On March 15th, a little after 10:00 pm, my dad passed away. He had been receiving home hospice care and they had told us he was beginning the process of "winding down" several weeks before, but still, I wasn't prepared.
He had been struggling with a number of health issues for a long time. Over the past year he had undergone bypass surgery and two amputations and had been bouncing back and forth between the hospital and a rehabilitation center. When they finally sent him home and recommended hospice care, we knew our time left with him was short.
We were told to expect ups and downs; a roller coaster ride. Really, though, he had more good days than bad. He was confused at times and would say things that we didn't understand or would call out for me when I was sitting right next to him. Occasionally, he would ask about their dog. "Maggie has been gone for 15 years, Dad." "I know," he said "I'm talking about the dog that looks like Maggie that comes in and sleeps on the floor. I don't know her name so I just call her Maggie." There was no dog but I didn't see any point in telling him.
The whole family spent as much time with him as we could. We did our best to keep him comfortable and happy. He couldn't go places and do things, but we could bring him his favorite foods. The nurses told us we didn't have to worry about keeping him on his diabetic diet, anymore, and that he could eat whatever he wanted so that become much of our focus. If he wanted pizza, he got pizza. If he wanted McDonalds, someone would go pick it up. If he had asked for lobster, we'd have driven to Maine.
We also watched a lot of movies. He had always loved bad, old movies. The worse they were, the more he seemed to like them. We'd pick apart the plot or laugh at the clothes the actors were wearing. Like food, it was one of the few pleasures he had left. Sometimes, though, I found it upsetting when the channel would go to a commercial break. They would promote an upcoming movie, something that was scheduled to air a week or a month away. I couldn't get it out of my head that my dad would probably be gone by then.
The last good day I spent with him was the Thursday before he died. He was in a really great mood and seemed to feel good. My sister in law and I watched movies with him all afternoon and brought him whatever he wanted to eat. We talked and laughed a lot. It was such a good day.
It may have been foolish to feel hopeful, we all knew he wasn't going to get better, but we started to believe we had a little more time. Since everyone was planning to visit on Saturday, I came up with the idea to have a cookout. There was still snow on the ground and the weather was more winter than spring, but I thought it would be fun for everyone. I especially thought my dad would enjoy it.
On Friday, my oldest brother said he was going to bring lunch and spend the day visiting, so the rest of us took a day off. Mr. W and I went shopping to pick up hamburgers and hot dogs. We exchanged phone calls and texts with the rest of the family discussing what everyone was going to bring to the cookout. We were all in a party mood.
Saturday, since Mr. W had to work, I prepped the food so we could leave as soon as he got home. Late in the afternoon, though, my sister in law called and said my dad wasn't doing well. They had put in a call to the nurse and I should come right away.
He had fallen asleep after breakfast and my mom hadn't been able to wake him up. We tried squeezing his hand and talking loudly to him, but he didn't respond. Even on oxygen, his breathing was labored and his color was draining. The nurse confirmed what we already knew, it wasn't likely he would make it through the night.
We took turns sitting with him, each of us having time alone to say our goodbyes. I don't know what anyone else said, but I didn't say goodbye. Not because I thought it would change anything, but because it wasn't what I felt like I needed to do. I just sat and talked to him the way I would have if he were awake. A few hours later, we were all at his bedside when he quietly passed.
Mr. W and I stepped outside shortly after. It was a cold night, but the sky was clear and there was a gorgeous ring, like a circular rainbow, around the moon. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. I have no doubt that it was a sign from my dad telling us that he was at peace.
I've since found out that the ring was a sundog. I didn't know you could see them at night, but I've always loved spotting them because they appear so rarely. A few days after my dad died, I was driving home after shopping with my mom and I was thinking of him. It had been cloudy all day, but just then the sky brightened up and a sundog appeared. I pulled over and took a picture with my phone. Every sundog I see is not a sign from my dad, I know that, and yet I find an odd sort of comfort in seeing one.
Although I'll never stop missing him.
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