Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Going Home

There are portions of the year that are just a bit more emotional for me.  The second half of January and the first half of February fall into that category.  They'll probably always stay that way.  I am grateful that I came upon the story I wrote about yesterday for the simple, selfish fact that it distracted me from what I was really thinking about. 

Two years ago, yesterday, I woke before sunrise.   I arrived at the airport just before dawn and watched as the sky grew full of magnificent colors and light from the bridge to the terminal.  I knew where I was going, and I knew why.  I'd spent the prior two weeks making the preparations to leave.  I knew that the time was near, and I knew I would have to go.

My father was dying.

Though I was never able to fully explain it to anyone then or now, I just knew that it was time for me to go.  He had been told the day prior that the cancer had grown far more aggressive, that the tumors now infiltrated both his lungs and his liver.  That the chemo he'd just been given hadn't made a difference. 

He had two oncologists.  One was a realist.  At first my parents hated that man, with his somber talk of staging and time.  They didn't ever want to hear what he had to say, because they wanted to cling to whatever tiny piece of hope they could, even when it became obvious that the hope was slipping away.  The other oncologist, different.  He was the guy who never let you believe it was over.  The one who gave unending hope, let you hang on to that chance of making it, even if it was less than 5%.  He was the guy who'd let you keep fighting even when your body screamed at you to stop.  He was the guy who'd let you go out in a blaze of glory, even if he knew it would never make a difference.

I am grateful, so grateful, that my father had them both.  They balanced each other.  Sometimes he needed one, sometimes he needed the other.  And then, one day, the first told him the fight was coming to an end.  The second offered to load the cannons again. 

And he was done. 

He was ready to stop fighting.  He was tired of being sick.  He accepted that his time with them was done, and hospice was called.

I flew home the morning that hospice came.  The flight was hard, harder than the one I'd made the year before when he was in respiratory distress and in the ICU.  Harder than the flight I'd made home after he was discharged and settled.  This one was harder, because I knew it was the last one.  I knew.

I knew that even though they said he might have six weeks that he didn't, and I knew I had to go now.

I had always known this day would come.

My brother picked me up that morning, and the look on his face told me that it was bad.  Worse than it was when we'd left just two weeks earlier after spending Christmas back home.  He was right.

Dad was curled up in a ball when I got there.  Almost catatonic.  I suspected that it wasn't the cancer, but the medications.  I talked to the hospice nurse, and we devised a plan.  We'd take him off all of it, save the pain meds, adjust the dosages of those, and see what happened. 

The next day, he was back.  He was alert.  He was talking and laughing.  He was smoking pot in the garage and eating entire jars of peanuts.  He was drinking margaritas with us on the patio. 

He spent some time most afternoons out there, oxygen tubing snaked through the house.  Out there, he could just be.



I had some tough conversations with him that first week, some of the hardest discussions I have ever had in my life.  I had to sit him down and witness the DNR paperwork.  I had to be the one in the room when he asked the doctor what it would feel like to die.  I had to ask whether he wanted to be alert or knocked out.  I knew that to keep him alert, he'd have to exchange some degree of pain, as the cancer had progressed so much, but I left that in his hands. 

He asked me to do whatever I could to keep him alert for as long as I could.  And so, the dance began. 

When cancer affects someone's liver, it completely changes how they metabolize everything, including medications.  Every day required adjustments.  Sometimes tranquilizers, sometimes anti-anxiety meds, sometimes sleeping pills, sometimes more pain meds.  All of it changed, every day. 

I was a walking alarm clock, sometimes with ten different alarms set a day for medication.  I took him to work, then hung out in the parking lot until he was ready to go back home.  He wanted to go, but he wanted me there.  So, I did it. 

I carried nausea medication, ativan, oxycodone and morphine in my purse as if that's something normal people do.

I slept in fifteen minute increments, I kept my glasses on all the time so I could peek across the room and check on him.  The agitation always got worse at night, and it made me nervous.

He wanted to see his family, so we made that happen.  They all came, save a few.  The night two of his sisters spent the night and we all camped out in the living room is one I will never forget and will always be grateful for.  He made time for the people he needed to.  He made one last delivery run for work.  He made amends for the past, he held the hands of his brothers.  He comforted them, he comforted us all.

He worried that I was missing my family back home, he urged me to leave if I needed to.  I told him that I was there to help him for as long as he needed me.  We had an understanding.

The morning of my birthday, even though the night before had been a rough one, he got up and showered and dressed, then announced we were going out for breakfast.  Told me that even though it was my birthday, I had given him the gift that year.

He was gone four days later.

I had been home less than three weeks.

I miss him every day, and this experience changed me in so many ways.  The lessons I've learned I have tried to pass on to anyone starting down this path. 

Love for a parent is as unconditional as love for a child.
 
Listen to your heart.  If it tells you to go, go.
 
Listen.  Absorb the memories.  Take it and keep it.
 
You are stronger than you think.
 
You can't tell someone you love them too much.
 
Life is not fair, but it is beautiful.  Death can be too.

18 comments:

  1. I am bawling.

    So much love to you, Kelly. So much love. I didn't realize we'd both lost them at the same time of year (February 4, for me); the first three months of every year are the hardest with Dad's passing, followed by his birthday and mine in March. I love the picture of you hanging out, sipping on 'ritas while he's stoned and munching on peanuts.

    That is priceless and worth a miilion words ♥

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    Replies
    1. I swear I will take on anyone who claims there is no medical benefit to marijuana. There absolutely are benefits.

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  2. Great post. I lost my Dad to melanoma Feb 15th and understand those rounds of drugs, and the DNR conversations, the gifting of everything, the signing of the will. Tough things that make us tougher. No one understands what it is like to lose a parent until they have lost one. It never goes away. Hugs to you.

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  3. Oh, your Dad posts always do me in. I feel you. I have done those trips where you look across at the person you're traveling with and say "you know this isn't a rescue mission, right?". Agree with the medical MJ, but my mom will not relent. We offered to smoke it for her. ;) Your Dad seems like a cool guy who produced a cool kid.

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  4. All I have for you is hugs today. I think this post is going to help a lot of people Kelly. Please just know that. You and your father were obviously very lucky to have each other. The Universe can be so very cool like that...

    xoxo

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  5. That's was hard to read, so it must have been even harder to write. Thank you for sharing. It's all I'm strong enough to say. He would be so proud.

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  6. Kelly, My heart aches along side yours. I lost my dad two years ago as well, and just this past weekend, I said goodbye to his only brother. I like to believe that they are together now and that makes me happy. I miss my dad every day. My heart breaks that I don't have more time. Thank you for sharing. Thank you.

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  7. Your dad was so lucky to have you there. You gave him back his life.

    xoxox

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  8. Love you lots. Thanks for sharing a piece of your life...an important one

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  9. It's a club nobody wants to be a member of. This July will be 10years without my mom. She died in a car wreck, on my wedding day, leaving the church on her way to the reception. Anniversaries suck and summer just isn't summer like it used to be. It doesn't get easier with time, it gets much much harder. Thinking of you today and all others missing a parent or two. Hugs my fellow club members, keep on breathin!

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  10. Beautiful! I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm glad that you took him off the meds so he could be alert and you could enjoy time with him.

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  11. I was so in awe of how brave he was when all came up for that last visit.
    He told me to take of his brother...I told him I would and I do.
    Miss him

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  12. I had the same thing happen to me when my Father died, I knew, I just knew...he passed 3 hours after I got there, we lived close so I was there every single day of his 13 month fight...I look back and think I gave him the best last 13 months I could give him and I know he appreciated it...big hugs to you...from someone who knows exactly how you feel

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  13. Hi Kelly,
    I'm a lucky guy!
    Every day when I get to work and go into my lab/office, I see this Christmas card from friend of mine. I actually have it strategically placed next to the handle of my refrigerator, I happen to visit that location frequently. So anyhow, I have to see this friend of mine embracing his wife, hugging his kids, and beaming with pride with his grandchildren, . . . ALL DAY LONG.
    I'm a lucky guy!
    I get to see smiles that he created on a regular basis, I sometimes share stories with those smiles about the guy who crafted them.
    I'm a lucky guy!
    I have a great friend and mentor.
    I miss him, but I am truly fortunate to see his smiles all the time.
    Love you all,
    Jim Seino

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  14. I'm so sorry I'm just seeing this.

    Our experiences were so similar, except that I was the one picking up my brother at the airport. I was the one trying to help him figure out when the "time" to come was. It's so hard when you're away.

    You feel so incredibly lucky that your parent was able to die at home, surrounded by the people they loved, and to say goodbye. But it was all so hard that it just leaves such a mark. It still haunts me. All the time.

    Love you. xo

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  15. I lost my Dad to cancer this past October. We had 8 weeks from the time they said the cancer was too aggressive to treat anymore and the time he passed. Those eight weeks were so hard for him. He had already lost so much. But, they were a gift to us. 8 weeks of time spent loving and laughing and being family with all our hearts. Thank you Kellie. And may all the good fill your heart.

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