so I have been honoring his wishes. However, some of my siblings want to make sure they see him one last time, and this is where the decision lies.

When is the cut-off point where his wishes become secondary and the wishes of his children come first? When it’s close to the end, I suppose, and I don’t think he’s there quite yet. Although he doesn’t eat much and has developed an aversion to most of his favorite foods, he does still have an interest in eating, which is a good sign. He’s also alert when he’s awake, so he hasn’t quite begun removing himself from life. (He has no interest in reading the newspaper anymore, but I don’t consider the newspaper “life”.)

I hope I’m doing the right thing by continuing to honor my father’s wishes, and that the decision to do so won’t come back to haunt me. I hope, if I make the wrong decision (or make a wrong assessment about how much time my father has left), my siblings will forgive me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+