Preface: I’ve been adding to this for a few days, but right now I’m on a bunch of cold medicine and exhausted from a lack of sleep. I apologize for any major typos or grammatical errors. This is the type of entry that’s hard to proof even when I’m feeling well, but when I’m tired and sickly, I just would rather not have to re-read this 100 times.
This time every year I find myself thinking tons about Dad. On February 10th, 2009, he was hospitalized with renal failure. He died 7 weeks later. I wrote a little bit here during that time, but not a lot because I was holding out hope for a miraculous recovery, and I was afraid he’d be mad about me cataloging his illness on my blog. I remember wanting to write SO DESPERATELY about what was going on, but I knew he’d be SO PISSED later. Not for privacy reasons, but because I was spending any time whatsoever thinking about him and his cancer. He hated the idea that his illness held any focus in our lives, even for the little time it did.
It’s been 5 years now, and I was recently scrolling through my archives during that time, seeing how little I wrote, but remembering VERY VIVIDLY how much I wanted to write about what was going on. Now I only have bit and pieces of faded memories documenting that important time in my life. I thought, maybe I should try to write them down now. Some of the things I’ve mentioned here and there, but in terms of trying to put that 7 weeks in some sort of catalog, I haven’t really done that. But I think I should, so I can remember it later.
- I was boarding a plane for a solo trip to Chicago associated with this blog when I realized I had a voicemail from my Dad’s doctor looking for my Dad. I can NOT express to you how weird this was. Partly because Dad never went to the doctor, but partly because Dad ALWAYS answered his home phone. If he was home and not answering? That was a HUGE PROBLEM. I called the doctor back, before I was asked to turn off my phone, and he informed me had some results on my Dad’s recent bloodwork but he couldn’t get a hold of him and it was basically an emergency. I was Dad’s emergency contact since I was geographically closest. And here I was, about to board a plane to Chicago. (Didn’t even know my Dad had been sick.) I called my brother so he could keep up with the news while I was in air, and I called my Mom who was the one who went to my Dad’s house to check on him and let him know he needed to call his doctor. Then, I took off.
- The event in Chicago was a blogger event, a pedicure night, and I have very vivid memories of the faces I encountered that day associated with that event. I remember being very torn about trying to be fun and social, but being worried to death about my Dad. The people who flew me to Chicago were super-accommodating and did what they could to get me an earlier flight home. These people probably have no idea how much a part of my memories they are. And how often I wish they’d seen a better side of me.
- Dad was admitted to the hospital and was vocally irritated with how my brother and I were trying to get to Knoxville. I can’t remember if we got the Multiple Myeloma diagnosis before we all got to Knoxville or not. Isn’t that funny? I remember the blogger and her husband who drove me back to my hotel when I was in Chicago, but I can’t remember even what state I was in (Illinois? Alabama? Tennessee?) when I found out my Dad had cancer.
- My brother and I spent quite a bit of time Googling Multiple Myeloma from his work laptop. This was before smartphones and I often think now how much easier it would have been then because the WiFi connection in the hospital was crap. We had to take the laptop to the chairs by some random entrance for good reception.
- Dad was a big asshat while he was in the hospital, after the diagnosis. He was always very good about acknowledging when he had been an ass, and apologizing for it. I’m still learning to do that. Anyway – he was a giant asshat. To everyone. Family, siblings, children, medical staff. So, when he got his discharge orders and I needed to help him get settled in at home, I knew it was going to SUUUUUUCCCCCKKKK. But, it seemed the asshatedness had faded and he was very grateful and very open about needing help. I had never seen that side of him. I think that day I kinda new he wasn’t going to really pursue treatment. He was going home with an Rx for a pill type of chemotherapy and a dialysis schedule. He would never take the first pill, and only did dialysis twice.
- When I took him home and headed out to get his Rx filled, I asked him if he needed anything. Dad had never openly asked for anything…EVER. But he was very calm about all of the things he needed. His stomach was a mess so he wanted to try something like the Ensure they had given him at the hospital. He wanted me to see if I could find a cane. Crackers. Gatorade. I was so – almost excited – to be able to help him that I think I drove all over Fountain City making sure I could find everything on the list. I had NEVER been in that roll before for him, and it felt like a tiny bit of payback for the years he was a single Dad to me. I was willing to do just about anything he asked, just for the joy of getting to finally do something for him.
- When I got back that day, we talked. We talked a LOT about life and diagnosis and prognosis and the future. Again – I look back on that now and really know he had already made his decision to NOT continue on with treatment. But, I didn’t realize it then. We talked a lot about how his body and the microfractures on his skeleton and his kidneys, would probably never recover. He pointed to his backpack and brought up he’d never probably be able to carry that again. Would he even be able to work? I could tell he was hashing it all out in front of me, and again, I had never been in that position before. And I remember contemplating every response, desperately hoping it was what he needed or wanted from me. I agreed a lot with him, about how much it was going to suck. I wonder if I shouldn’t have? Should I had been less honest and said, “No! It can still be great not being able to live that life you had before!” I many times offered for him to come stay with us. I hope I never forget the small smile and laugh in response. It was something that said, “I love you for offering, but you and I both know that’s never going to happen.”
- I drove up a few days later to take him to his first out-of-hospital dialysis appointment. I remember being FREAKED OUT because I hate driving my Dad places. I can feel his nervousness with my driving and that makes me an even MORE high-anxiety driver. I was 33 and still felt the same way as when I drove him around at 16. But, again, his personality was so chill and contemplative. And appreciative. Another thing I add to the pile of obvious behavior that he was NOT GOING TO KEEP TRYING TO LIVE. I waited for him at dialysis, he came out and mentioned how much he hated it. So boring. So sickly. How do people do that for years? He just didn’t understand it at all.
- He was supposed to get his sister (who lived in Knoxville) to take him to his next dialysis appointment. I remember getting ready to leave work one day (a day or two after the first dialysis treatment) when he called me and asked if I had a moment. “Kim, I think I really just want to die.” He didn’t say it with sadness or regret. He wasn’t even crass about it. I could tell in his voice he was much more concerned about ME than about him. About how I’d take it. Just like before, at his house, I was trying to respond the way I knew he wanted. “I understand.” I didn’t sugar-coat a potential future or beg him to fight. I often wonder if I should have. I think that day at his house though, as he hashed through the diagnosis before me, I think that prepared me. I think it let me see a side of him that really didn’t want to live like that. The small sadness at realizing he couldn’t carry his backpack. The subtle tone of defeat that he needed a cane. So, I just stood in my office, trying to get my shit together to leave so I wouldn’t sob at work, and told him over and over, “I’m sad, but I understand.”
- Donnie was out of town because that’s the way our life has always worked. We have weirdly timed catastrophies that always keep us for being there for each other. I remember trying to get a hold of him and couldn’t. I eventually got a hold of his Mom and sobbed to her. I somehow got a message to my brother that I wanted to talk to him, but I can’t remember if he had talked to Dad yet. I just remember lying in the dark in bed that night, finally talking to my brother about the diagnosis. I think Wesley was in bed with me (he was still a baby nursing at night) so I was doing a lot of whispering. And crying.
- Dad’s sister got him set up with a wonderful hospice facility. I remember heading into town to get him settled in, but I can’t remember if I drove him or not. I remember my brother and I sitting with him around the table as he was still in street clothes and maybe even eating some food. I remember we were talking a bit about his impending death. Maybe we were assuring him we’d be okay? Maybe he was assuring us? It’s very foggy, probably because the whole thing felt surreal. There he was, in a button-up and jeans, in the room we knew he’d die in soon. That was the last time I saw him out of the bed in the room.
- It was hard to say how long it would be before Dad died. Basically, he was going to die of kidney failure, but it could take 3 days or 3 weeks. It really depended on how bad his kidneys were to begin with. His siblings came back in town to see him/say goodbye. I was glad because it gave them a final memory of him that was NOT the ASSHAT memories from when he had been in the hospital. I was terrified their last memories of their baby brother would be him at his worst. The visit in hospice was quiet but at least peaceful. Dad was simply ready to die. He was at peace.
- Sometimes (maybe most times?) he was irritated my brother and I were still there. He didn’t want us putting off our lives to watch him die. He did check in on the process of us clearing out his house. He jokingly said we should burn it down. I think he was pleased that the Rescue Missions wanted so much of his stuff. He was also pleased when we told him his ashes would be buried in the same Memorial Graveyard his brother was buried in. He always thought that it was so pretty there. He seemed honored to get a military burial, even though that part of his life was so long ago.
- A childhood friend of mine who still lived in Knoxville stopped by to see Dad one day. She brought truffles. He was super-thrilled about this, he always loved her and her family. He was just mad he couldn’t stomach the truffles. I’ll always be grateful that she made that visit because it seemed to really bring him joy in his last days.
- I brought my kids in at the end, after debating it a bit. I didn’t want their memories to be of him like that, but I also knew everyone should be able to say goodbye. I don’t know if any of them remember it now.
- Dad had that LAST GOOD DAY the night before he died. My brother called to tell me about it (he was staying in Knoxville while I went back and forth) and we even contemplated the fact that maybe his kidneys were fine. He had perked up, wanted to go home, as acting more lively than he had in the weeks prior. The funny thing is, I had read about those “LAST GOOD DAYS” in all of my dying research, but still, we found part of ourselves getting weirdly hopeful. I didn’t sleep at all that night, contemplating the “what ifs” – is he fine? What do we do if he just doesn’t die? Do we call the doctor to come check on him again? Is this torture leaving him there if he’s actually fine? ALL NIGHT LONG I was thinking about this stuff.
- I got the call after I was already at work a little while the next morning. He had died in the night and they didn’t know, so I needed to hurry because they really need to call the funeral home. I had been packed for the call, grabbed my husband and my kids and we hit the road. It was the longest drive of my life. I didn’t want them to move my Dad until I got to say goodbye to him. My brother and aunt were there already, everyone was just waiting on me. Donnie dropped me off at the hospice center and took the kids to Moms. I walked in and there he was. I felt so many feelings. Sadness, of course, but also relief. Watching someone die is hard, but watching someone die who just wants to die already is exhausting. The first few days we would visit Dad in hospice and ask if he needed anything, he would joke about needing to die already. After that first week it stopped being funny, he was just ready, and sick of waiting. So, his death brought unexpected sense of relief. And then a horrible wave of guilt for feeling relieved.
- My brother and I laughed more over the few days planning for Dad’s services than I ever would have expected. Ordering flowers, preparing the announcement for the paper, we just kept finding the stupidest stuff to laugh at and know that would have made Dad happy. He would have been laughing along with us. Having a sibling to go through that with, someone who is suffering the exact same loss, is the only thing that kept me sane during the whole ordeal.