A melancholy Monday morning for a variety of reasons--only some being typical work related. It's my brother's birthday, which ordinarily wouldn't trigger the blues . . . but instant association with my parents comes. Plus, part of my Sunday morning hike took me past the location that I spotted the pair of coyotes
, signalling my parents' forthcoming journey to the other side over two years ago.
My sister has written most eloquently about our parents' deaths in various Open Salon blogs
, so no need to attempt replication. Living just 5 minutes from their assisted living facility, she was close at hand for their final days.
The biggest fear I have concerning death involves an inevitable lingering death, filled with suffering--one that would drain financial resources that could better be used elsewhere. Thus, my ideal death would be over painlessly and quickly ... very much like my mother's.
It didn't seem so at the time. Our reaction was shock. Dad was the one who was having the serious health issues--enduring the embarrassing side effects and nausea of chemo therapy for his stage 4 Leukemia condition. He was deteriorating, going through undesired treatments for Mom's sake--to last as long as he could. She had made it plain that she wanted to go first, and she was distressed that the doctor pronounced her in good condition for an 87 year old at her last wellness physical. She had spent a lifetime being of service to Dad, but she wanted no part of his funeral or life afterwards.
Silently she prayed to die.
And she did ... quietly in the middle of the night... without warning.
Dad called that morning--at the ominous hour of 5:30 (Arizona time). "John, I can't wake your mother. I think she died." I don't recall many more specifics from that brief conversation--it's a surreal misty eyed memory now.
We can't control how we die. My dad wanted to depart alongside Mom, and he would have if allowed. He was a Gary Cooper/John Wayne type of father hero--strong willed with a strict moral code of honor and mostly silent when it came to expressing feelings. He wasn't so quiet about his love for Mom and his urge to follow her during the funeral. "If God can answer her prayers, He can damn well answer mine!"
While many visitors and personnel at the assisted care home tried dissuading Dad from feeling this way, my brother, sister, and I knew better. We mostly listened; after all, this was about the only time we'd heard him speak from his heart... close and personal. It wasn't about the Stock Market...or politics... or even his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. It was about his life -- their lives and how he just wanted it to be over as soon as possible. He didn't even bother to hold back the tears at times.
Three weeks passed. Just after getting back home after work on Monday, my sister called--her voice choked up. Her first word was "Dad" so instant images about his imminent (and desired) death came to mind... but additional words about him having a "stroke" and being taken to the hospital caused me to utter an expletive.
That was the last thing that Dad would have wanted. He was a proud man who thrived on self-control. And now he was lying inert in a Rockford hospital with no set time table on how long he would remain in this life. From my sister's phone calls I could tell that he was attempting to exert as much control as he had left--refusing to allow breathing tubes for comfort. If the hospital had a life line plugged in, he would have found a way to pull the plug.
My sister reports that Dad did see Mom during those last few days. He may have tried to die earlier than when he did, only to have Mom intervene to prevent him from dying when only my sister was with him in the room.
My brother and I were on our way back to Illinois from Oregon and Arizona. We had gone through Priceline to get as good an airline deal as we could on such short notice. My flight was routed through Atlanta so didn't arrive at O'Hare until 10 minutes after the last bus to Rockford--I'd have to stay overnight near the airport. My brother and his wife were more fortunate and had arrived at the Rockford hospital that evening. My sister was now relieved from two long days vigil and could go home for much needed sleep.
I called my brother from the airport hotel. He said that Dad was in the last stages and was going back and forth between this world and the next, but he did seem to understand what was going on around him. I told him to let Dad know that he need not wait for me. My prayers for him were to have a comfortable journey to the next world.
Dad practiced self-reliance. Fiercely logical, he was convinced that scientific investigation would uncover the facts and lead to the truth. He had issues with belief and never relied on luck. At the end of life it seemed to be a cruel "joke" that he had so little control over his body functions, yet looking back it could be that he was granted one last Life lesson on the necessity for relying on others during his final hours. Fortunately my brother and his wife were around to deliver the message.
They washed his feet and prayed at his side, including the Baha'i prayer for the departed, repeating the final lines 19 times:
We all, verily, worship God
We all, verily, bow down before God.
We all, verily, are devoted unto God.
We all, verily, give praise unto God.
We all, verily, yield thanks unto God.
We all, verily, are patient in God.
After the last phrase wafted through the air, Dad let go and took his final breath.