I can't believe it has been eight years since my father died. I don't know if I should be "over it" by now...since I don't really have anything to compare it to. My close friends haven't lost their parents yet, and heck, as a culture we tend to reserve talk of grieving to only our spouses.
In movies the death of a parent is a turning point for the characters. Past conflicts are resolved on the deathbed and the surviving child walks away and moves forward. Sad, but stronger.
It wasn't quite like that with my Dad. He refused to admit he was dying for as long as he could speak. All efforts to get him to even see a doctor in his last few weeks were met with curses and meanness. Thinking back, I suppose he wanted to lay in his own bed, in his own house and slowly die without anyone making a fuss. To this day I don't know if I did the right thing to deny him that.
I called my mother a few weeks before my Dad died - a routine call just to check in - and she let it slip that "Your father sure sleeps alot these days". I asked her what she meant by that, and she replied "Well he is probably awake about an hour a day".
We knew he had end stage liver failure from a lifetime of Budweiser and vodka tonics...but he had been playing golf and working his job as a taxi driver the week before. I packed my bags that minute and drove to Central Florida immediately.
I found my father in a dark room, with a space heater running, hiding underneath twelve blankets. He wouldn't talk to me about how he felt, knocking aside my questions with comments about just "needing to sleep". I don't know if he actually believed he had the flu or if that is what he was telling us to send us away. My mother, with fifty years of submitting to him under her belt, was too terrified to challenge the flu notion, but I knew better. But getting him in the car was nearly impossible. I literally had to threaten to call 911 if he refused - and it took us about 3 hours to force him out the door.
Of course he expected to drive.
I absolutely refused. He wasn't in any shape to even sit upright....weakened by his dissolving liver and weeks of not eating or drinking. That was the first day since him teaching me to first drive that my father sat in the passenger set next to me. An ominous feeling overcame me, I was certain this was worse than I had initially thought.
My father had the same doc he had used for years. I had never met the man but was about to show up at his office without an appointment - so I hoped he was decent. He was not. The doctor told me that my Dad most likely had "the flu" and should go home and rest. I stood blocking the door and asked the doctor when the last time he saw him was. It had been a month. Apparently my Dad had been feeling queasy for that long. I asked the doc how much weight my Dad had lost in the month. Nearly thirty pounds was the answer. I then began asking about lab work, the condition of his liver, etc etc until the doctor relented. Maybe just because he realized I wasn't moving away from the door until I had an answer....so he agreed to admit my Dad to the local hospital.
My Dad would be dead within 10 days. Up until the last 8 hours of his life his doctor was constantly telling us we were worrying about nothing and he expected my father would be good as new as soon _______. The blank consisted of that doctor milking medicaid for every test, procedure and medicine he could throw our way....up to and including physical therapy.
It broke my heart to watch my father try to perform on a recumbent bike when he didn't even have the strength to lift his own arms in the air. But my Dad was in agreement with the doctor...he felt like he wasn't as sick as I was saying...and the last coherent thing he ever said to me was "How the hell do you expect me to get any better when you are putting nails in my coffin!!!!!!"
But I knew better. He was throwing up blood (and had been for weeks - hiding it from my mother somehow), couldn't eat because of varices in his throat, and his liver enzymes were higher than I had ever seen.
By the time I had beaten the doctors into getting hospice involved my Dad wasn't even able to talk. Hospice was wonderful. They stopped all the unnecessary meds, controlled his pain, and stopped the physical torture of the exercises.
He died less than 10 hours after hospice came on board. The nurse woke me up at 2 in the morning to tell me. I had to wake my mother and tell her the news. My son was a toddler. The entire evening was surreal. Painful. The one member of my family who had loved me for who I was....gone.
It was Christmas Eve.
My son asked us how Santa would find us. How could Santa know we were in a hospital far far away from home?
Later, back at my mother's house, trying my best to control my grief enough to be of some comfort to my mom....my sweet little toddler came into the room, and announced that he liked things better when his grandpa was alive.
"Me too baby bear"
Each Christmas Even I hope that I don't have to relive that story in my mind....but so far I haven't been able to. But it does get a teeny teeny bit easier.
I know my Dad would hate that I still grieve. And I know if his brain hadn't been poisoned by the chemicals produced as his body was shutting down he would have done a better job leaving this world...
Miss you Dad....and thinking of you this season.