by Leslie Anne Wood
My husband and I were enjoying a beautiful spring weekend away from home in May, 2013. We were vacationing in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona; a world away from our home in the Phoenix Metropolitan area. My cell phone rang on a Saturday afternoon and the news was not good. My father had collapsed at his retirement home and had been taken to the hospital. The nurse who called me from his assisted care home said that Dad’s doctor would be calling me soon with a diagnosis. I prepared myself and my husband for another trip to California to assess the situation. We had to think about kenneling our dogs, pack for a trip, and schedule transportation. I started preparing immediately.
Dad had been in declining health for some time and in and out of the hospital. He disliked hospitals immensely, so I knew he would not be happy about another stay there! Sunday morning the doctor called me. He said that Dad had pneumonia, and they were going to do further tests to see why his left side was not mobile. He promised to call me the following morning.
On Monday morning, the doctor called me to say that Dad had bone cancer which had metastasized. He had been suffering from congestive heart failure for years, so the additional diagnoses of cancer and pneumonia was dire.
I called my only sibling, a sister who lives in the Northwest, and told her we planned to travel to Southern California on Tuesday. She said she would need to talk to her Supervisor, but planned to join us at Dad’s bedside as soon as she could.
We arrived at the hospital by early Tuesday afternoon. Sadly, Dad was nonresponsive, and did not seem to know that my husband and I were there. I began to prepare mentally that my father would probably not recover this time.
On Wednesday morning, we walked into Dad’s room and found him alert! They were giving him a breathing treatment, so he could not speak, but his eyes said it all. He was glad to see us, and very definitely knew who we were! His physician was as excited as we were to see him awake and responsive. The doctor planned some physical therapy that afternoon to see if they could help with mobility on his left side. We left for lunch that day feeling encouraged.
When we returned later in the afternoon, one of the physical therapists was there tending my father. He told us that Dad had participated in the therapy for a while, but let it be known that he had had enough and felt too badly to go on. Dad still had and opinion about his course of treatment!
My sister had arrived, and Thursday morning we found Dad nonresponsive again. We spent most of the day sitting by his side, chatting and telling stories from our youth. I held Dad’s hand, and told him to squeeze my hand if he could hear us! He did, so we kept talking!
Friday morning Dad was still nonresponsive. His doctor and a Hospice nurse determined that he was a candidate for Hospice care. We visited with the team and decided to have Dad released back to his retirement home, with Hospice workers there around the clock. It took us nine hours to coordinate the effort and have him transferred back “home.” He arrived via ambulance at 8 P.M. Friday night. All of his caregivers were so pleased to see him! He was a beloved resident, and everyone felt an emotional tug seeing him in that condition. The Hospice Team placed a hospital bed in his room and set up his oxygen pump. We left that evening knowing he was in good hands with special care from extraordinary people.
My niece (my sister’s daughter) flew in from her University Friday evening. I marveled at her maturity and grace seeing her Grandfather so sick. Saturday afternoon, my sister and niece spent some time with our mother and I chose to stay with Dad. A Hospice nurse gave him a bath and a shave, so I stepped out of the room. When I returned, I said “Daddy! You’re looking so handsome!” He opened his eyes and looked directly at me! I was stunned! He had not been responsive for three days but opened his eyes for me.
Dad died Sunday morning at 4 A.M. We drove in a steady rain from our hotel to the retirement home. The morning staff greeted us and all of them were in tears. Dad had been a beloved member of the community there and they loved caring for him. Dogs were allowed in the retirement home and a little dog named Princess seemed to be extremely interested in the situation and refused to leave Dad’s room! She was keenly aware that something wasn’t quite right and stayed with us until they came to take Dad’s body away. We “processed” to the van in this order: Dad, PRINCESS the dog, me, my sister, and my niece. I wondered how many other residents had been escorted from the building by that engaging dog.
It was Cinco de Mayo, so we planned a celebration of Dad’s life. He loved a good party, and we planned to give him one! The rain continued throughout the day, but when we arrived at the restaurant, I looked west to see if the storm might be breaking up. Just then the sky got lighter and a vivid beam of sunlight burst through the clouds! The message? “Don’t cry, I haven’t gone very far. I’m right HERE, where you are.”
Thank you, Dad. I am proud to be your daughter. You were loved by many. It was an honor and a privilege for me to walk that final journey right by your side.
Leslie Anne Wood is a teacher, award-winning public speaker and author of Bullied but Not Beaten: Years of Torment and Threats of Murder Reveal Ways to Combat Bullying. She is a formally trained Wellness Practitioner and has a private practice in Mesa, Arizona. After the death of her Dad, Leslie began volunteer work with Hospice of the Valley. You can reach her at: www.EminenceHealingTherapies.com.
Photo by Saïda via Flickr CCL.