I forgot that I'd written about it in a diary until last weekend. You may remember that I shipped over the stuff that has been in storage since I moved to the UK. As I dug through it, trying to corral it into some sort of order, I came across that little pink notebook. I sat down and re-read my entries on his death. And now I feel like sharing them.
3 September 2001
Pa is hard to look at. He's covered in tubes and scabby bits of flaky skin and bruises. He looks like he's been inflated with a bicycle pump, skin stretched taut over water-retaining flesh. Only his forehead is really recognizable, with the vertical concentration crease between his beetle brows.
Yesterday I went to visit him in the evening. It was the first time I'd seen him in over a year. He was just 24 hours out of the surgery to remove the abdominal aortic aneurysm. All these things welled up in me when I saw him lying there puffed up and indolent - rage and pain and pity and despair and love for him vying to dominate my mind. Nearly fell down a few minutes later. Legs stopped working. Chest got tight. Couldn't talk to him very well. Just said his name, told him I loved him, tried desperately to get him to respond. Felt a kind of floppy hope when he twitched his hand or brow, seemingly in response to my touch although he was moving around reflexively when I didn't touch him.
Today, though, nothing. I talked and talked to him, having worked through the initial shock and just wanting to share with him, not knowing if he could hear me. Said every family member's name, told him C [my cousin] was coming tomorrow, hang in there and the little voice in the back of my head screamed please wake up please. I don't think he will, though. He's dependent on the respirator and his lungs are filling with fluid and he's got pneumonia. I cling to the fact that the doctors are amazed he survived the surgery at all and that his kidneys have started to function again.
I want him to wake up and be enraged at the tubes and the monitors and the fussy nurses and get well and come home again. I also know that if he does regain consciousness, the probability of him being able to walk or take care of himself is virtually nil and so I also want him to go before he can be consciously stripped of his dignity. Conflicted.
16 September 2001
Pa died on September 7. I don't know what to say except it was a horribly wrenching experience. He had gained 50 lbs since admission to the hospital. His kidneys stopped processing urine, so fluids were pooling. A nephrologist began performing acute dialysis, siphoning off three litres at a time. It seemed to help a bit. His face and neck started to seem more normal. He never regained consciousness. Even when the doctors removed him from the dopamine and whatever else they were giving him that was keeping him asleep and immobile, he didn't wake up.
My family and I met with Dr T, his attending physician, at 3:30 PM on Friday September 7, 2001. My mother told the doctor that we had decided to invoke Pa's health care directive. The doctor offered no resistance, saying Pa's condition did not look promising. So at 4:00 PM, we went to say goodbye.
Pa was a little restless, tossing about a bit. He kept struggling with the respirator tube at his mouth, as if it weren't giving him enough air. Most distressing was that his eyes would open a fraction now and then, raising our hopes that on some level he was hearing us. I don't know, maybe he could. My aunt kept pressing her cheek against his, saying, "I love you, I don't want you to go."
We took turns to be alone with him. I could hear C sobbing through most of his time. I couldn't cry much. I don't know why. It's like the grief balled up in my stomach and just hurt like hell, like I'd been punched. I told Pa I loved him, and the family was there, and they loved him. I told him not to worry about Grammy, we were going to take care of her. I told him thank you for being good to me. I told him, when they take the tubes away, just to let go. Maybe he did hear that part, because that's what he did about half an hour later.
My mom and dad were too late to see him because they had had to stay behind and sign paperwork with Dr T. I thanked my mom for her sacrifice. She reminded me that she was the last one to speak to him when he was conscious, before he went into surgery. She felt she'd been privileged enough, especially since he told her, after she reassured him that the family would take care of Grammy, "You're the best." Those were his last words, unless he tried to tell us something after they put that damn respirator tube in.
I'm glad I got to see him without the tubes and the IVs. He looked more normal, just with a little rattly sound in his throat like he had a bad cold. He still smelled like himself, in spite of all the weird hospital smells.