Thursday, February 3, 2011

I wasn't there that morning...

...when my father passed away.

That song still chokes me up when I hear it.  Another thing that gets me is when I read "He died peacefully at home, surrounded by his loved ones." My dad died twenty years ago today, in the hospital, it wasn't peaceful, and we were all home asleep. I have lamented this for 20 years.

The details are not pleasant, my Dad had a very rare cancer in his leg muscle, he had a really drastic surgery that left him with limited use of his leg, he endured horrific pain and spent a lot of time in two periods of hospital stays, about 6 months apart. We spent a lot of time at UC Davis Med Center, Tower 8, Oncology floor. We loved his doctors and nurses, and despite the sadness, we had some good moments as a family. So now, on February 3, 2011 I am choosing to remember some of the funny things that happened during that really awful time. Here are a few:

After my Dad's biopsy, which was a surgery in itself, he was in the hospital for several days. One of the interns was really handsome, and Joanne just thought he was adorable. One day Joanne and I show up to visit. My Dad tells us he told Doctor Cutie that his daughter "had taken quite a shine" to him. Joanne was mortified, I was amused. This doctor came and went all the time and there was no way to avoid seeing him. So then Dad says Doctor Cutie had asked him which daughter? The one with darker hair, my Dad told him. That is me, the daughter with darker hair! Joanne was off the hook and now I was mortified. We had a good laugh over that. Leave it to my Dad to mix up his daughters.

When he was back for his final stay, the first Gulf War broke out. My Dad was always a news junkie, loved to read the paper cover to cover, always kept up with world events. Before he got really bad, my Mom paid for a service at the hospital that gave him better meals, a daily newspaper and free cable. Otherwise he got no TV, just this hokey UC Davis medical channel. When he got so bad off that he couldn't benefit anymore, my Mom stopped paying the extra fee. So we just had the medical channel on. My Dad still watched it, and with all his medication thought that the shows on germs, T-cells and the immune system, and weird shots of body functions were news items on the Gulf War. So we would assure him, yeah Dad, that is the US army, they are winning the war. It made him happy.

We thought he was really losing it when he kept fiddling with his IV and wanted to tangle it in the hand grip bar for lifting himself up from bed. We would come in and he would have it all wrapped around, we couldn't figure out why. Then my brother Jeff arrived from New York, he knew exactly what Dad was doing. He was working. My dad had been a pipe fitter his whole adult life. He was stringing conduit. So my brother set up this contraption so my dad could "work." A pipe fitter to the end.

Medicare made him a complicated contraption for his bad leg, but it sat in the corner, he would never use it. A total waste of money. He joked that if they would spend all that money that late in the game, maybe they could pay for the hearing aids he never did get? And why not a face lift, and an eye job would be nice! And when they couldn't get his pain under control, which was always, he would say that the hospital was so close to Oak Park, just please go down and find a drug dealer on the corner, get him some drugs that would work.  When it would get bad, I would call my brother Jim, because I knew he would call and yell at the nurses for us to get my Dad more pain medicine. But my father's jokes through his pain made an awful situation easier to take.

Toward the end, it got very difficult for all of us. We could only be in his room for so long, it was really intense. My Mom had come to the hospital, but was with my sister Janice, gearing herself to come in. I told my Dad that Mom was there, did he want to see her? "Hell, yes" he said. Those were the last words I heard from him. I went to get my Mom, told her what he said, and she just melted. In those two words my Dad said volumes. Not eloquent, but those words were just perfect to express who my dad was and what was important to him.

I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away. None of us know what his last words were. But the last words I heard him say are precious to me. Did he love my Mom? Did he love us kids? Did he know we loved him? And most important, did he live a peaceful life, surrounded by his loved ones? Excuse my language, but "Hell yes," he did.