Dad’s still got a smile on his face in this picture, but if you know him, you can tell it’s a little more forced. I’m writing you – dear hospice angel – to say that I hope you will admit Dad into your program this week. When I’ve raised the possibility, every clinical person I’ve talked to this week has gone on at some length about how hospice isn’t what people think: it’s not “giving up”; it’s not stopping care. Then they explain that hospice is better care.
The thing is, my brothers and I know that. My mother was in hospice care for late stage lung cancer from mid-February until May 10, 1999. We know what you can do. We know why people donate to hospices: you may not be life-saving, but you are quality of life-saving.
I want to be able to step back from trying to figure out how to make Dad comfortable and just be his daughter. I know you will be a hell of a partner in this. This is what my dear friend Jim Jennings wrote me about the task ahead of me now:
All you have to do is just be with him — the Hospice team will keep him comfortable. Keep this image in mind: you can hold his hand and mother/daughter love him all the way up to the bridge over the river of life, but then he has to let go of your hand, and you of his, so that he can walk over that bridge on his own with his back turned to you and this world you share, into the world you will share together in eternity. Tis the way for all of us.
He may, like others sometimes do, dwell on the bridge for a while, seemingly here and seemingly not here. Some folks take their time. If he gets to this point, just keep telling him you love him and it is OK to go — that you and your brothers will be OK — very important each of you tell him at some point it is OK for him to be on his way. Stay focused on each day and the little things. You know, you have to help birth him into the larger life. Turn it all over to Love Divine.
Life is really hard for Dad right now, and it’s getting more painful. He struggles for breath most of the time, which is making it harder to eat and drink. His heartbeat is irregular despite being controlled with medication; it’s working awfully hard. He can still walk with his walker to the kitchen table in the morning, but by the end of lunch, he isn’t strong enough to do so. He hasn’t been strong enough to stand and step over the four inch threshold of the shower for two weeks. His beard is growing in mostly white because he’s too tired to shave: something a Marine Corp Col. Ret. hates to skip. By afternoon, transferring to the wheelchair or the John is a bear. He’s eating less chocolate cake. If you know Dad, that’s the biggest indicator of all.
I talked to Dad yesterday about whether he wanted to seek admission into hospice. His comment? “Makes perfect sense.” He has been saying since summer that he feels he is finished here. He asked, “Do we have any unfinished business?” No, and neither does he. He told me this week that he has lived a good life and “done some things right.” He’s always grateful and surprised that I am here for him, 100%.
But that’s his legacy. He loves me unconditionally, and always has. I love him back the same way.
Please help me love my Dad, now, the way that I want, by supporting my brothers and me in caring for him.