Today, Jim and I hit a few grad parties. We went to three to be exact and they were all boys that we have known since they were little. Each one graduated with a different plan in mind and were in different groups in school.
Spring has finally arrived and the day was glorious. It was also the first day in a long time that I wasn't waiting for a phone call because a hospice patient was on his/her way to heaven. Sometimes I forget what it's like to not be on guard, to not be thinking that I am going to have to leave, to be able to let loose and enjoy myself.
On Wednesay night, my patient passed away. He was an old guy, a world war II vet and a husband and father. He was going about his life, living with his daughters, taking care of his demented wife and got sick. Before his daughter knew it, he was losing weight and not feeling well. Four weeks after that, he came home from the hospital to a hospital bed in the living room.
I admitted him last week and didn't think we would lose him. I thought that he would just perk up, revoke hospice and live another year with his daughters. Then, a few days ago, he took a turn for the worse...
I had just put the burgers and brats on the table, the corn and the baked potatoes for dinner. The boys were sitting down after washing their hands when the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw the number. No way, I thought and answered...."Terry, I think he's gone" I heard on the other end. I was stunned and and said so. She just said it again and I told Jim and the boys I had to go...my patient just passed away.
I got there and walked over to the daughter and hugged her as I looked toward the hospital bed. He was indeed gone. "How did it go?" I asked. She told me that he had a quiet afternoon and his breathing had evened out, he seemed so peaceful and comfortable and decided that it was time to move him. She rearranged him on his back and sat down next to him on the chair and noticed that he was taking deeper breaths but was still very peaceful. She had a feeling he was dying so she called the family around and he took three more deep breaths and stopped...he was gone.
There were tears and laughs, memories and thankfulness while we waited for the mortuary. I sat at the kitchen table and made my phone calls. His wife sat with me but had no idea that her husband of 60 years was gone. She didn't know who the man in the bed in the living room was. She thought he may be her father. Her family decided that they were going to wait to tell her and asked my opinion. I didn't know what to say. I began to think of what it must have been like to spend most of your adult like raising kids, making decisions, hating and loving each other and then to have that person not know who you are. Sometimes life is so cruel.
His daughters and I talked about that while we waited for him to be taken away. They talked of what a lovely man he was and how he took care of his wife as she progressed into the abyss. They talked of one day, he already an old man, coming over to say he didn't want to take care of her anymore because it was so hard and his daughter saying she would help but he signed on for better or worse. They talked of how he went home, took care of her and never mentioned it again.
The guys showed up and took him away but before he went out the front door, his girls, one by one, kissed his forehead and thanked him for being their father. They stood and watched as the van pulled away and wiped tears. They had put their mother to bed because she was beginning to get agitated and didn't understand what was going on. I thought again about how they have been married for 60 years and as he left, she was in bed...she missed saying goodbye to the man she spent her whole life with. I thought about how unfair dementia is and maybe it's better to leave before it gets a hold of you...not that we have any control.
As I left the family, I hugged each one of them and let them know how proud and honored I was to help them with their father, what a wonderful job they did taking care of him and wished them luck with their mother. Then I got in my car and sat in silence and tried to put the night in it's place in my head.
I thought about Wednesday night while I was out at the parties. These boys will go to college, find mates eventually and try to make a life. They don't know how it will turn out and either do we. Twenty five years ago, I was in the same boat. The only thing we can do, I guess, is try to make the best of it, love those folks we commit to and remember we are in it for the long haul. Even elderly men who have been married forever forget that sometimes.
But, at the end of our life, we can only hope that we are in the livingroom, in a hospital bed or in our bedroom, in our bed, surrounded by the people we love the most caring for us...holding our hands, changing our position, keeping our mouths moist and every so often bending down to give us a light kiss on the lips. My guess is, if we have that...we've done something right.
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,