Last Days

There is this idea that floats around about adversity and tragedy bringing people together. That would be other people. People to whom I am not related.

It’s tempting to write specifically now about the melodrama surrounding Dad’s last days but another time. Suffice to say that my brother, CB has at last burned one bridge too many. He is stranded in a place that Mom and DNOS, especially, are fully content to let him be. He even managed to alienate BabySis, and since she has blindly worshipped him since childhood, I wouldn’t have thought it possible had I not witnessed it.

Did he step over any of my lines? Yes he did. He knows it. He has been extra careful with me all week because I am his only lifeline. I choose to withhold my charity from him for the time being. Instead, I carefully painted him into a corner and he was on the earliest plane back to Nevada this morning. I am still the oldest and I still, mostly, rule. However, I gave him money for the trip. I consulted with Rob first, because we had agreed not to be ATM’s for our dysfunctional siblings, but even he agreed that there was no good reason to be so cruel to CB.

“It’s funny but as a non-Christian, I am the most Christian person in the house right now where your brother is concerned.”

I was very angry with CB. His behavior while Dad was dying was appalling. What he said to me while our father’s still warm body was lying in the other room is not something I will forget any time soon. I am not one of those people who believe that grief is blanket permission to behave as one pleases. I heard many times during the latter part of my first year of widowhood that grief can cause a person to act out and that it was part of the “process” and therefore should be overlooked or at least tolerated. It was not okay, I was told, to call people on what amounted to shitty behavior for which a non-grieving person would be handed his/her soundly kicked arse.

That is bullshit.

Being in pain isn’t an acceptable reason to inflict it intentionally or to not apologize when it is done in a moment of thoughtlessness.

And there is no hierarchy of grief. Widowhood does not trump the loss of a parent, no matter the age of the child though, in the latter case, age dictates the level of personal responsibility expectations.

I really can’t say that I felt worse after my first husband died than I do now. The relationships I had with Will and with my father don’t compare. They occupy different spaces. I feel each loss in a different way with equal intensity. The point of view may change but the sorrow is the same.

I was not with Dad when he died. I knew it was coming but I chose to go with Rob and the two kids to McDonald’s for lunch. There is a play area there and, though all I can eat is the side salad sans dressing, I didn’t want the little ones around and I thought Dad might be more inclined to go if they, and me too, were out of the house.

It was a moment in time that hurt very much to give up, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

I went in to be with him when we got back. I had forgotten the waxen look a body takes on after death. The complete absence of animation in the face. Mouth gaping and eyes hooded and the stillness, the chest no longer rising and falling.

There were a lot of tears. It was easier this time because Rob was there to envelop me. It felt safe to cry and I have never in my life felt able to safely show my sorrow in such a manner. He was not a panacea but he was, and continues to be, amazing.

I helped the hospice nurse, A, undress and then redress Dad. Mom couldn’t. Neither could DNOS. I wanted to and was glad I was able. Truthfully, helping care for my father in his last few days was wonderful. Dad was not someone who said, “I love you.” Consequently neither was I for much of my life. His way was to take care of a person. Provide and do. That is why actions are so important to me. Words are good but without accompanying actions, they are meaningless.

“Dad didn’t say ‘I love you’ to me until just a week ago.” BabySis complained to me the day after he died.

Lucky you, I thought, because he didn’t say the words to me at all. He did love me. I know that because of the things he has done for me. For BabyD. For my late husband. I guess it would have been nice to hear the words, but he showed me in a hundred different ways and what more is there?

Taking care of him was a way to show him back.

It was hard. The death rattle was agony to listen to. I have written before that I heard the sound many times during Will’s hospice stay. He was in a six bed hospice for three months. One room had the same occupant the whole time but the other four changed over at least three times each during those months. I heard death rattling a lot. I saw death’s shadow more than I ever cared to. The sound, the look and the smell are all things I never wanted to encounter again. But I loved my dad more than I worried about the effect of his dying on me. I wanted to show him I loved him even though I could have simply said the words, which I did as well, and let someone else do the rest.

I don’t think I want to watch someone die of lung cancer again but judging from my siblings’ coughs, and their strange habits of taking a smoke break after watching our dad gasp, wheeze and hack up a steady stream of brown phlegm, I could easily be witness again.*

I would like to thank all of those who read and took the time to comment. I appreciate your concern and your friendship. I have more to write about but I am unbelievably tired and quite swamped with things that need to be done before we head for home. The exhaustion, I have to say, is every bit as awful as when one is widowed.

*I might be much more militantly anti-smoking from now on.

13 thoughts on “Last Days

  1. Hugs to you, Annie. Such a tough time.

    I agree with you; grief isn’t an excuse to be an asshole, though many take it to be. I suspect many of them were assholes to begin with. I am one who wants to pull together at a time like that, to set aside selfishness and pettiness and be there for each other. I was disappointed to find that others don’t work the same way. I’m glad Rob is there to hold you.

  2. This is an amazing piece of writing. I hadn’t realized you had Rob with you, and I am oh-so-glad you did. That loving rock of a man has been so good for you, hasn’t he? (Mine too)

    I am so sorry that you weren’t able to be with your dad when he crossed, so proud of you for making the adult choice around that, and so glad you could at least dress him afterwards. Sometimes I wish I had done this with Willis.

    I’m so sorry, too, about CB’s behaviour. I guess I’d been hoping that there would be some kind of epiphany in him and a subsequent improvement in family relations. Real life and big dysfunctions don’t necessarily have happy endings written into them, though, do they?

    I’m so grateful to you for having shared your experiences so openly here. My own parents are youngish and in good health, so I do not spend a lot of time contemplating their demises; it is somehow reassuring to hear that the grief at losing a parent is not any more unbearable than losing a spouse. This means that it will be awful, and that I can and will survive it.

    Also hearing from you that family relations do not necessarily improve with the death of a family member is a good reminder to me. My family has its own issues, and these will not go away because of death. Good to remember this, I think.

    Having you go through so many of life’s biggest milestones in a similar timeframe to my own, hearing your insightful reflections on those experiences, seeing your strength, grace and determination on moving forward through these times is remarkably reassuring and empowering for me, somehow. As you “pave the way”, “light the path”, “steer the course”, you have become a trusted “big” sister to me; I feel as though I can take strength and faith from how you have overcome obstacles, and know that when it is my turn, I too will overcome.

    That’s the real strength of blogging, isn’t it? That we can learn from others who openly bare their inner selves, share their hard-earned wisdom, their sorrows and joys. Thanks for leading the way, Annie, and sharing yourself with us all.

  3. Ann,
    I hope you know that my thoughts are with you and that I am thinking of you. I cannot relate to your experience of losing Will, but I can relate to you right now. My dad passed away one morning in January when you and I both taught at The May. It was unexpected and VERY difficult. I miss him very much and am so sad that he isn’t here to meet my husband and my children. I am sad that my children don’t have their grandpa in their lives. I took care of my grandma in the months before she died (I was closer to her than to my own parents) from cancer and still feel so hurt that she is gone. Taking care of her then was difficult, but something I would never have wanted to miss out on. I am so glad to have been able to do that for her. My father-in-law (a wonderful man who loved his grandchildren more than life) died THE DAY BEFORE my twins were born. He was SO EXCITED for their coming, and he didn’t make it. This all is part of my sorrow I carry, and I do relate some to what you are experiencing. I am sorry for you.

  4. I know what you mean about people forgiving bad behavior due to grief. When my grandmother died, my brother did something inexcusable, and I actually had people at the funeral home come up to me and say “It wasn’t him, it was the grief.” Maybe so, but that doesn’t excuse the action and it doesn’t stop the pain caused.

  5. The process of grief is exhausting, as is taking care of everything else that still needs to be done. Take time to rest when you can. I’m holding positive thoughts for you and your family.

  6. crying at your words… trying to carve out a private moment to process your own grief, with the family dramatics playing out. so sorry it had to be that way for you…

    take care of yourself. you’ve been a good daughter.

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