Thursday, January 23, 2020

Remembering Dad’s Passing

October 30, 2010 by Diane  
Filed under Remembrances

A long flight, a ferry ride, and finally the taxi arrives at Craigmyle, the Bed and Breakfast directly across the street from Dad’s care home. Built as a boarding house in 1915, it transitioned to a B & B about twenty years ago. I am welcomed by Jim, the charming owner, and shown to my little room on the third floor. It is perfect. Spare, cheery and very clean, I marvel that Jim charges so little as it is considered “off season” in this lovely little city that thrives on visitors eager to see its sights. My view is of the garden, abloom with daffodils, grape hyacinth, and young tulips promising to carry on the lush spring show after the daffs fade away. And, out my window, I can see into my Dad’s room. The lamp in the corner is on.

Dad’s home, like all the homes on this street, was built in the early 1900’s. There is a white picket fence with an inviting arbor entry that almost hides the touchpad that, with its secret codes, allows the door to unlock. There is always one or two of the sixteen residents that gather at the door to welcome those coming to visit. Dad, for the last six months, is the only man in residence. The owner is Christine, a beautiful energetic woman with whom Dad has a somewhat difficult relationship. You see, as his ability to control his life has diminished with progressive dementia and physical frailty, the ego has devised a scheme to appease the anguish. Dad thinks he is the manager of the home. He gives his opinions and orders to Christine with great authority, dismissing her as merely a pretty woman who can’t possibly know how to run a business. Christine is very kind, and very patient; however there have been times, at the advice of the psychiatrist treating Dad, she has had to be very firm with him.

Well, today that is all behind us.

The big parlor of the B & B is very Englishy, a hodge-podge of furnishings and artwork, cabinets filled with old tea services, beautiful mahogany woodwork, untidy bookshelves, tapestries, a Grandfather clock, and still some Christmas cards displayed on the high moldings. The adjacent breakfast room is bright and airy. Jim and his wife don’t live here; they own the house next door. I haven’t yet seen any other guests. So now, as I get ready to cross the street to Dad, I am alone. Can’t I just stay in this cozy place, and hold vigil here? After all, I can see into his room. The lamp in the corner is on.

I make my way into Dad’s home, smile and greet the residents gathered in the front hall, waiting to be called in to lunch. One, I think her name is Emily, invites me to sit beside her at lunch.

In Dad’s room, I find him very anxious. Even under morphine, he appears to be in pain, even though I know it is not physical pain. He tries to open eyes that just won’t open, and he is trying to speak, but no words come. His arms flail, his fists clench. I kiss his forehead; it is clammy and cool. I tell him he is dying, and I have come to stay with him and that Katharine will be here soon, and that we love him and he is safe. I have asked for a CD player, but the one found is broken. Christine’s husband is called, and a short time later, arrives with their boombox from home. I light a candle and wrap my prayer beads around it. It comforts me to know the candle will burn, at my request, all through the days and nights. I put some music on and try to settle into reading.

Carolyn is the day shift RN. She is wonderful, so good with Dad, talking reassuringly and lovingly with him as she shifts him to another position. Later in the evening, Christine comes in and asks my permission to speak with Dad. She takes his hand, and kisses it. She talks to him about forgiveness, of himself and others, including herself, and she lets him know she forgives him for the times he was unkind to her. She tells him he is dying to this earthly life, leaving a body that no longer serves him, and that it is good. She ends with a prayer. I silently weep.

I arise to the most spectacular spring day. Showers and gusty wind and rainbows, pink whirls of blossoms from the cherry tree raining down. All over Victoria the cherry trees and forsythia are in bloom. The oaks are yet to green up, their starkness providing a lovely balance to the riotous color of flowers and blossoms. I am filled with love for this little city of my childhood. At 6:30 I go over to check on Dad; he seems much quieter this morning. The doctor was by last evening while I was out to dinner, and upped the morphine dose. I return to the B & B to shower and have breakfast. Breakfast is amazing. Real Scottish oatmeal with heavy cream and brown sugar, scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and toast. Comfort food.

Dad’s breathing is shallow now, with more space between the breaths. Carolyn has just come in to put on the nitro patch. Later in the early afternoon I go for a walk, in search of a glass of red wine. Jim has referred me to a pub nearby. On the way back, I pick a little twig, all green with new life, a little forsythia and some other small yellow flower. A pretty touch for the altar. I decide to look for an aromatherapy shop for some oil to anoint Dad’s forehead with. I trip on a crack in the sidewalk. Down I go, skinning both knees and the heel of my left hand. The teenagers at the bus stop just look at me, as I pick myself up and continue on, the tears beginning to sting more than the knees. I stop in a candle shop looking for oil, and the shop girls look strangely at me. I realize what a mess I am, and head back to Dad’s. Still crying, I allow Carolyn to take care of my knees.

Katharine arrives from Vancouver around six. She is very fragile emotionally as she put her little cat, Lucy, to sleep last week and just yesterday buried her, along with the ashes of her cat Ricky. I realize just how much loss this family has experienced in such a short time: Ricky in December 2002, my cat Kitty two days later, and then our mother in January of 2003. The next month, my cat Mary and my daughter’s little dog Joe. Now, barely one year later, Lucy…and Dad.

Carolyn tells Katharine she feels Dad needs to hear from her that he provided well for us, and that we will be ok when he leaves. She speaks softly to him. We stay til about 10.

It’s Friday morning the 26th of March. The day arrives quietly. Not a trace of the wildness of yesterday. Not even the smallest leaf is fluttering. Stillness. At breakfast, I glance across the street to Dad’s window. The lamp in the corner is on.

Dad’s breathing heavily this morning, and his body twitches. It feels like today is the day. Two of the aides that no longer work in the home arrive just to say goodbye. They are beautiful young Filipino girls, all glowing soft skin and shiny dark eyes. They press their young cheeks close to his and both cry. They tell him and us how much they love him. We later leave for a 1 o’clock appointment with the Funeral Home.

Back by 1:30 (no place is very far away in Victoria), we watch Dad as he becomes more and more agitated. We talk to him and Katharine strokes his forehead while I hold his hand. He quiets down. We leave at 2:30 for a quick bite to eat, and when we arrive back less than an hour later, Christine rushes to meet us at the door. Dad died at 3:08. Did he wait for us to leave? Perhaps. We sit with him, in silence, I in prayer. Later, we leave and take a very long walk, maybe a couple of hours. We walk through the gardens at Government House. The ducks with their ducklings waddle up to us looking for food. The gardens are so beautiful. I can smell the moist earth and rosemary as we pass the herb garden, and lavender too, and we have a magnificent view of the water. We are quiet, and when we talk, it is to say how grateful we are to have each other. Later, at dinner, we give a toast to our father, and, as the sky darkens, we watch the lights of the Inner Harbor begin to twinkle. We drive back to Dad’s the long way, around the waterfront, to pack up the few things remaining. The room is empty and dark. The lamp in the corner is off.

This was written just after my father died, in the lovely drawing room of the B&B I was staying in.


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