Friday, February 21, 2014

The Fourteen Day Goodbye

It has been a little over a year since dad passed away and seven months before that - in June - his dad, grandpa, passed away. But grandpa (known as O.J.) was 90 years old and was getting more frail as the days went on. Dad, Terry, was 63 and the time from which we discovered he had been sick - and sick for years, was hospitalized and succumbed to Cancer was all of two weeks.

It hit even harder that his visit to the hospital for what he thought was Bronchitis was on December 24th, 2012...Christmas Eve. What followed that were constant updates from his wife Shelley and calls from him - that is when he had enough oxygen and strength to breathe on his own. Very quietly we found out that it was stage four Cancer that had moved from his stomach to his lungs. This was going to be fatal and very soon.

I can't imagine how he must have felt and what was going through his mind when it was explained that there was not going to be a recovery - there is no would be useless. The first week of 2013 had us - my brother, sister, Shelley and dad's brother Don - detail to dad that he had to decide when he wanted to be intubated, taken off the respirator and slowly, peacefully pass away. A friend and local Pastor John Evans played a big part in helping dad (and us) cope with the situation. We more/less lived in that wing of Adena Regional Medical Center for a couple of days.

As weird as it was, the hospital was crawling with old friends and faces - it was like an all class reunion of some kind. And somehow they were all there - working at the hospital of course - but almost as if they were helping us say "goodbye". This was our hometown, so it made sense to see people we knew. But it was on the verge of crazy.

With a despondent  look on his face, dad came to a conclusion. We spent the night and morning in his hospital room reminiscing, playing music and laughing. Each laugh followed by an abrupt silence - knowing that it would all end soon. That afternoon we said our goodbyes through tears, strained faces, tired looks and emotional hell. I'm sure dad would have given anything to fight those temporary battles with us, but his was going to be final.

Two weeks...I'm still as stunned and dumbfounded today as I was then. That doesn't happen, someone doesn't go from looking perfectly healthy with no outward sign of sickness to stage four of this asinine disease and on their deathbed (for a lack of a better term) in fourteen days. That's ludicrous! He even had to celebrate - or celebrate as best he could - his birthday during this time.

I know we probably had not been as close as we used to be over the last few years with my brother living in Texas, my sister corralling a career as well as three children under the age of eight, and my flighty career and relationship paths. That's not to mention dad having remarried and then divorced, and then married for a third time. But I was just with him a month earlier watching the Ohio State/Michigan football game at his house and yelling at the TV like we did so many years ago when we were under the same roof. We had not done that together since I was fifteen or sixteen. Damn, had it really been 22-years?! We had only discussed the game on the phone days after the fact up until then. It was like we were pulled together for one last hurrah, only no one explained to us that that's what it was.

In that hospital room, I must of had a look of absolute disorientation. I'm in a fog because this doesn't happen, shouldn't why is it happening? I'm in tears, we all are, and we each hugged dad and say goodbye and tell him we love him. He's in too much pain or shock, or both, to cry but we can hear it in his muffled voiced as he fights to make himself sound coherent through the mask that is forcing oxygen into his failing, fluid-filled lungs.

I try to say something to him, but my emotions erupt and what little composure I had disappears. Suddenly I'm sobbing and I'm frustrated and this is really happening.

Dad seems emotionless, but you can tell he understands - he's ready to go. We are escorted out of the room to another area away from everyone. Small talk among us is hard to come by for about twenty minutes or so, then the nurse arrives to tell us we can go back in. As we get to the door to dad's room, suddenly we see him shoot up to the sitting position and the hospital staff runs to his aid and immediately escort us out of the room then close the double doors behind us. My sister is in near hysterics and the rest of us are unsure of what to make of it.

Apparently, dad wasn't completely under when he was intubated - the tube down his throat caused a knee-jerk choking/gagging-like reaction or reflex. Geez, like we need more happening right now! Minutes later we are back in the room, dad is unconscious and struggling to breathe on his own. We all grab a chair, try to relax, tell stories about dad, the past and recent happenings as we wait for his final goodbye.

The joke was that dad, who was the king of unfunny jokes and stories, had another "remember when" story he forgot to share or he had just recalled the most recent unfunny one he took from Reader's Digest and wanted to tell us about it at the last minute. Unfortunately, he waited a bit too long and the tube in his mouth kept him from giving us one last laugh - or more likely -  roll of the eyes. It is a shame he didn't get to do that.

Or did he?

Uncle Don and Donna, My brother Chad and his wife Steph, My sister Jill and her husband Chad, Pastor Evans and I sat there intermixing memories, laughs, silence and sadness for more than six hours. I don't know anyone who can be comfortable in a hospital room chair for more than five minutes let alone a quarter of a day. We nodded off for a few minutes here and there, but our bodies were waking us up as if to say, "What the hell is this? I don't think so!"

At least one of us kept an eye on dad or the monitors keeping track of his breathing nearly the entire time. There was an instance when the oxygen monitor neared zero. We all stood up and gathered around him waiting for the inevitable and taking deep, cleansing breaths. Though slowly, and unusually, the oxygen level crept back up again to what it was before and even improved upon it.


Even on his death bed (and unconscious mind you), the stupid unfunny jokes continued. We half expected him to open one eye, point his finger at us and say "Gotcha". Though, that was officially the last one.

A short time later when we were all engaged in conversation and not paying any attention to him or the machines - it all stopped. He had decided to go when he thought we were at peace and he was not the center of attention. That was January 6th, 2013.

It was just weird to spend the past year not getting a call from him now and then, realizing that dialing his number (which is still in my phone by the way) would not result in a conversation about what was happening in our super small hometown and trips down south would not include swinging by to say "hello".

Instead, it had us dropping by dad's plot in Little Mound Cemetery and having conversations with ourselves - pretending dad is fully involved and taking part. He's right next to his dad, O.J., just like they were a few months earlier, when they lived within 100 yards of each other. Grandpa playing stupid jokes on dad, dad growing frustrated with him...but then doing the exact same thing to us. Like father, like son.

The jokes have come to an end for the Simpson Boys of Richmond Dale, Ohio. So, I'm not going to apologize to anyone for all of the stupid jokes you hear from me and all the times I make your eyes roll out of your head.

You see, I'm just carrying the torch and it doesn't have too many hands left to hold it.

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