My Dad peacefully passed away at home on Thursday the 9th of December 2021.
Words will never explain my feelings towards my extraordinary Dad. As a young person I firmly believed that by the time my Dad would be old enough to die, they would have invented a cure for death. Here we are many many years later, and no such cure has been invented.
He did it his way in the end, which was waiting for us to not be in the room with him. I’d been there with him almost every minute of the preceding 6 days since he was placed into palliative care, sleeping just one room away with my subconscious tuned into his every breath. Not going to lie there wasn’t a lot of sleep had and the quality of it wasn’t great, but what Dad needed was more important than what I needed at that time.
I had gone with the other half to get his daily scripts of morphine and another drug they use – usually either Mum or The Other Half would go. As the weekend was coming up and we’d had some trouble sourcing these drugs from our usual chemists the doctor had ordered enough for the weekend and we finally had found a pharmacy that tends to stock plenty of them given they supply all the local nursing homes.
While we were gone Mum had gone upstairs to send some emails. When she came back down he was not breathing anymore. She called The Other Half kind of in a panic saying she thought Dad was gone – I was just coming out the door of the shopping centre so The Other Half motioned and yelled out the car window that I should hurry.
We got back home to discover Mum was right. The geriatrician had been right about a fast decline. But Dad had also been right too – it was just a forgotten thing at that moment. It wasn’t until my Adelaide family arrived for the funeral that my Aunt reminded me..
On the 29th of October after the geriatrician sat Dad down to tell him the diagnosis, we came back here and sat out in the nirvana to have coffee. Dad called his sister (my aunt) and said “they’ve given me six weeks to live”. My sister and I looked at each other quizzically – no time frames had been mentioned and the geriatrician had been very specific with us about that – saying she couldn’t say how long it would be but that she thought it would be rapid.
Dad passed away exactly 5 weeks and 6 days later.
Many people find death scary but something that I have learned as part of this process is that I am not one of those people.
It might not sound right to anyone else but I was really happy for Dad. When his body had let him down nearly ten years beforehand, he coped very well with that. He did not cope at all well when his mind chose to let him down. Watching him go through this constant confusion and agitation and distress was hard for us all.
The hardest moment for me during this time was when I had to leave Dad in the dementia unit that first day. He just wanted to go home. I just wanted to take him home. So when it came to palliative care I was determined it would be at home as he would have wanted it to be. Mum was not so sure to begin with but now she is convinced it was the right and best thing for us to do. I am so glad we chose it, not only was he comfortable in his own home but we were able to be comfortable there and we could be with him 24/7 which would not have been possible in hospital.
Two things really helped me through this time. The first is going to sound quite crazy but it was a TV show I discovered earlier this year called The Casketeers. This is a TV show about a funeral home in New Zealand. The traditions they have around death are far more beautiful than ours – our traditions tend to keep death at arms length. One of their traditions is to dress the body and thanks to having seen that, I chose to do that for Dad.
The other thing was a book I was reading in the week Dad was in the geriatric unit called “Smoke gets in your eyes” by Caitlin Doughty. On Amazon it says of this book – “Exploring our death rituals – and those of other cultures – she pleads the case for healthier attitudes around death and dying.” – it really helped me with my attitude to all that was happening.
On returning home to find Dad had made his departure, we sat with him while we waited for the palliative care nurse to attend and issue us the required paperwork. We sat with him while we waited for the funeral home to arrive and collect him.
While we’d been waiting I realised letting him leave the house was going to be the hardest and most emotional moment for me, but I need not have feared.
The wonderful team who arrived read the room perfectly and when I said “do you want us to leave the room while you do what you need to do” – they said of course not, you have been caring for him, you can help us if you want. They made me a part of the process of his leaving the house. I even got to wheel him out on the stretcher and load him into the van. I can’t tell you how much being a part of that meant to me. Thus I did not lose it as I had expected I would.
There certainly have been tears during this time. I’m sad for my Dad who worked so hard for so many years and retired too late to enjoy what he had earned and travel as he wanted to. Covid kicked off the month after they retired so the world cruise, trips to Hawaii and Italy did not happen.
My Dad was always there for me whenever I needed him and this year I have been able to return that favour to him. He would be tremendously proud of how strong I was for him. I am still shocked at it myself. Dad taught me so much about myself during this time and I won’t ever be quite the same, but in a good way.
I am concerned there is going to come a day when I fall in a heap but I’m learning that for me grief is not really quite like that. It is the small moments when I least expect it – when I went to Aldi and saw someone wearing a similar pair of shoes to Dad’s – when the airconditioner at our hotel didn’t work and I thought I’ll call Dad, he’ll know how to fix it before realising I can’t call Dad. I can never call Dad again.
I will leave you with this thought from the speech I gave at his funeral, which was honestly the best funeral I have ever been to and a fitting send off for Dad with over 100 people attending and many more watching online.
At the end right before he entered palliative care Dad became very impatient. He would say Let’s go, let’s go. What do we do now? What’s next?
What would he want me (us) to do next? Dad’s biggest regret was that he didn’t travel while he could have. He could have taken holidays or time off from work. He could have asked someone else to step up to the plate and be the reliable one for a while. That thing you have always wanted to do but kept putting off – stop doing that to yourself. Take the holidays you are entitled to. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Seize the day. All that stuff from the Dead Poets Society movie – but this time, let us all actually DO IT.
Because they are not inventing a cure for death, friends.