Sunday, March 17, 2013

"To the well organized mind...."

My Daddy passed away on March 3rd.

It's sad.

The nursing home had told me a few days before that it was time to consider hospice because he wasn't eating as well as he had been before, but other than that there were no big immediate problems. Even the doctors don't always know the future.... They called on Sunday morning and asked if I could come because there had been a "change in his condition" which can only mean one thing. The following are the moments I can remember of the blur that followed.

I rushed to get real clothes on as I was still in pj pants and I remember thinking, 'Should I really wear my purple shoes? Do I want to be wearing purple shoes the last time I see my Daddy?' Weird thing to think, but what are you going to do? I went with the purple shoes anyway. I left Timothy home with the boys and set out as fast as I could. I called my greatest friend because I didn't know what else to do and I wanted someone else to know I guess. She said she would meet me there. I remember wondering how I could get Timothy up there too and not coming up with an immediate answer. I remember catching myself speeding a couple of times and how that story would play out with a police officer if I actually did get stopped. I think I cried the whole way.

When I got there I found the nurse that had called me, it had only been about 15-20 minutes. She dropped what she was doing and put her arm through mine and led me down the hall. "We were giving him breakfast and he suddenly got very pale. They are getting him all cleaned up so he will be ready for you to visit. It may be a few minutes or it could be hours."
"But it will be today?"
"Yes. I'm so sorry. Also, I hate to ask, but do you have any funeral plans already set up?"
"Yes, I'll ask my husband to bring the papers."

After a couple of minutes the aides came out and said I could go in now. He was clean shaven and his hair was combed. He was tucked comfortably in his bed under a white blanket and looked like he was sleeping. I tried to talk to him but I didn't get a response. I called my mom and asked if she could go to my house because I needed Timothy, she said she would. I called Timothy and told him where the papers were. I was pacing the room feeling lost.

The director of nurses came in and told me I should talk to him because he could hear me. She told him I was there then she left again. I was crying again. I sat down on the bed, "Hi Daddy. I love you." It was all I could manage and then I just leaned down to hug him. That's where I was when a nurse named Christine came in. She sat right down with me and called me "Sista" and started praying. She had the prettiest Africian accent I have ever heard. When she finished we both looked at Daddy and knew he was gone. She put her hand on his chest for a minute and checked for a pulse and couldn't find it. I was pacing again. She went to get the director again. They told me to sit in a chair, so I did. The director gave someone a watch and said they needed to time her for two minutes while she checked for signs. I remember thinking that would be an awful long time for someone to just be holding their breath, but there's no hiding a heartbeat. One of the aides said ever so quietly, "Aww, no more Joe-Joe. That's what I would call him when I came to wake him up to eat."

This entire process took place within 45 minutes of the phone call that started it all.

They left again and I was still in the chair when Sally came in. We sat for awhile and said all the comforting things to each other then we moved to the lobby because I didn't want Timothy to have to come in that room. (Sally is a tough nurse herself, so I wasn't much worried about her, but looking back it's probably creepy for anyone to witness.) When Timothy came we sat around and chatted a bit. Calls to the funeral home were made and arrangements were set up for transport. We talked about Doctor Who of all things and had some good laughs. Then we realized there wasn't anything else for us to do so we all went home.

I had been trying to call Brother this whole time. I left messages everywhere I knew. He finally called back about 4 hours later. They were camping and didn't have the phones turned on to save the batteries. We decided he should go in to work the next day to wrap things up since he would be gone for awhile and then he would fly out on Tuesday. 

That afternoon we went to Collin's first soccer practice. It was weird. I put on my fake smile and got through it. You can't introduce yourself to new people by explaining that your father just died today, but look how cute all the kids are playing soccer. I felt like I was floating. Like watching myself go through the motions. It was just the start of the weirdness. I also started texting everyone to let them know. Lots and lots of texting.

Monday, Timothy took off work to go with me to the funeral home and meet with the Pastor about the memorial service. At the funeral home we had to sign some papers and I almost laughed out loud when I was handed a paper to sign that stated that "cremation is an irreversible process." It was actually quite insane. I started to think of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme in my head and how they couldn't put him back together again. When we met with the Pastor, Timothy was really helpful with picking out things to include in the service. I was glad he was there.

Tuesday, I went to hang out with Sally again because she's one of my favorite people and her house happens to be close to the airport where I would need to pick up Brother that afternoon. We watched "The Eleventh Hour" which was a good laugh and a good distraction. Then I got to spend some nice time with my godchildren after they came home from school. Cooper even talked me into jumping on the trampoline!

Once Brother was here a whole new mood set in. When he's here, he has just as much authority as I do in the decision making so I don't have to do it on my own. There ended up being a lot of down time when we didn't have much to do. Which translates into a lot of time playing old school Zelda. It was the late 80s all over again. There was also a lot of Bueno and a lot of Whataburger because those are the foods that he misses most living in California. The boys were super excited to hang out with Uncle Brother and especially Owen was crawling all over him the whole time. We spent some time going through old photo albums and picking out pictures of Dad to make a collage for the service. At some point we finally figured out how to order a headstone for the grave. That one took some work. We coordinated with the cemetery association about the burial.  We made bacon pancakes.

The service was lovely and we saw quite a few people from Dad's side of the family there. We don't stay in touch with anyone so it was like meeting them all over again because it had been so long. At first I didn't even want to have a service because I felt like no one was there for Daddy in his last year so why should they get to be there now? But I know it was the right thing to do so that everyone could say goodbye and have closure. There were a lot of people that cared about him even if they didn't come to visit.

It turns out that it takes a lot longer than I would have guessed for a person to be cremated. I suppose with it being an irreversible process and all they want to get it right. There are lots of forms to be filled out and doctors and medical examiners and whatever else to sign off on. It ended up taking about 10 days until we were able to pick him up from the funeral home. Daddy wanted to be buried next to his parents out in the country close to where he grew up. This is an old cemetery and it's no longer maintained. This means it's a do it yourself kind of job. I know, right?! Brother and I set out early in the morning, but I don't think either of us expected it to be as big of a job as it turned out to be. He used a pickax and I used a shovel. He certainly did most of the work, but it was a big job. We dug about 3 feet deep in the hard Texas clay. It took about 2 and a half hours to get it completed. We were grateful for the nice weather we had that day. It would have really sucked in the summer.We were so tired that we cancelled our plans to go try to locate Dad's old farm house where he grew up. That will just have to wait for another time, or maybe it will never happen. I think we both felt like we were done after that. That night Brother and I stayed up way too late talking like we hadn't just spent the last 9 days mostly together. This was the longest we had spent together since we had both lived at our parents house which was probably 1998. It was nice to have him here for so long. The next day I sent him back home and the weird came back.

Now it's time to remember how to be normal. I go back to work tomorrow after 2 weeks off. That's going to be all kinds of not fun. I think any time someone dies there are a lot of what ifs and whys. I have those too. I really wish I had gone to visit the day before instead of doing laundry instead of putting it off. I was planning to go visit the day he died at lunch time because that's when he normally talks to me the most. He was gone by 9 in the morning. I know I can't get hung up on those things because there's no changing it now. I have also found tons of things to be grateful for. I'm glad I was able to answer the phone when they called me. 10 minutes later I would have been in the shower and I could have missed the whole thing. I'm so grateful that Christine was with me and I didn't have to go looking for a nurse to tell them he was gone. I grateful that my Daddy left this world to the sounds of a beautiful prayer. I glad he was peaceful and I'm glad it was quick. I'm glad I was with him and I'm glad I had people with me. Mostly, I'm grateful that I was able to have this great adventure with my Daddy the last few years, and I'm glad I was able to be his best friend and in the end and he knew I loved him.

The last time I was able to have a real conversation with him was about 3 weeks before he died.

"Do you remember me today?"

"I'm pretty sure you're in here somewhere."


  1. It is difficult enough to live it, but to recount it in writing must have been a struggle. You're a pretty amazing person, there, Janet. I'm glad you do see the good things you did for him. The list is long, and longer than you probably know.

    I think "We coordinated with the cemetery association about the burial. We made bacon pancakes," might be the best illustration of the collage of oddly paired moments that follow such a sad day. You're a good writer.

  2. Janet, you are one of the most amazing daughters I know. The love you showed your dad and the sacrifices you have made are incredible. The weirdness will come and go for a while. The sadness too, of course. But the good memories will eventually outweigh the sadness. I'm so glad you can see the things to be thankful for and not just what ifs and whys. I'm thankful that you found a place to care for him that it sounds like is full of compassionate, kind people. I am always here if you want to send someone a text that says I miss my dad and this sucks!