I’m feeling a little philosophical today, but I have good reasons. The last several weeks have been filled with intense, difficult, and heartfelt steps along life’s journey. My own journey has been affected, of course, but the main path of these weeks led through the life of my husband’s father as he flowed inexorably toward the last of the steps his journey required.
Hal has been ailing since July, when what was supposed to be a quick “procedure” proved too much for his 91-year-old body and he ended up fighting for his life. He pulled through, but never quite recovered. So, five weeks ago, when it seemed that his condition was deteriorating, we closed up shop and headed south, to lend him what help we could. We spent every day of two weeks in the nursing home with him, encouraging him and conversing with doctors, physical therapists, and caregivers. We got medication adjusted, helped him eat, and cheered his walks down the hall, whether he accomplished two feet or 50. When his tired body weakened further in spite of our efforts, we moved him to the hospital for more aggressive treatment.
After nearly two weeks, we all (Hal, too) realized that life would never be more than constant treatments, constant exhaustion, and constant pain. Hal elected to go home and we called hospice.
I can’t say enough good things about hospice care and the people who provide it. They took are of everything, including Hal, equipment, staffing, medication, comfort, and even us. Hal came home on a Friday and we called hospice every day and night to answer questions, send a nurse to evaluate things, demonstrate techniques, and reassure us that we were doing the right things.
Since home hospice does not provide round-the-clock care, we hired an agency to send health aides for two shifts each day. After the first night, we knew we needed that third shift covered as well. We were just getting to the point, after three days, where we thought we could handle one of the day shifts on our own, but never got the chance to implement it.
In retrospect, we should have realized that Hal was so near his ending. I remember I thought so during those last days in the hospital, but I got fooled by his joy at being home – his eyes were bright, he talked more, and even wanted to get in a wheelchair so he could go see the rest of the house and go outside on his patio. Sadly, he didn’t have the strength for that, though we promised we’d take him around if he got strong enough. Even so, he was able to visit with us and his daughter and her family. He was especially happy when his away-at-college-grandson came home to spend the weekend with him.
This surge of energy did not last more than a day. By Sunday he had slipped into unconsciousness. On Monday, we held his hands as he took his last few breaths. I hope our presence brought him comfort. I know I’ve never felt more humbled or privileged than I did while standing there.
I’ve posted here before about my ideas on death and dying. Everything I experienced the last weeks has taught me so much and solidified my views. I’ll talk more about that in future posts. For now, I want to say one more good-bye to a wonderful human being and great father-in-law.