It’s been six months since I last posted. Six very long months.
Dad had a heart attack right after Thanksgiving. He was complaining of back pain, a symptom no one had ever mentioned before in any heart education materials. He sat there through it, clearly in pain. I asked if he wanted to go to the ER and he said no. He thought he’d pulled a muscle. The next day …. He was in the ICU for four days and then was transferred to a rehab facility.
As I write this, I’ve mostly processed through all of it and am speechless. My Dad’s brother also had a heart attack, a few weeks earlier, and also went to rehab. They followed almost exactly the same journey.
Dad did well in rehab for one week and then the downward spiral began. He had a 99% blockage in all of his heart arteries. He was not a candidate for bypass. He just wasn’t strong enough at 82 and undergoing dialysis to be able to survive such a huge procedure. I think back to his Primary Care provider who actually called me a few days after he passed. She said she was grateful the cardiologist had opted not to intervene and prolong the death process. I hadn’t thought yet about that. I was still dealing with “What if I could have helped him more/done more/been a better caregiver/been a better daughter?”
Dad said in the ICU that it was “his time to die.” He knew all along it was coming. The weekend before, he suddenly asked me, “What about you? What will you do when I’m not here?”
I was flippant. “The same stuff I do now only more of it.” I didn’t realize that he was actually dying. I thought it was just him being upset he wasn’t at home. If he was confused and delirious that was because he was in an unfamiliar place. I visited him every day while he was in rehab. Again, I was horrified by the realities of nursing homes. Some of the people there never got a single visitor except for the people who come in as a volunteer activity. No family. No friends. It was so horrifyingly sad. I was there every day and if Dad needed anything I made sure he got it within hours.
But he had been sick a long time and I had watched him. I knew he was tired. I was tired! Dialysis is exhausting for the person and for the family. When I went through photos afterward, I could clearly see what I hadn’t before. Dad’s exhaustion was showing.
Ironically, his brother who’d also had a heart attack had complications and decided to go the hospice route. He died December 8. My Dad, though he said he wanted to stop dialysis, couldn’t get the words out of his mouth and those words, “I want this to be my last dialysis treatment,” are words only he can say.
During a dialysis treatment, he told one of the techs, “I’ve lived a good life and I’ll be okay.” When she came back, he was unconscious. They transported him to Parkland Hospital. That was December 23rd. He was delirious and very, very sick. I truly think the doctors found something. I know there are results on certain tests which tell that the body is in a dying process. Why they didn’t tell me I don’t know. But just as I was fearing I’d have to break my promise to him to keep him out of long term care, he passed and went home to be with his brother.
First off let me say Parkland Hospital was a wonderful place and I was glad he was there. They treated him very well which was good because I couldn’t spend a lot of time with him in those last two days. If I had KNOWN they were his last two days I would have been there all time but I didn’t. I was, however, very grateful I was able to keep my promise.
Suddenly, I’m not a caregiver anymore. I’m not taking care of anyone. I just sat down for the rest of December and pretty much all of January. I don’t really remember anything of January. February I got busy cleaning. In March I got a plan and decided to move forward with that plan.
Dad’s last words to me were, “Take care of the house.” So I’m cleaning and fixing all of those things we never had time or energy to clean and fix. And in the process I’m moving on. It’s been a process to reinvent myself from caregiver to just a normal person who’s about to lay sheet vinyl by herself. Dad taught me a thousand things about house maintenance and repair. He wasn’t always a saint and when he was younger, he had a lot of rage, but when he died we were pretty close and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful he died at peace. I’m grateful he was able to have someone waiting for him at the pearly gates.
I am moving on. I’m not moving fast but I’m up and moving. It will take time for my grief to fully process but I’ve learned over the years not to listen to the guilt. I did the best I could and I couldn’t have done it any differently. I can’t take what I know now and go back to redo it. I can only take what I know now and do it better tomorrow. That’s life. That’s moving on.