Shoulders hunched at a 45 degree angle, he wasn’t the 6′ tall man he used to be. But we always reported his height and weight, 6′, 190lbs, anytime someone asked. Never mind his bent spine made him shorter than that. Never mind. My dad was tall and strong–I didn’t need science on my side. My brain said my dad was tall and strong.
It is Wednesday night in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the city where this dad of mine was born on February 18, 1925. I’m listening to the oxygen tank kick on and off while I hear his labored breathing. The tank sounds oddly like the air compressors he used when he was working. Back when sawdust reminded me of my dad. Back when he laughed when he shot a nail gun and Dorothy and I jumped three feet in the air. “Dammit dad”, we said. “Please yell ‘fire in the hole’, before you shoot that thing!” He loved his daughters learning “the trade” but it tickled him when we were afraid of his nail gun. And ladders. And roof work. We weren’t great apprentices, my sisters and I. Thank goodness his three sons followed his trade.
Now the oxygen tank kicks on and off and my dad’s labored breathing can be heard just beyond. It is Wednesday. Last Thursday my husband and I took him to several appointments and to buy a new wheelchair. He was on top of the world last Thursday. He said we kidnapped him and he was more than willing to be kidnapped on the next day but we were leaving town and couldn’t oblige. Last Thursday he ate 12 McNuggets on the way home from his kidnapping. Today he can’t eat or drink.
Sepsis, heart attack, blood clot…”nothing we can do”, came word from the doctor. My mom has been with my dad for 72 years. How can she hear “Nothing we can do?” There’s always something. DO SOMETHING!
Another doctor agrees there’s nothing they can do. They send my father home on hospice care. Little Heidi, his precious dachshund, gazes at us wildly when we come inside the house. She wants on his hospital bed which is placed now where the dining table used to sit. She smells his breath, sits on him and licks him endlessly. Dogs know. People are less perceptive.
My brother calls to say, maybe dad will have a better day tomorrow and he’ll sit up and drink a protein shake. Heidi has already told me, this is the end. My limited survival training kicks in and I remember: You can survive 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. Heidi senses: he’s not had water for two days. She senses there aren’t better days. I believe Heidi.
How to feel? Sorry, sad? Grateful for having a dad for 54 years? Worried for my mother now? Just what is the “proper” way to feel when your dad is on oxygen, hooked up to a catheter, coughing and heavily drugged for pain? How do you feel when you can’t fix this?
I am “sleeping” on the couch at mom and dad’s house tonight. What happens when his pain is too great? Am I the right person to administer drugs every two hours? I don’t want my dad to die on my watch but you only have 3 days to live without water and he’s just slipped into day 2. My dad will die on my watch.
The night draws on and we slip into Thursday. Day 3 without water. Heidi is now huddled close to me on the couch. The oxygen tank continues its windup and hiss. My dad’s breathing becomes more and more labored and sometimes he cries in pain. My mom sleeps in their bed alone.
Morning came, my sisters and brother arrived. My dad would die but not solely on my watch. I am grateful for this. My dad took his last breath before 1:00pm just as the music box finished playing his chosen song.
I remember when you said you’d never leave me
Through these golden years I’ve kept the same vow too
But now that I am going please don’t leave me
I’ll walk just beyond the moon then I’ll stop and wait for you
You can look up every night and you’ll see me light the light
Where I’ll watch for you to join me someday soon
We’ll go lookin’ through the stars for the heaven that is ours
And I know we’ll find it soon somewhere just beyond the moon
I’ll just sit there on a star and watch you from afar
Till I see you walking toward me someday soon
Then together hand in hand we’ll find our promised land
And we’ll settle down forever darlin’ just beyond the moon
I don’t need science on my side. He was 6′ tall, 190 pounds. He was tall and strong. And he is waiting for my mom just beyond the moon.