When I got up this morning, I never envisioned that this would be Dad's last day. I am so thankful that I was able to get to Rome in time to be with him in his final hours... and that Kim and I, with the help of Betty from hospice care, were able to make him more comfortable during his last afternoon with us.
As soon as I finished unloading the van and processing comics, I left the store for Rome, arriving at the hospital at about 2:20. When I got to the room, Dad was obviously uncomfortable; he was moaning and was more agitated than usual. At one point, he even mumbled a word or two--something he hadn't done in the past couple of days.
I immediately asked Lisa, his nurse, to give him something for discomfort. She told me that she had given him 2 milligrams of morphine at 2 pm, but she gave him some Atavan. After a few minutes, it became evident that the Atavan wasn't helping; at that point, I asked her to giv him something else and she gave him 2 more milligrams of morphine.
Shortly after that, Kim arrived, and she too could see Dad's distress. Kim immediately got help from Betty, who came in and saw that he was uncomfortable; she ordered 5 milligrams of morphine and told the nurse to give him 5 milligrams every hour to ensure he didn't feel any pain. That seemed to make the difference; shortly after that, Dad began to relax, and his breathing became less forced.
"I think he's nearing the end," Betty said, pointing to Dad's shallow breathing and his pallor. "It could be hours, or it could be a day or two."
"Do you think that he needs to have someone with him through the night to make sure he doesn't die alone?" Kim asked. Betty nodded, adding that she couldn't say with certainty, but from her experience she thought that Dad's demise was approaching.
We talked to Dad, trying to calm him and let him know that Mom was waiting for him. We urged him to relax; he had done everything that he could do for everyone here, and now it was time for him to let go. Dad seemed to drift into a deep sleep.
Kim and I continued to talk about a schedule for the next day or so; in the interim, Cole and Christy had arrived, and Kim had called Jessica to let her know the time might be near. I also called Aunt Jean, who had just visited Dad that morning, to let her know.
At just after 4:30, as we were talking, Dad gasped a rattling, sharp breath; immediately, Kim and I knew this was different. As we both looked at him, we realized that his eyes were half-open and vacant, and he wasn't breathing. There were a few more shallow, infrequent breaths, but we were told that his heart had stopped and there was no longer any pulse. After a couple of more moments, Dad's once tenacious, now tenuous grasp on life released, and he was gone.
We cried--but to be honest, I cried more earlier in the day when I saw Dad's discomfort and couldn't do anything to assuage it. Dad's death was merciful and peaceful, ending a struggle that went on for days after the stroke had taken away that kind and noble mind and that generous and loving spirit; the body was slower to succumb.
Dad is free from pain now; he is whole and healthy and happy and reunited with Mom, with his parents, with Aunt Alice, with Aunt Norma, and Uncle Roy. Any tears we shed now are for those of us who have lost this remarkable man and have to endure a world that is lessened by his absence.
I feel both an inexpressible emptiness and a solemn joy--emptiness that, for the first time in my life, I exist in a world in which neither of my parents can advise me, share my joys, or console my sorrows; and joy that the burdens Dad had endured for so long have been taken from him.
Tonight and tomorrow and Thursday we alternate between mournful sorrow and wistful nostalgia as we remember so many happy events from so many years with Dad. Friday, we place Dad alongside Mom in the gravesite they both picked out years before--forever a part of West Rome, which they made their home in 1963 and now will never leave. And then we try to rebalance our lives.
Good night, Dad. Good night, Mom. I'll talk to you soon.