Monday 30th March 21.30
Dear Readers, I am writing this from my Dad’s room at the nursing home. He is asleep, breathing heavily but without obvious distress just a few feet away from me. To my delighted astonishment, the home is letting me stay for the duration, provided I stick to Dad’s room, or to the room that they’ve made up for me downstairs. For all my trepidation about persuading Mum and Dad to go into a nursing home, I think that it was one of the best decisions of my life.
When sitting beside someone who is dying, it’s important to abandon all illusions of control. No one can tell you when it’s going to happen, or how exactly it will be. For me, there are moments of absolute anguish, when I feel as if I’ve been poleaxed by grief. I remember how last time I was here, Dad spotted that the wine served at the ‘Spanish’ dinner was actually Italian, and how I would never have guessed that in a few weeks I’d be sitting at Dad’s deathbed. I remember the way that his face used to light up when I walked in, even though he didn’t really know who I was. I remember the time I walked into the home wearing a new dress.
‘Who’s that, Tom?’ asked one of the nurses.
‘I don’t know’, Dad said, ‘But she’s beautiful’.
I really, really don’t want him to go. But nothing I can do will make him stay.
Sometimes, I almost forget what I’m here for: I get engrossed in something on my phone, or I get chatting to one of the nurses, and it’s as if Dad’s imminent demise has slipped my mind. Maybe the brain can’t stand too much reality in one go. And then his breathing changes, and I’m instantly alert again.
Watching Dad at the moment, I can see what an effort breathing is – his whole stomach and diaphragm are working to pump oxygen. And then he breathes shallowly for a few breaths. He is rattling away, but I know that this doesn’t cause him any discomfort. Most of the time he is peaceful, but occasionally he becomes very agitated and upset. He can’t seem to bear any coverings over him, and sometimes I wonder if he’s living out something from a past life – he seems to be riding a bike, then he seems to be pouring something from one place to another. Sometimes he settles himself, and if I cuddle him and talk to him he sometimes calms. Other times he is inconsolable, and if it goes on for too long the nurse will give him an injection to sedate him, but only if all else fails.
He was very upset after the staff had been in to wash and change him, and I’m going to ask them to reduce that kind of contact to the absolute essentials going forward. I have no doubt that it was done kindly, and with the best of intentions, but Dad is dying, and if he is a bit grubby when he passes then he will be no less loved because of it.
Part of me is desperate for sleep, but I don’t want to leave him: I made him a promise that I would be with him, and I want to keep it. I might see if I can doze in the chair for a bit, and see what happens. I wasn’t expecting to stay, but the staff have brought me a fine selection of toiletries and a toothbrush so I won’t be too unhygienic. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
Tuesday 31st March 05.30
Well, it’s Tuesday morning and I managed a few hours sleep. One of the other residents stuck his head round the door a few times but backed out when he realised that it wasn’t his room.Dad was largely peaceful but became very agitated at daybreak – it’s probably time to increase his medication. I am struck by how different Dad’s passing is from Mum’s – Mum seemed to sink into dying as if it was a warm bath but Dad seems to view the approach of the Grim Reaper as an insult and I suspect he is going to fight it every inch of the way. I am reminded of the lines from Hal Summers’ poem, My Old Cat:
My old cat is dead,
Who would butt me with his head.
He had the sleekest fur.
He had the blackest purr.
Always gentle with us
Was this black puss,
But when I found him today
Stiff and cold where he lay
His look was like a lion’s,
Full of rage, defiance:
Oh, he would not pretend
That what came was a friend
But met it in pure hate.
Well died my old cat.
I suppose that our ends are reflections of who we are, and as Dad is defiant, stubborn and contrary, I should not be surprised if I’m still sitting here in a week, bleary-eyed and reduced to wearing Dad’s jogging pants because the one set of clothes that I was wearing has finally become too unsavoury to tolerate.
Let’s see. Birth and death both happen on their own terms, so i just need to settle in for the duration.
Tuesday 31st March 11.00
Dad has had all his sedatives and is still agitated. One of the carers suggests that I try giving him a head massage and so i do. Is that the tiniest whisper of a smile that I ser? He seems to calm down and falls asleep so I sit back and doze for no more than two minutes when i hear a gasp. I stand up, disbelieving. I check Dad’s pulse, listen to his heart, but all is silent. As light as a feather, he has gone. Maybe death had stopped trying to cajole Dad and had gone for seduction instead. Who can resist her, when she promises peace and the joyful faces of those who’ve gone before?
Oh Dad. Blessings on your big, big heart. Say hello to Mum for me.