My sister called me at work just after lunch yesterday, tearfully telling me, "Dad's gone."
He went to the hospital in Leduc two weeks ago, because of a foot and leg injury that was taking too long to heal, and because of my mother's acceptance that his progressive dementia meant she simply could not look after him on her own any longer. Dad was on a list so we could make some manner of living arrangements for him, and the hospital was not really supposed to be anything more than a waystation, a stopover before moving on to a potentially difficult next stage of his life, but one we are all committed to making as easy as possible for both him and Mum.
Tara and I have been very vocal in our support of Mum's decision, because we know it was not an easy one to make, and of her fear that it might look like she was abandoning him, and we assured her that this was not the case.
I was worried that her frustration in the situation might somehow manifest itself at anger at Dad, that she might somehow blame him for putting her into this terrible situation, but I needn't have worried. When I asked her how he was making out at the hospital the day after he was admitted, she said, "I'm sure he'll be fine, all the nurses on the floor are falling in love with him. Well, how could you not?"
Audrey and the girls and I got two visits in with him before he passed, thank God. One about three weeks ago at Tara's house, where he thrilled Fenya by remembering her name without prompting, and expressed interested to hear that a church meeting I had been at that day used Bourinot's Rules of Order instead of Robert's. The second was after he was hospitalized, where it was painful to watch him struggle for words due to his aphasia, but when Tara joined us and we could converse around him more than with him, his delight in being with his family was apparent.
We aren't sure what caused Dad's sudden passing, but he was not responsive to Mum when she visited him earlier this week, and was sleeping much of the day. She left after 10:00 yesterday morning so he could be taken for an x-ray, and the nurse called her right around noon, to say, "I'm sorry Helen, he's gone."
Mum could only say, "No."
But it was so.
Even on my frantic drive down the highway to Leduc from work, I found myself wondering if perhaps it was a misunderstanding, if maybe he had wandered off, but there was a small cold spot in my stomach that told me this was it, the day I had dreaded since I was ten years old and the father of some friends of mine died of a heart attack had finally come to pass, and my father was gone.
Twenty minutes later, I stood in his hospital room where he lay on his back, mouth slightly agape, looking for all the world like he was napping on the couch like he would on Sunday afternoons when I was a child; I stood there, listening for a snore I knew wouldn't come, but I waited for it anyway, until that part of me relented.
I held his hand for a moment, knowing there would be no warmth, but still surprised at the lack of it. I squeezed his shoulder as he had mine so many times as a boy, and I wished him peace and Godspeed wherever his spirit may go.
Mum and Tara and I collected his clothing and few personal effects, and Mum told the nurses which funeral home to contact, then went to Tara's house to begin calling the friends and relatives and sharing the unfortunate news. A handful of people came by to express their regrets and share their condolences, and after a couple of hours, there were as many laughs as there were tears, as we recalled Dad's life in all its glorious absurdity, all its significant trivia.
Conflicting emotions struggle within me, and I try to sift the selfish from the unselfish to no avail, as if I am trying to pull apart two wrestling pythons only to discover they are actually a single snake with two heads. Yesterday was simultaneously the worst day of my life, but Dad's passing could have been so much worse. We all die, the only thing that changes is how. A rapid deterioration in a hospital, in a town he called home for thirty-odd years, with close contact from his wife and children and grandchildren and friends and the knowledge that he was loved is a far better way to leave this world than many are provided, and I am grateful for that.
But I loved my dad, a lot, the way he loved us, and I am going to miss him fiercely, and for the rest of my life,
Rest in peace, father.