Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deathbed Confidential

My pop stabilized on life support and for about a week we went from living by the hour to living by the day. Now we are, since yesterday afternoon, living by the minute. For how many more minutes now will I have a living father? It is a finite number.

I am doing, as everyone tells me, extraordinarily well. This means not being too hard on myself for writing down the incorrect time for a meeting at Leo’s new school and arriving one hour late. A similar screw up on my part caused Spuds to miss another basketball game. I have watched a lot of t.v. I stopped at 7 11 and bought a big pack of Good ‘N Plenty on the way to Cedars to consult in a private meditation room with a young Russian doctor (referred to by Aliki as "even more foreign than I am.") about whether upon the (inevitable) failing of his heart we want them to try to shock it back. We do not.

I was afraid that there might be tension between us. Aliki clings to him desperately. I am so afraid of pain. I thought we might disagree at some point. I donned my yellow paper scrubs and rubber gloves yesterday and entered the mechanical chamber of my father. I had seen him last on Thursday and he was pink and peaceful. The condition was different yesterday and I looked at him and I looked over at Aliki and we both nodded. The meeting with the doctor was heart breaking but also in a way one of the most beautiful experiences of my life because Aliki and were able to enter the room without having said a word to each other and we said in unison, to the doctor, "He’s tired." With that, we both know, with all certainty, that the death of my father is imminent and inevitable.

On Monday, we were called in yet again to meet with a whole team of doctors, the palliative crew discreetly on-call until we were prepared for them to waltz in, doe eyed and compassionately. My father was failing rapidly. It was suggested that his pacemaker be deactivated, after which his blood pressure medication be discontinued.. His legs had grown gangrenous and would require amputation even if there was the most remote hope of him ever surviving off of life support.

My father always had a short fuse with projectors and cameras and typewriters or just about any mechanical object he came into contact with. He never used a computer but spoke of them hatefully on a daily basis. The young resident who was charged to deprogram the pacemaker couldn’t get the software to cooperate and he spent what seemed an inordinate time on the phone with tech support to essentially facilitate pulling the plug on my pop. I could hear in my head the old man raging about god damned computers and technology and why is this taking so fucking long. The expectation was that he cease to function within about an hour after being logged off of the pacemaker program but he stayed with us about another 8, winning the bonus of the 9-18 rather than 9-17 date of death. I sat there with him all night. I felt horribly guilty for being so idle in his presence. I worked a bit on a crossword puzzle but it was, even in his absent state, difficult to be with my dad, the hardest working guy who ever lived, and not be doing something gainful. I took over Aliki’s little chair and dozed a bit while she stretched out a bit in the meditation room while the doctor watched the heart rate fade on the monitor.

Aliki caressed and kissed my father’s ravaged body while he died and after he died. She described again and again her intimate and loving care of him. We were told that after death, the patient’s family could remain with the body with four hours until it was removed to the morgue. It was four a.m. We had been up all night. For several nights. The room wasn’t smelling really great. I asked if we HAD to stay for four hours at which point someone rushed in with some forms to be signed and said we could leave at any time. I presumed that Aliki was as desperate for fresh air as I was and I walked her to her car and watched her drive off. I went home, rested for an hour and then began making a large number of phone calls. Aliki turned the car around as soon as I was out of sight, returned to Cedars and stayed with my dad’s body until they literally locked her out of the morgue.

She is doing fine now. Well, you know. On paper, I guess I’m doing fine too. The last few months have been hard on her physically and her hair needs some emergency tlc and I hope she burns the housecoat and lumberman’s jacket she has taken as her hospital uniform, along with the sparkly kitty totebag. It is amazing that some guard at Cedars hadn’t kindly intervened and had her transferred to a shelter. She has been assigned to make herself beautiful for Grandpa’s service, and although the challenge is a daunting one, she is up to it. My wacko crazy making stepmother, selfless giver of the strongest purest love I have ever witnessed is the closest I will ever come to having a parent again. Sad and blessed.

She has shown me (although maybe it’s still a bit creepy) the culmination of a beautiful and intimate marriage. Both of them often drove me out of my mind but they sure did teach me how to be married and what it is actually possible to aspire to. I see clearly my bond to my father and know that we loved each other with all our might and that we have each made the other a better person. We got the father-daughter thing right in the end, after years and years of getting it beautifully wrong. Cool beans. But the best, was what I learned about marriage, as I watched one of thirty years duration come to its physical end.

The worst is the sadness. I had a dad for over fifty years and now I don’t.


Ruby del Barco said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

FionnchĂș said...

I like the juxtaposition of that great photo of him with trombone and the medieval funereal illumination. Dignified yet imaginative, like him and his daughter. May eternal light shine upon him.

Mimi Pond said...

Layne, this was so lovely. It made me cry.