Five yeas ago, we said our final goodbyes to my Dad, after 3 years of him living with Dale and I in Maine. What follows is not a sad recollection, but a celebration of cherished memories.
When we arrived at the airport to pick him up in June of 2013 to start his new life with us, he'd already got help disembarking and claiming his bags, and was waiting in the lobby for us, thinking he'd been stood up, poor man! I felt awful - we were so used to planning for disembarking last with a wheelchair, long customs lines and taking forever to pick up luggage at Boston, Logan, that our timing was awry for a little jetport like Portland. As you can see from the pic below, he just took it in his stride - no harsh words or chastising. It was very courageous of him to leave everything he'd ever known, and start again on a new continent at age 80 without his life-long partner, my Mom.
Oh, we had our differences! I was not the conventional woman he expected his daughter to grow up to be, and he was more traditional than I could swallow at times. After all, we'd lived apart, on different continents, experiencing different cultures and expectations for 25 years. We not only made it work, but created some fantastic new memories.
Here's a pic of Dad and I enjoying our last Thanksgiving meal together a few months before he passed. By this stage, it was easiest for him to eat with a spoon from a bowl, and with an apron to keep his shirts clean. He used a water glass with a handle that he could grip. Making use of little adaptions like this meant he could still be in control and feel independent. The little folding table in the background was there so he could make himself a cup of tea when he felt like it, with his water and medications handy. Over time, he developed lymphoma, to add to the list of other conditions he endured, and chose not to pursue treatment.
At the beginning of 2016, we noticed that he was sleeping for extended periods, and was awake less during the day. He was feeling weak, and listless, and was losing interest in his usually engaging jigsaw puzzles. His red blood cell count had dropped to the point that was usually recommended for a blood transfusion. Since his body was no longer able to produce enough red blood cells, this procedure would only offer a temporary, and ongoing, reprieve every 2 weeks or so. It would be disruptive and could cause him some discomfort. It was not a fix. It was a very tough decision to make, and to commit to, but he ultimately decided to embrace his journey and forego the stopgap intervention. He missed my Mom terribly, and wished to be rested, like her.
He assured me that he was ready, and was not afraid. He did ask me to do whatever was necessary to alleviate his pain, and was confident that I would do as he asked. He so very bravely stuck to his guns to die peacefully, without intervention. As the hospice nurse was setting us up for his care in our home, the local priest visited for his Last Rites. He passed a week later. Visitors came from near and far to say their goodbyes: from next door, to New Hampshire, Florida, England and New Zealand. It was a busy week of ferrying relatives to and from the airport at odd and uncoordinated hours - a task Dale took on without hesitation. He rigged up a 'virtual vigil' camera for relatives who couldn't visit in person, to sit by his bedside and spend time with him. We coordinated Skype calls and held the phone for him to talk during the day. It was busy! We had people stay with us on and off for the entirety of his last week with us, so setting up extra beds and meals happened in the midst of his care. We had meals together, laughed, disagreed, and bonded.
The expression on his face when he passed was so incredibly peaceful - he looked sweet and angelic. He was alone in his bed, with three of us chatting at the breakfast table in the next room. I hope this doesn't sound macabre, but it was quite beautiful. Though it was hard to stand by (I had to put on my detached, nurse demeanor), I'm happy to have given him the end he wanted.