Last September, my father fell and broke his neck. This fall impaired his ability to swallow, and he developed aspiration pneumonia several times. Then in April, Dad had surgery to correct the problem, and we were finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. After all the recent turmoil, Dad seemed to be on the road to recovery.
Following surgery, Dad was moved to a rehab facility to rebuild his strength. After spending so much time in a hospital bed, he had almost lost the ability to walk and his ability to talk was also severely impaired. Still, we had hope.
It was slow going. Dad was easily exhausted leaving him and the physical therapists frustrated. He started to refuse treatment.
Then we learned that some of his pain medication had been discontinued while at the hospital. No wonder he refused treatment. His medication was restarted and hope was rekindled.
Still, he was not improving. The nursing staff was becoming more and more frustrated saying Dad wasn’t trying hard enough. They decided to discharge him. They gave Mom one week’s notice to find another placement.
Mom couldn’t take him home as the house was not wheelchair accessible, and mom couldn’t care for him alone.
She was able to place him in a nursing home. Though the care was good the place was to depressing (and expensive). If he stayed, mom would exhaust all her savings in about 5 or 6 years.
Thankfully, my brother and his wife agreed to move in with mom to help care for Dad, and construction began to make the house wheelchair accessible. We pinned our hope on the day Dad could return home.
But it was not meant to be. Dad started developing pneumonia again, and his body became weaker and weaker.
On August 3rd, I got a call that Dad was nonresponsive, and I should come right away. I booked the earliest flight I could, for 6am the next morning.
That evening, I went to a family party with my father’s brother and sisters and their families. While there my brother called to tell me that Dad was awake and alert.
I told dad I loved him, and I was on my way. Everyone at the party was thrilled to hear that the situation did not seem as dire as we originally thought.
But, the next morning as the car pulled up to LaGuardia, my phone rang. It was 4:45am. My mom told me that Dad passed away.
When I spoke to Dad, he had just been anointed by his priest. His responsiveness was the last burst of energy that often comes before death.
At first, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to say goodbye to Dad before he died. Then I realized that the phone call the night before was our goodbye.
He knew I was with his siblings so they could share in the experience. He also knew that I was on my way to Oklahoma to be with Mom. He could go in peace.