August 27, 2013

Busy dying

My dad is now under the care of a hospice team, and I am learning a great deal about the "process" of dying. I've always thought of death as being an event. You become sick, you die. You suffer a traumatic injury, you die. You get old, you die.

It is often so much more complicated. Life is not cut and dried; why should death be?

There is a somewhat predictable path a person who is close to the end of life follows. And there is no doubt my dad is on it. His digestive system is shutting down - hence the not wanting to eat or drink. His circulatory system is slowing down.

He never leaves his room. Wants to sleep all the time. There are other signs, less dignified ones I won't write about out of respect for him. Although they are in no way unique, and he is not immune to any of the steps the body takes as it prepares to leave this world.

Unlike when I visited him just over a week ago, he looks like a man who is dying now. His skin is a grayish hue. His face sallow, sunken in and expressionless. The sparkle is gone from his eyes.

The whole process reminds me of the quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

Right now, my dad is busy dying. It is actually a lot of work. But he is getting closer every day.

There is something very surreal about holding meetings to discuss the "management" of your father's death. But we have a wonderful hospice team. They are clear about my dad's wishes, and ours. What we all want for him now is for whatever time he has left to be as comfortable and peaceful as possible.

And he does seem to be at peace. I don't know if he understands what is happening. He is in the late stages of dementia, and that could be a blessing. Although a person who is dying usually experiences dementia-like symptoms toward the very end anyway.

There are no signs he is in pain. The hospice nurses are watching him closely, and will work to manage pain if it does become an issue. They keep us updated often. I jump whenever my phone rings.

It is so strange to go about your normal day-to-day activities when one of your loved ones is slowly dyingI find parenting to be particularly challenging right now. Being present with SB is hard. So is being patient. I am distracted. Full of emotions. On the edge.

Oh, let's just be honest. I'm a complete wreck.

She understands. I have been very open with her about what is happening. I keep the more gruesome details from her, but she knows her BaBop is dying. And she knows it will happen soon. We talk about it regularly so I can answer any questions she may have, address concerns and give her the opportunity to express her feelings.

She has started to ask questions about what will happen to his body when he dies. Whereas just a week ago she was talking about him getting better. So I can tell she is processing it. Tomorrow, my mom and I will take her to his planned resting place so she can see it. And, I will take her to visit him and say goodbye, because she says she wants to do so.

I just want this all to be over. I don't mean to say I want my father to die. But at this point, it is not a question of if he will, only when. What I want is for this hell to end, so we can all move on to the next step of our journey. Including him.

But that is not fair.

My father is busy dying. This is his journey, not mine. He may have one more day. One more week. I don't know. He will go when it is time for him to go. I can't dictate the length of his path any more than I can stop the process from happening.

All I can do is love and honor him and be his advocate is these final days. It will be my last and perhaps most important gift to him. And he deserves nothing less.



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