Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Time for Tears

The neurologists tell us that the damage from Dad's stroke is massive and irrevocable. 

Dad only had three joys left to him. He loved to go out to enjoy a good meal; he loved to spend time talking with me, Susan Kim, Cole, Christy, and Jessica; and he loved watching DVDs on the bedroom TV/DVD combo unit that we gave him for Christmas.

In one of fate's most cruel moments, he suffered a stroke that left him unable to swallow food, requiring a feeding tube for the remainder of his life; his speech center is so damaged that he will not be able to put words together coherently and may not understand what others are saying to him; and he can no longer see. 

Dad was very specific in his living will and his medical power of attorney; should I suffer an injury or illness that leaves me incapable of regaining cognitive skills, he said, I am to be denied all means of life support, including nutrition and hydration.  Should injury or illness make meaningful recovery possible with any meaningful quality of life, I am to be denied all means of life support, including nutrition and hydration.

Today, I have spoken to a variety of friends in search of guidance. As Rabbi Steve said, "you know that your Dad would not want to live like this. You know that you would not want to live like this. You are honoring his life by following his wishes."

"You know what he wants you to do," Jean said to me. "It's the hardest thing, but it's the only right thing to do. He's counting on you now." Jean knows; she faced a similar devastating loss of her own father not too very long ago.

My mother's twin sister, my aunt Jean, also called today. Not knowing the solemn decision we had been weighing, she said to me, "Cliff, I think it's time for you to let your dad go."  And her voice sounded so much like Mom's that it was is mother had reached out through her to make sure I knew what had to be done.

Dad left us on Monday. Nothing we can do will ever bring him back. Nothing we can do will save him a life of misery, a life he would hate unceasingly. I cannot do this; I cannot strip my father of his dignity and his humanity just so that we can hold on to the vessel that once housed this remarkable, generous, kind, loving man.  

On Monday, I wrote about how haunted I was by Dad's statement that he wanted to die; I saw it as a cry of anguish and anger and frustration. Now I realize that I had misinterpreted it; Dad knew that his ability to communicate was ending, and in his last words, in that last glorious, unbridled struggle against the impending solitude borne by that stroke, he wanted us to remember his wishes. It was not a statement of anguish: it was an urgent reminder of what he needed from us.

Oh, how I miss him already. Today, I wanted to call him for advice, and for a brief moment I pressed autodial 2 in order to call his home; I had to laugh at the irony before I cried once again at the enormity of the loss.

For four and a half years, Dad has missed Mom with every fiber of his being while he patiently completed the tasks that he promised to fulfill. When that checklist was done, Dad waited for the opportunity to be reunited with her; that journey of reunion began on Monday, and all we can do is help Dad make the journey with the same placid dignity with which he lived his life.

I love you, Dad. I've told Mom that you're on your way...


Anonymous said...

it is so sad about your dad, my brother. he has lived a long meaningful life. i know it is hard, but it is time to let him go. your mom has been waiting for him for a long time. now is the time for them to get back together. you will always have good and bad memories. cherish them. if you need us, just call. love, aunt donna

Paul Biggers said...

Dearest Cliff, This is your Uncle Paul. Being the youngest of the family I am closer in age to you than your Dad. Watching as Mama faded from us in mind and body from the dreaded disease Alzheimers, I have a sense of what you are going through. Sometimes it is very hard but we must love enough to let go. I believe that when my brother leaves the temple of his body he will go to be with Mama. Welcomed into her awaiting loving arms just as she welcomed Alice home. In Heaven he will become young and vibrant once again and leave pain and disease far behind.

Sincerly and Tearfully ,Uncle Paul
Please know that I am just a phone call away.