Writing is therapeutic for me and I always try to look back at the situation after the fact to process it. Here is what I learned from our family experience of caring for my dad in his last days.
- It’s harder than you think. Once we received the news from the doctors that there was nothing more they could do, our next steps became very apparent. Hospice in a COVID world was not something we would consider. We couldn’t bear the thoughts of set visitation times, limiting family members and we did not want my dad to die alone. The only way to do it was to bring him home for hospice. It was a no brainer. Then reality hits you like a ton of bricks when you are getting trained to clean a trach, administering medicine thru a tube, and care for a dying patient. Then in addition to that add the emotional tourture that this patient is your dad, your hero and provider.
- God gives you the strength you need. Some people are wonderful with medical care, I faint at the site of needles and get wheezy when I see blood. What in the world was I thinking when I said we could bring home a patient who was under 24 hours care in the ICU, and bring him to my home where a nurse comes once a day for an hour? God surrounded me with the right people. My amazing sisters and mom who shared the care schedule. My sister, Tricia, who literally jumped in like a medical professional and cared and groomed my father better than anyone ever could. Then there was my husband who cared for him as if it was his own father. God gave us amazing friends who would show up at night to help us with the late shift, change the beds and get our patient ready for the next four hour shift. He gave us family, friends and neighbors who brought meals, flowers, love and prayers and it literally got us through the most difficult thing we have ever done.
- The whole experience is therapeutic and scary all at the same time. To go through it myself, to watch my mother break her heart over her husband of 50 years, to watch my little sisters and his grandkids say goodbye is overwhelmingly sad. I mourned for myself and everyone one around me. There were times of sadness but there were times of joy. We laughed and told funny stories about my dad. We created a playlist of his favorite songs that played in the background day and night. Music filled the house trying to drown out the sound of the oxygen machine. We cried, laughed, and danced. We drank, we toasted and we cried again. It was so good to just focus on nothing else but caring for my dad. All we had to do was make sure his final days were all of us together surrounded in love.
- You will never be ready to say goodbye. My dad spent four and half days at home on hospice. The first day he got home, all we wanted was for his daughters and wife to hold him, talk to him and say our goodbyes. It was very important to us that he receive his last rites. All of that was accomplished in the first six hours of him coming home. As each day went on, more people came to say goodbye, the grandkids jumped all over him, the prayers continued, the story telling got funnier and the crying lasted longer. Every day I thought, just make it one more day so we have this most precious time with you. Then my heart would break, you could see he was suffering and in the next breath you prayed for him to be out of pain. You know how the story ends however something in your inner child heart still doesn’t want to believe it. As much as you talked about it and prepared for this moment, the reality hits you that you were not really ready to say goodbye and you never will be.
- The feeling of peace. I will never forget that feeling. As his body was rolled out of our home and into the hearse, my mom and my sisters sat there in the front room and the world stopped spinning just for us. It was as if time stood still in that moment. This wave of peace literally felt like it rolled right through the house. The way the sun was shining in the window telling us it was a new day, the stillness and silence of six people sitting in the room not saying a word. And this wave of calm that came over the house, just like an ocean wave rolls over the beach. We could feel it. Our job was done. Operation “Get Daddy to heaven” was a success.
It is the greatest gift to be surrounded by love, prayer and family as you leave this world, we were lucky that we got to do that for my dad. I write this in deep appreciation for the gifts God has given me, the amazing father he blessed me with, the mother who loves and cares for us, the sisters who are the salt of the earth and the strongest badass women I know and for the loving friends who will forever hold a place in my heart that helped us through this difficult time. Thank you for all the love and support!
What can you learn from this?
Do yourself a favor and have a conversation about death and hospice with your family members. Learn what their wishes are. Discuss life support, trach and end of life care. It’s a difficult conversation but it will make a difficult time in your life easier knowing you are honoring your loved ones wishes. If you ever get the chance to give someone the gift to pass at home, take it without hesitation.