In the year after my dad died, as part of my grieving, I wrote this book. I’ve waited to make it public for many reasons. But now, more than 11 years later, I want to share it. My dad was a good man. I want you to know about him and his influence. I hope you enjoy.
For some time the doctors were telling us there was some good news. His blood count was getting better but there were about 1,000 other things that had to improve. My dad dropped in and out of sleep in between the poking. Nurses are always loud, I never quite understood that. Maybe it’s just that they are doing their jobs, living life. When life intrudes on dying it seems loud and obnoxious.
No matter how rude they may have been or what the poking felt like, my dad would always apologize to them. “Sorry, I didn’t understand.” In the room next door there was an elderly woman who was mentally not all there. Instead of pressing the button for the nurse, she would yell for her. She would yell every half-hour or so. “Nurse! Nurse! Oooh nurse! I need water. Water! Water! Nurse! Nurse! Why don’t you come?” On and on. My dad was a saint in comparison, yet he apologized for bugging them by being there. “I’m sorry. I’m probably your worst patient.” He wasn’t.
My dad lived his life for other people. Some of this was good, no, most of it was good. But he was also always worried about inconveniencing other people. He would do anything for you and then apologize for not having done it better. Everyone would explain to him that it was fine, they appreciated what he did, but he never believed them. “It could have been better.”
At some point on Wednesday, my dad’s parents flew in from Pennsylvania. They were taking this whole thing pretty hard, as would be expected. Children expect to watch their parents die, parents don’t expect to watch their kids go. They were hoping for a miracle, that he would be OK and get to come home.
We were all sitting in the waiting room talking and my mom was in with my dad. Apparently, Tuesday night was pretty rough on my dad. He was on serious drugs and his mind wasn’t all there. He was seeing things. At one point he thought a bunch of firemen came in and were running all over the room doing things to him. He saw a gun on the wall. He wasn’t sure what was real and what was in his mind. He explained that he had a bad nurse last night who was doing stuff to him. We weren’t sure how much of it was true or not but my sister and I decided we would stay overnight with him in case he got freaked out again. Not sure how seeing my sister and I would calm him, we never had for 33 years, but that was the plan.
During these hallucinations, my dad had a very clear moment. My mom, sister and I were all in the room. He gathered us together and told us all that he loved us and shared a message for each of us. It was nothing earth shattering but it was very clearly him saying good-bye. He told us everything was OK. “It’s all right. It’s OK,” he would repeat. When he was done he laid back and began to groan. Looking back, I think he was done. I think he was trying to die. He had said his last piece to us all and that was it. He had gathered his strength for that moment of clarity, now he wanted to go.
My mom told the doctor about the hallucinations, his groaning and fidgeting and how he wasn’t getting good sleep so they put him on strong sleep meds. He was out almost immediately. This left my sister and I in the hospital overnight with very little to do. Another family with a grandma dying from cancer was in the waiting room and had taken all the sleeper couches. The nurses told us about a prayer room off to the side with a couple chairs in it that we could have.
Cancer ward waiting rooms are tough places. You feel a connection to people you’ve never met before. You’re all going through the same thing, hoping things will be fine but preparing yourself if they aren’t. People’s lives stop when this stuff goes on and you spend lots of time sitting and waiting. Every once in awhile someone would come in with a report of the latest visit with the patient. Sometimes with tears, sometimes with blankness, sometimes with laughter. When you walk down to get a Dr. Pepper from the vending machines on the lower level, you see all kinds of people going about life, laughing, talking, it seems so loud. It almost seems irreverent. Don’t you care that my dad is dying? How can you laugh at a time like this?
I got about 6 hours of sleep on Tuesday night and as my sister and I hit the midnight hour of Wednesday, we pretty much lost control. We were what you would call “slap happy.” I know, I know, it’s most likely wrong to enjoy waiting for your dad to die, but I tell ya what, it was a riot.
My family uses humor to adjust to things; we adjusted. We were sitting in a small waiting room next to the elevator shaft. Every 30 seconds the whirr of the elevator shook the room. It was impossible to sleep even under the best of situations. But every time that whirr came, we both would bust out laughing. Then we got this crazy idea to do prank phone calls from the hospital. For some reason, we adopted an Indian accent. It went something like this.
“Heh-lo, thees ees doctor Rashid from de hospetal. I have good news for you and bad news. Thee bad news ees that your father just eescaped from the hospetal. Thee good news ees that he steel has hes legs.”
“No, no no, I got it I got it. “Heh-lo, thees ees doctor Rashid from de hospetal. I have good news for you and bad news. Thee good news ees that you have 24 hours to live. Thee bad news ees that I forgot to call you yesterday.”
Of course, we didn’t actually call anyone. We just went on for about an hour doing these pretend prank calls. We had to knock off the fun for fear of being kicked out of the hospital.
Every couple hours we went in and visited my dad, who was out of it, about as close to comatose as you can get. What a shift. It’s weird what death does to the living. If my dad were able to join us in the other room, he would have loved it. The humor in my family comes mainly from my dad’s side. It’s an odd brand of humor but enjoyable. My mom’s parents had a family reunion at their house one time and the grandparents were talking about sleep. My dad’s dad, Gene, had a breathing problem where his night-time breathing would all but stop. His wife was saying how it freaked her out that all of a sudden there would be no next breath coming.
My mom’s dad, Craig, asked Gene if it bothered him to have this breathing problem. “Doesn’t it startle you? Do you ever wake up with a jerk?” Craig asked.
“Nope, just my wife,” was Gene’s perfect answer. That’s the kind of stuff we’re dealing with. When it gets late and we get tired, hilarity ensues. My dad would have loved to have been with his family for this experience. Instead, for one of the few times in our family’s life, we were there for him, rather than him being there for us.
Our faces began to hurt from laughing and there was no real point for us to be there anyway so we walked around the hospital looking for a place to get some sleep. I ended up in the chapel, sleeping on some chairs with my back propped against the wall, It was by no means comfy, but I did get a little sleep.