That’s how I have to characterize the last few days. Bitter accepting my dad’s choice to die, sweet remembering all the wonderful things about him. Tonight I was laughing over something with my husband, and out of nowhere my brain connected with a memory from several years ago with dad. Instantly I went from laughter to sobs, unstoppable tears, and that feeling that I can’t stop crying long enough to catch the next breath. I feel like this grief will suck every ounce of air from my chest, I have to remember to breathe again. Last night when I kissed him goodbye, I felt the tears coming. “I love you daddy. I wish I could keep you forever,” were the words that spilled out. He looked at me with tired eyes and solemnly said, “But you can’t. And that’s the fact.”
Today he woke up angry that he was still alive, and as the day wore on, dementia returned and we realized that we probably aren’t going to have “good” days with him as his life closes, that age and illness have been steadily robbing us of this wonderful man with the quick wit and lively sense of humor. There are so many memories of my time with him I could fill books with them and never have room to hold them. And I know I have been blest, truly blest, to have been able to spend so many years with him, good and bad. We’ve been through the lowest and highest points in our lives together. I remember waking up on Valentine’s Day to find a heart-shaped box of candy under my pillow from Daddy, and long drives in the country where he’d point out groundhogs and pheasants that we were almost never fast enough to see. But Daddy was a country boy, he knew what to look for. So many memories! Daddy making hamburgers in the kitchen, singing “Hole in the Bottom of the Sea,” chasing us around the house with a kitchen towel to pop us when we least expected it. He showed up at the house the night I went into labor with our first child, and sat on the sofa, timing contractions with me and just being there. I didn’t ask him to come. He just wanted to be there. We walked through the halls of courtrooms and jails and mental hospitals together, searching for answers for the problems with my brother, trying to make sense of the mess he’d made of his life. And we sat together at the funeral home when my brother took his own life. We wept with unfathomable grief, but we knew we would heal and would smile and laugh again. We were together from one medical crisis to another, all of us daughters around his bedside, encouraging him to keep going when he thought he couldn’t make it, bringing him his favorite goodies, sharing funny stories, holding his hand when we thought it was his last night. And each time he pulled through, struggled back to whatever range of normal life he could muster. He’s enjoyed all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, tickling their feet when they were babies and doling out chewing gum when they were older. I remember him taking off in his electric wheelchair when I asked him how fast it could go. He was grining like a NASCAR driver as he whizzed up the sidewalk. We’ve been privileged to have him fifteen years longer than anyone thought we would. Even the dialysis doctor told us not long ago, when Mom and Dad moved down here where we could all be close enough to help them, he looked at Dad’s medical records and didn’t think he’d have Dad as a patient for three months. That was more than three years ago.
I guess we have all been hoping that he’ll change his mind and decide he wants to stay with us awhile longer. We’d sure love to have him with us. But not the way he’s been these past few months, lost in time and space, reduced to a bed and wearing a diaper, unable to do much for himself. That’s not how Daddy wants to keep living, and we don’t want that for him either. We just wish we could find that fountain of youth and pour it on Daddy and give him back what he’s lost over the years. And one day our children will feel what we are feeling tonight, and I will wish I could spare them this kind of pain, because it’s what I’ve always tried to do as a parent. And I may have to face the same decision Daddy’s faced. I wonder if I will have the courage and the presence of mind to say, “enough” and let go?