… was less than two weeks since Hospice care had begun. We were all in shock – Hospice was for people who were dying! The idea that Dad would need a hospital bed or a walker – it seemed like an over-reaction. And yet by the time those tools arrived, they were just minutes ahead of too late.
A year ago today, I had left the house just a couple of days before, on my Dad’s birthday. I had spoon fed him ice cream to celebrate, only later to discover that I had been giving him one of the few flavors he disliked. I just hope the cold and sweet were more dominant sensory perceptions for him at the time – maybe he didn’t notice it was blackberry flavored. I talked some with my Mom and with my sister; Sallie was less than two months from her delivery date, and had made the flight out to see Dad before he died. Then I went in and told Dad goodbye. And we both knew that I wouldn’t be seeing him again, which made it really hard to walk out. I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.
So a year ago today, we were out to dinner with friends, and I was asking Clay, a doctor, how long my Dad could last without fluids. Mom had called me that morning to say that she and the nurse had agreed to stop giving him water to drink, and I was upset, and not sure how that would feel for him. All I could remember was seeing my grandmother for the last time in her hospital bed, her hair all spread around her head, an IV in her arm, her tongue dry and cracked and her breathing raspy. I couldn’t take my eyes off her tongue as I sang “Amazing Grace” to her. Clay said it was hard to predict. Could be days. I didn’t tell him about my grandmother’s tongue – just nodded and tried to swallow my refried beans. The phone rang, and it was my mother. Dad had died just minutes ago. I told her we would be there that night. “Do you need to go now?” Sarah asked. No. We needed to finish eating our dinner. There was going to be a long night ahead.
Our friends took their son and our daughter out for doughnuts while my husband and I went home and tried to think of everything we might need over the next who knew how many days, and loaded up the car. It was only when we were all ready to go that we met our friends and our daughter in a grocery store parking lot, and I told her what had happened, and we put her into the car and drove away together.
A year ago today. It is one of the dates that I know. Like the date we first met with the Hospice nurse, and the date I last saw him. There are so many other dates I do not know: days no less laden with loss or longing for my inability to commemorate them. The last day I heard him speak an intelligible word. The last time I heard him say, “I love you.” The first time I changed my father’s diaper, and discovered how far past embarrassment we all were. The day I bought sheets for his new adjustable bed. The day I laid down in that empty bed and cried and cried before they took it away.
I do not grieve as one who has no hope. But still, I grieve.