The End

It's quiet now. Hope and Mom went to bed a few moments ago. The women''s skating finals are about to start and I''m sitting on the floor, using Mom''s marble top table as a desk.

Dad's funeral was today, February 21, 2002. The funeral mass was held at St. Mary's in Bordentown, New Jersey, with a burial service at the Veteran's Cemetery in Arneytown.

He died Monday afternoon, February 18, 2002. A few weeks ago Dad decided to stop his dialysis treatments. The next day he changed his mind, but asked for a meeting with the staff of the center. Dad was hoping to go home and continue dialysis. Unfortunately, that was not a viable option. It would be no easy matter finding a nurse to provide at-home care. Dad was so weak by that point, that even if Mom hadn't broken her hip, she wouldn't have been able to provide the care he so needed.

On Thursday, February 7, Dad once again decided to forego dialysis. Grace waited until Saturday morning to call. She wanted to make sure that he wouldn't change his mind again. I was planning to head down on Sunday and return Monday afternoon, but after Grace's call I headed down Saturday afternoon (waving to Judy as we passed each other on Rt. 40 as she returned from an Albany appointment) and visited Dad briefly that evening. Dad was drifting off to sleep so I stayed for only a few moments. While he knew who I was, it was quite apparent that there had been quite a deteriation in his physical condition.

I arrived at 11 Lakeview to find Mom sick in bed. Between the time that Grace dropped her off in the afternoon and my arrival, she was stricken with a bout of the vomits. This after having diarrhea the previous day. (Mom was basically confined to bed until Tuesday morning.) Hope and I visited Dad for a few hours Sunday morning and I returned with Grace in the afternoon. He looked so weak. While he could understand everything I said, his response was limited to just a handful of words at a time. At one point on Sunday Dad wanted to get out of bed. While helping to pull some of the covers off while waiting for the nurse's aide, his feet came out from under. His big toe, the one that had been bothering him since before the cancer appeared last Easter, was almost completely black. Looking at the toe, and at his fingers I knew why he had stopped dialysis. His hands and feet did not belong to a healthy man. They looked like they belonged to a frostbitten Antarctic explorer. Dad didn't need a Doctor to tell him his body was shutting down. He could see the signs for himself.

At some point on Sunday or Monday, after speaking to Grace, I called Tom and Polly to let them know that Dad was near the end. Tom drove up from Charlotte on Tuesday and Polly decided to fly in from San Diego over the weekend.

Mom finally felt well enough to visit Dad Tuesday morning. It was so sweet to see how tender they became with each other these last few weeks. Dad wanted to get healthy again in the worst way. As the cancer and renal failure tore his body apart, his failure to provide for Hope and Mom was an even greater burden than the cancer. He had always been the rock of the family, the one everyone could depend upon. The inability to provide that role was very difficult for him to accept. Unfortunately, this frustration was too strong to be suppressed. Mom was quite often the target it found. Once Dad came to accept that he needed the care that only a skilled facility could provide, he knew that his death was shortly to arrive and was no longer something to be battled. This is not to say Dad gave up. Far from it. I believe that he knew that he had done everything he had come here to do. All that was left were the goodbyes.

When Mom walked in the room that Tuesday, Dad leaned towards her and puckered up and they kissed. The tenderness they expressed towards each other during those last visits was extraordinary.

Dad's Last BeerTuesday afternoon I headed home. There was much that needed to be done there. Judy had volunteered moi to assemble a Lenten booklet for our parish. One of my clients had also just started delivering files for a large job. Plus Andy and I both had medical appointments Wednesday. That Wednesday was perhaps the most hectic stressful day of my life. Judy, bless her, stayed out of my way, yet jumped in to help complete the Lenten program when asked.

Thursday morning I headed back to New Jersey, knowing that I wouldn't return until after Dad was gone. Upon arriving that afternoon at Marcelles, Dad surprisingly looked better than he had on Tuesday. Tom had arrived Tuesday evening, also knowing that he be staying until the end. Polly arrived late Friday night at the Philadelphia airport. She had agonized on when to arrive and when to arrange her departure. In retrospect, she arranged it perfectly (other than having to miss the Women's Figure Skating Finals, being held tonight as she's flying home).

Each day thereafter Dad appeared weaker. Saturday was a good day. We had lunch with him in the dining room. As he was finishing, Mom and I said goodbye and went outside for fresh air. Dad asked Polly to take him outside to sit with Mom for a moment. I am so glad for that. I had wanted to take a final photograph of my father, but could not bring myself to do so. It seemed too invasive, too much of an invasion of his privacy to document his failing health. His choice to go outside for a moment created the opportunity for a photograph of Mom & Dad together. Two people approaching the end of their time together, but still very much in love.

Saturday evening Dad announced to Tom that he wanted all of us there with him. Then. He had something to say.

There weren't very many words to his final speech. Just a deeply felt thank you for being such good children and wishing us luck in the future. It was a very moving experience to gather together to say goodbye to our father.

That evening I stayed with Dad until after midnight. Nothing was said, he was asleep the whole time. My time spent there was as much for my comfort as it was for him.

Sunday, after lunch, Dad drifted off to sleep. He never really woke up after that. We all spent a lot of time with him that day, drifting in and out. Polly and Grace ended up staying until 2 am.

Monday morning I arrived there before 8, followed shortly by Tom. Polly, Mom and Hope, and Grace arrived sometime later. Around 11, Mom and I headed home for a break (and breakfast). Polly called around noon to say the Tom and Hope were headed home, but also to say that it looked like Dad was almost at the end. I elected to stay at home with Hope as Tom took Mom back to Marcellus.

Dad had been on morphine since Sunday evening. We knew once the nurses started administrating it that his death was approaching. Before Tom and Mom arrived back at the center, Polly asked for oxygen for Dad, to ease his labored breathing. Polly, Grace, Tom and Mom spent perhaps an hour with Dad before an aide asked them to leave so she could change him. Between the time that the aide was finished and they could walk back to the room, Dad had died.

I keep trying to focus on the positive. For all that Dad has been through this past year, for the most part he was pain free. Exhausted, frustrated, angry, depressed, hungry and tired, but without severe pain. Without the burden of crippling pain that so many cancer patients undergo, Dad was able to focus on trying to get better. When he knew that wasn't going to happen, he was able to accept his death on his own terms. All of us had a chance to spend a lot of time with him these last few days saying goodbye and thank you. So very few people have the opportunity to die gracefully, surrounded by family. While I miss my father deeply, I take enormous comfort from the time spent with him, my mother, brother and sisters this past week.

These last few days have been such a blur. The last few weeks have been a blur.

February 21, 2002