The United States Air Force Memorial located in Arlington County, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Life threw me a curve ball recently, and I have spent the last several months doing…you know, I don’t really know? I know I still functioned, meaning I still went to work, paid my bills, socialized a bit, but that’s about the extent of it. One thing I did not do was write, because for some reason, when things really hit the fan the writing comes to a screeching halt. I even had a difficult time texting people on my phone, that’s how bad it was. It’s been so long since I have been here I had to change my password. Just to warn everyone, the following post has to deal with death, so if you don’t want to read on, you need to go no further than this first paragraph.
Coming here to write was not my first choice. I was looking around online for personal diaries and journals, even set up an account at two of them, thinking that would get the “want” for writing back, but it didn’t work. I ended up coming back here, got a new theme for the blog, and here I am. It’s taken quite a bit for me to get to this point where I have a New Post page open. I can procrastinate with the best of them.
So. After months of being in and out of the hospital, rehab and finally hospice, my father died. It wasn’t sudden, and it’s not a shock, but it did finally happen. He died at home, in the living room, with my mom sitting next to him. She had called me hours before, when I was still at work, to tell me the hospice workers said it wasn’t going to be long now, he probably wouldn’t last until the morning. I told mom I would leave work and come over, which I did, but as I was talking to her in the parking lot at work she said not to come over now, she was OK, but she might need me later. So I told her sure, call me if anything happens but I was going to go home and take a nap.
My phone rang at exactly two o’clock that morning. It was a quick conversation. Mom said he was gone, I said I was leaving. I threw some clothes in a bag, woke my friend up to tell her, and ran. I arrived to find mother and the two pretty mortuary boys filling out paperwork in the kitchen. In the background was my dead father, laying on the hospital gurney, with a horrible grimace on his face. Save for the oxygen tanks around him and all the other sundries that comes with hospice care, it looked as if he was lying in his own bed. There was a towel on his chest, but he was wearing a sweater and was covered up with quilts so you couldn’t tell he was in a diaper.
The paperwork finished, the pretty mortuary boys were very efficient in getting dad out of there. They had mom take his watch off, then they covered him with a sheet, took the quilts off of him, easily moved him to their gurney to the open body bag, and zipped it closed.
That was it. He was 73 years old. My dad and mom were married for 48 years.
Being practical women and not one to stand around, mom and I got to work airing out the living room, lighting candles, stripping the bedding, and moving stuff around because all of the hospice stuff took up the living room. By 7 AM we were exhausted, this was the end of nearly 6 months of watching my father wasting away, but there were still phone calls to make. I called out from work, then texted my boss to let her know he was gone and I would be out for a few days. My mom called my brother, whom I haven’t seen in 20+ years, and he made arrangements to fly out at 11PM that evening. She left a message with relatives who had already planned to come down from Seattle that day, to let them know that dad had passed, she had a ton of things to do and it wasn’t a good time to come down. Needless to say, all she got was voicemail.
We had to be at the funeral home by 3PM, and mom was freaked out by that. I had been through it before with a friend’s mother, so for me it really wasn’t a big deal. It was super easy, and once we discovered dad could be buried in Willamette National Cemetery, we went that route, which took a lot of stress off. The feds would handle the burial and everything else, all mom had to do was cremate him. We signed everything and was out of there in less than a half an hour. Dad’s years in the Air Force really paid off when it counted and made my mom’s life much easier. The funeral home would take care of the remains, and would call us when he was interred in his niche.
We get back to the house and mom calls the cousins, who are on their way to us after having lunch. The hospice people still had not shown up. Mom and I did what we could to make room for four other people but regardless of what we did, it was still a living room filled with hospital equipment. There was no way around it. When the cousins showed up, there was still no sign of the hospice people and my two cousins, who are around my age, entered the house with wide-eyes. Hey, we told them not to come.
I sat on the hospital bed. The bedding had been stripped away and all was left was the mattress covered in its plastic sheeting. No gore, no signs of death anywhere. My Great Aunt stood for as long as she could then asked if she could sit with me. I patted the mattress next to me and said sure, dad died here but you really can’t tell. My cousins about passed out but Auntie sat.
Mind you, I haven’t seen these people in YEARS, even though they are my closest relatives. Growing up, I never had anything in common with them. They were from Atlanta and even though they moved to the Seattle area almost thirty years earlier they still had that Southern Belle mentality. That’s what I grew up with, and that is how I remembered them. Age and experience has taken its toll on all of us, so cousin #1 was dealing with her second divorce and was about to move in with Auntie and Uncle with her two kids. Cousin #2 was just married, for the first time. Our lives had continued on different paths, so sitting there trying to make small talk with these relatives of mine, in the living room sitting on the bed where my father died well, it was an experience. Auntie asked me if dad looked peaceful when he passed. I assured her he did, finally gone from all of those demons that had haunted him for as long as I could remember. I didn’t have the heart to tell her he had this horrible, horrible grimace on his face which has been burned into my brain. I told her of the quilt he got from hospice, with bright squares and pictures of cats, given to him by some sweet person who worked with hospice patients.
The time didn’t pass but it did, and they eventually left, after a flurry of exchanging phone numbers. I harbored no wishes, I knew I would hear from them, and as all mourners they would taper off as new things came into life. With hugs and well wishes they finally drove off, just as the hospice truck pulled up to haul everything away. Once all of the equipment was gone, the living room was this huge open space again. It was finished. There was nothing left to do but wait for my brother to fly in from Jersey.
Six months of illness, of stress, of wondering what was going to happen, of worrying about my mother, was over. I thought it was over when the body bag was zipped closed, but the finality hit home when the hospice truck drove off and left us with a wide open space that was empty.
Note: I started writing this post a week ago. I started, then stopped. At the time I couldn’t finish it because I just…couldn’t. I am now in the space where I can, and did, finish.
My father passed away June 20. He was interred July 19.