death and dying

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my dad’s death. I knew Mom had taken the day off, but between appointments and whatnot, I didn’t get an opportunity to call her until the late afternoon after Dee got home from school. She sounded shaky but assured me she was okay.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” she said. “I did okay today. Went out to the cemetery in the morning and had lunch with Auntie before her physio. People have been calling on and off, and I saw neighbors. It wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be. Now I have all my firsts done.”

Getting through “the firsts” is a big deal. I actually didn’t know that the assorted holidays and anniversaries of this and that had a designation until Will had been dead for a half a year or more. I am not sure I really needed to know it either. I have learned a lot of terminology that is death or widow specific that probably hasn’t aided me as much as it was intended to, but that is another story. People are always proud of themselves for having crossed the mile marker which is year one. Year two is a whole other matter, but I didn’t mention that. Another thing I don’t think is helpful is telling survivors about the pitfalls to come because, in my opinion, it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy situations. Best to let others go through their own ebb and flow without planting any seeds.

Rob inquired after Mom as we sat having tea after dinner and dishes were done. Tuesday is late dinner because of Dee’s dance, and we got home to find that Rob had supper waiting. He even did the dishes after – that’s a digression, isn’t it? I related Mom’s pleasure at having jumped the year mark and the fact that no one had forgotten her on this anniversary.*

“No one called me,” he said.

“Me neither,” I replied, “and I even managed to not remind Mom that she not only didn’t call me on the one year but she forgot the date and mentioned it a week or more after the fact.”

“Well,” Rob mused, “I’d kind of alienated all my in-laws at that point by marrying you.”

Before the first year was up. A point of fact that is less relevant as time goes on. Though it doesn’t completely go away, the fact that Rob and I continue on in spite of the hand-wringing makes the objections irrelevant in the face of reality.

“Well, they were all gracious about it none the less and seem okay now except for Indy. But she has issues of her own that are probably more at the root of things.”

One of Shelley’s sisters is a cross between CB and BabySis. She has never been anything but kind to me and Dee but when we have been out of sight and earshot, she has wailed and railed a bit. She is one of those people who no matter how removed she is from the epicenter of tragedy, will try to make it all about her anyway. It’s hard wiring but a hard childhood and substance abuse don’t enhance the trait  – in a desirable manner anyway.

This got us to talking about last days. The whole death-bed scene. And Rob brought up my personal fingernail on blackboard issue – the people who don’t show up because they want to remember the dying person “as they were”.

“Who the fuck do they think they are that they get dibs on the pristine memories?” I asked. It was a rhetorical because Rob just smiled and shrugged. We’ve had this particular conversation before and with no satisfactory conclusions drawn by the end.

At one point the memories drifted past the popular idea that the dying should be treated to a running monologue of non-stop chatter from the bedside babysitters. I understand the rationale. We live people harbor the belief that the dying person is alone, frightened and finds comfort in being connected to the land of the living even if they can’t interact or acknowledge. I wonder about that myself. We are told that people are waiting for guides to come and lead them away, but what if those last hours are filled with important instructions or lessons and all we are doing is making it harder for the person to pay attention? And what if dying is as much work as every other aspect of life?

Rob assigned shifts to Shelley. Her nephew played the guitar for instance. Her mom read to her from a book on proper nutrition for cancer patients.

“I wonder what Shelley must have been thinking then,” Rob said.

I actually just finished writing about this in the last chapter of the memoir I was working on. Will’s brain damage was so extensive that he simply couldn’t receive or make sense of information in any form. I didn’t know this for a fact until the autopsy report months later, but I suspected it, so I just didn’t bother to speak. I carried on long conversations with him in my head. If you’d have walked in on just he and I, you would have wondered at the utter silence and the fact that all I ever did was rub his chest or hold his hand. But my reasoning was that he was just as likely to read my mind as he was to hear and understand what I was saying.

Dee brings home a reading book every night that she must read and discuss with one of us. Her current discussion obsession is making what the teacher told them was “self-connections”.

“It’s important to make self-connections,  Mom,” she reminded me tonight when I tried to ask her about something else in the story.

But she’s right. Self-connections are where we learn and grow.

*Not sadiversary or deathversary or any other of the Hallmarkish terms.

Our Thanksgiving is not the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season. In fact, stores up here do not adopt the longer shopping hours associated with the season of over-giving until December despite the fact that Christmas decor and related items are already beginning to pop up here and there.

A quick google of the holiday revealed something similar to the history of Thanksgiving in the United States. A stop and start acknowledgment over the course of a couple of centuries, that here in Canada finally found a home of the second Monday of October. A sensible choice really as it means to mark the end of harvest and promote family time, which most folk seem to take quite seriously.

We will have a quiet immediate family supper tonight. The only other family member we could have invited is Rob’s mother, but the drive from the Okanagan is long and expensive and we don’t have the budget for flying her up here right now as we don’t know if I will have to head for the States to help out with Dad.

To quickly update on my dad, he had a doctor appointment today. The fluid around his lungs is building and he is very tired and short of breath most of the time with things becoming more critical when he exerts himself. Exertion has come to be any time he must get up and walk, even if it is just a few steps.

He still went to mass yesterday. He tries to save his energy for that one outing a week. Despite everything, Dad is a very spiritual man and takes his religion quite seriously though he has modified his alignment with some of the teachings that don’t line up with what he has observed in real life*.

Rob woke me in the wee hours with reports of our ghosties renewing activities again. I didn’t see what he did or remember echoing the ghost in my sleep by calling out his name, but I have felt the “presence” in the last few days, so I am not surprised. We had similar issues late last November and leading up to the death of Shelley’s mother. I am sure that this new round of bumps in the night are connected to my dad.

He reported pain for the first time today. His ribs, which are probably cancerous now, hurt. The fact that he mentioned pain is not a good sign. He has a freakishly high tolerance for pain of the excruciating kind. Pain that would turn the rest of us into wimpering babies. When he suffered from crushed vertebrae (three time in the last two years) he made do with regular Tylenol and a heating pad and rarely reported the pain above a 3 or 4 on the scale. If he is in pain enough to bring it up on his own – as opposed to it being dragged our of him as was typical of the past – it must be intolerable.

He has another doctor appointment next Wednesday to discuss putting in a chest tube to drain the fluid. I can’t be sure but I think the doctors are staggering his appointments and their interventions in the hopes that the cancer will “get him” before anything too invasive has to be done. A chest tube is painful and limits mobility my home health care nurse BFF tells me. I hope he doesn’t have to go there.

My guess, though, is that dad will not make November.

We had talked of visiting over BabyD’s fall break but that is still a month away and if he is still alive, the atmosphere will likely be decidedly death-ish. I am not willing to expose BabyD or Rob to that. And since Dad is still telling me that I don’t need to come (and I really should for mom’s sake – she is suffering terribly and I know too well how awful the whole “widow in waiting” period is), I think he doesn’t want to expose me to what is happening either.**

On a bit happier note, my first pieces at 50 Somethings Mom blog are slated to go up on the 14 and 17th, please try to get over there for a peek and a comment. This is kind of a big time blogging thing for me as I had to sign a writer’s agreement and have a chance to have my pieces picked up for syndication.

Finally, the Hey Sarah Palin video I posted has been driving my views the past couple of days, so I wanted to direct you all to a post over at The Zoo. It’s a clip from a recent Biden rally with an intro from Sen. Clinton. She reminded me again of what women should really aspire for when pursuing a political career. Her fervent belief in the cause and her willingness to campaign for Obama are also are in striking contrast to the Republicans. Where is Huckabee these days? Or that Mormon dude? Apparently the right’s sense of team and supporting held values extends only so far and their pseudo-Klan rallies that pass as campaigning these days says much about their message and what they value.

*For example he views the teaching on IVF as silly in light of his granddaughter’s humble beginnings in a petri-dish. It’s clear to him she is not the anti-Christ and that her existence was clearly meant to be. But, this came to him slowly. He was a giant pain in my ass during my IVF cycle and pregnancy.

**I only play a tough girl on my blog. In reality I am still waiting for the thick skin to grow back.