Thursday, November 17, 2011

Letting Go

In support of EC Stilson's book, The Golden Sky, being released tomorrow I am participating in the Golden Sky blogfest. The idea is that we write about someone we have lost.

The only picture of my dad and Z.

The fingers laying on the white sheets weren't his anymore. My daddy's hands were stained with the yellow of tar and nicotine from 3 packs a day for as long as I could remember and motor oil that seemed to penetrate to the lowest layer of skin. These hands belonged to someone, anyone else, they were just too clean.

That breathing, the constant in-out, perfectly timed without a snore or a cough, that wasn't his either. And the antiseptic smell in the room, that was not his smell. My daddy smelled like Old Spice, mixed with cigarette smoke and exhaust. Kind of like my high school guidance counselor's office, which is weird but true.

My daddy was gone. And there I stood in a hospital in a town far from home, holding a child that I had only given birth to some 6 weeks earlier, next two a sister that I had not seen in years, staring at a patient with a shaved head in the ICU.

We had to make a choice, an operation that would leave him incapable of caring for himself followed by an endless array of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments that may or may not help or let him go.  Turn off the machines, bring him back home so his friends and family could see him and let Hospice help us until the end.

For us, there was no choice. I had been told over and over, no hospitals, no nursing home, no, no, no. Of course, when he said that he hadn't been sick or hadn't known he was sick. But I knew, I knew from the moment that I was told that he was intubated, that this was not what he would have wanted.

I am not going to romanticize it. I am not going to make it seem like a peaceful decision or a decision that the hospital would let us make lightly. In fact, we had to meet with a slew of doctors and attorneys that questioned our decisions, that questioned our abilities to make these decisions. I am not going to make it seem like it was not the hardest thing that I have ever had to do.

Pointing out the family secret of my father's drug addictions to attorneys and doctors in an effort to show them that he would not follow the recommended treatment protocol felt very much like tattling.

But it is done.

He didn't die when they turned off the machines, unhooked him from the shunt. In fact, he lived, struggling in a hospital bed for nearly a week as the pressure built back up in his skull. Blood pressure, body temperature becoming erratic and scary, I sat in a corner holding his grandchild watching him die everyday for that agonizing week.

There were moments after the tubes had been removed, the shunt turned off that he was aware of what was going on, that he was able to talk to me, able to understand the choices that I made. He told me that I made the right decision and I hold that close because so many do not have that comfort.

The last year of his life was perhaps the best year. He had good friends that cared for him, he was a new grandfather, he was finally becoming independent again after so many years of being dependent upon first my mother and then me. I would not have traded that year for the years of surgeries, treatments and procedures that might make him well again.

For our family, the choice of letting go was not about living or dying. It was about the quality of the life.


  1. This really hits home for me. He looks so very much like my own father, who we almost lost to colon cancer repeatedly.

    I'm so glad that his last year was a good one. Thank you for your support.

  2. Glad you got that time with your father. Sounds like he was a fighter.


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