Caring for Daddy and sitting with sadness

Nov 29

About this time four years ago I was in Kentucky with my father.  He had been battling a rare blood disorder that had just turned in to Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.  I quit my job and traveled back home to take care of him for whatever time he had left.  This was one of the most difficult, yet one of the most rewarding times of my life.  I learned so much from those short weeks with my father.

I flew out November 12 and my father passed away on December 17.  During those four weeks I learned more about my father than I had learned the previous 45 years.  He told me stories about his childhood and growing up.  We talked about life on a farm and all the things he learned how to do as a kid.  I also learned a lot about myself during those four weeks:

  • I am strong, mentally stronger than I ever imagined
  • I can be infinitely patient when I want to be
  • I can be selfless, though I seldom am
  • I can laugh in the face of sadness
  • I have a powerful life force
  • I have a great capacity for love

In order for my father to extend his life, he had to take blood transfusions because his bone marrow wasn’t making enough quality blood to keep him alive.  I was always afraid of giving blood but after seeing that what was keeping my father alive was the kindness of strangers, I began to donate blood when I came back home.  I am the universal donor and I feel a sense of purpose every time I donate blood.  Only 10% of the population donates.  Consider donating if you haven’t – you can find more information here  I would drive him to the hospital several times a week for a transfusion.  These could sometimes take all day while they located the proper “match” and got everything set up.  Sometimes he would only get platelets and that was a little shorter.  At one of our visits with the doctor my father asked about what would happen if he stopped taking the transfusions .  She explained that she did not know how long he would have but it would not be long, just a few days at most.  We continued on with the transfusions for several more weeks.   I would sit with him in the hospital room and talk or just watch him if he was sleeping.  Sometimes I would run out and get him lunch or do some quick errands, otherwise, I was by his side without fail.

At the end of the second week of December he decided that he didn’t want to take the transfusions anymore.  We had been on our way to the hospital in a rush to get a transfusion when he decided enough was enough.  This was his decision of quality over quantity of life.  We drove back home and he had one of his favorite meals cooked by our friend Helen.  She made him fried chicken, country style green beans, mashed potatoes and banana cream pie.  He enjoyed every bite.  The doctor had told us he might have 36-48 hours.  We had four days.  We laughed a lot over those four days.  We cried a lot too but we laughed more than we cried.  I stayed by his side, sleeping on the floor at the foot of his bed and curling up with him when he asked me too.  This is where, I think, my powerful life force comes in.  He had a pulse oxygen monitor that we would put on his finger to measure his O2 level.  When I was in the room it was always in the high 90’s (life sustaining) but when I left the room it would often drop down in to the 50’s or 60’s (not life sustaining).  After a few days, Father Chuck, the hospice chaplain and the priest who had married John and me told me that I needed to leave the house.  He didn’t think my father would be able to let go with me by his side.  So I reluctantly left and drove to Midway to do a little Christmas shopping.  My brother called a few hours later and told me to hurry home that he wasn’t sure if I would make it.  I rushed home sobbing all the way.  When I got there his oxygen was in the low 50’s.  Within minutes of me going in to the bedroom it was back up in the 90’s.  Something about my presence was keeping him alive.  I had to let go of him because he wasn’t going to let go of me.  So Father Chuck said that needed to stay out of his bedroom. I did so and he went peacefully in his sleep later that night.

Christmas that year wasn’t very cheery.  I flew back to Colorado just a few days before Christmas with none of my shopping done and in no mood to do it.  Of course, Christmas is never the same after you no longer have parents, just as it is never the same after your children stop believing in Santa.  These changes along life’s course can contribute to that holiday melancholy because we try to return to some perfect image of the holiday from our past.  But what we need to remember and I reminding myself now is that we need to live in the present.  It is okay to sit with our sadness and long for a parent or for the smile of our child who believed in Santa.  It is okay and perfectly healthy to mourn the past but we must move on the future of many more Merry Christmases.

So even though I have been  sad this week remembering that time in my life that had such great purpose – caring for my father in his final hours – I will be stepping forward out of the sadness and in to a happy holiday season.

If you are having the holiday blues, check out this site from the University of Maryland with some tips on how to deal with the holiday blues or help understanding if it is something more serious.


Ho, Ho, Ho

One comment

  1. i love your blog, i have it in my rss reader and always like new things coming up from it.

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