These are the thoughts of a Texas transplant in West Michigan who makes his living as a newspaper reporter by evening, and a struggling novelist by day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

death of my father

my dad died yesterday, nov. 7. he was pronounced dead at 9:35 p.m. he died in his bedroom on a hospital bed. we were all there.

it's been hard to accept taht i will never touch him again or talk to him again, hug him or kiss him. never say, "hey pop" or "hey old man," when i begin a conversation with him. no more talk of the ranch and what's going on with teh cows or a new calf or the windmill not working or something like how much he got for selling a cow or calves at the auction. or him telling me he loves me or asking how things are going with me and dawn.

the past few days have been tough, emotionally draining and mentally tiring. hours seem like days and though we've been here in south texas for six days, it seems like weeks.

dad lasted longer than anyone thought. the hospice folks thought he wouldn't make it beyond sunday night or monday. but he did. he kept declining daily but his heart hept on pumping. at one point while i felt his pulse,it was four or five steady beats and then nothing. then it'd start up again. it was disconcerting to feel that. we're so used to pulses being steady, not stopping like his did.

we thought that that tuesday night was the night. we were prepared. arnold, noel and i stayed up. although i fell asleeep first. we stayed up because we thought he might die and because there would be no nurse. one did arrive, though. and my dad lived on another day. and that night, for a few hours, chaplain don french came over. he was a godsend. he played with teh kids and then went to see my dad. we prayed over the body. french was the one who read the letter i wrote to my dad. no one else could read it. my mom read it to herself and cried. the hospice nurse, libby, read it adn she teared up. she couldnt' read it. so it was don french wo did it. he wants a copyof it to use as examples. he said it was aletter of life and not of death. i will post it later next week.

and so we helped out during the last days. we worked withlibby, the nurse, to move my dad up on the bed or turn him while she bathed him. my brother, noel, administered some drops or helped suction out phelgm when he coughed and it got too bad for him and it looked like he was choking. we helped with ice packs. we prayed, kissed him and held his hand. we told him it was ok. we reassured him everything was going to be fine. and yet he kept on.

then last night libby decided to stay a few extra hours while a cna came to stay with us overnight. we'd have to adminster meds and make him confortable. but it was like she knew.

his heart rate raced. it was up to 154 beats per minute. his respiration was between 32 and34 breaths per minute. we were afraid he'd have a massive heart attack. libby preferred his heart rate go down until it beat no more. then it did drop. it dropped to 150.

he was mottling. no pulse was recorded on his writs. or it was very little. it was irregular. but his heart still punded.

we watched the final part of "criminal minds" (i didn't know my parents liked the show. i commented on how cool it was. linda and i went over to the bed where libby was working on my dad's vitals. libby's phone rang andit was roland, the nurse who stayed overnight for three nights and he and my mom got along. she started talking to him. then the phone rang again and linda commented taht mom's answering libby's phone. mom left the room, going down the hall.

dad's heart beat was down to 140. his blood pressure was 64/48.

linda stepped out of the room and followed mom. i followed her. i walked to the bedroom's entrance and put my fingers over the top of the door's trim and stretched. i went down the hall.

we were sitting on the couch for a minute or so when libby came down the hall quickly and went tomom, who was in a corner of the kitchen near teh stove. she had a look on her face that scared linda.

"what's wrong?" i asked linda.
"I don't know," she said, looking at libby.
"what's wrong libby?" i said.
"I think he's gone," she said to us and my mom.

we went down the hall, libby telling us to get our family there. i ran up to get dawn. noel was outside. we went to the beside. then called maricella, but no answer.

at 9:05 my dad's heartbeat went from 140 to nothing. it just stopped. he took two breaths.

when we were around him at 9:10 there was no heartbet or breaths anymore.

my brother went next door and brought his kids. maricella came over soon after. she'd been in teh shower. linda went to get my aunt minerva.

we were all there as he lay in repose. it was unreal. there was my dad. but he was dead.

the phone calls began and so did tears. i remember calling my aunt gloria first and just unable to get words out. it got a litle easier as i made more calls, but depending on who i called, i did cry.

we went back in again after calls were made. i held his hand. it was so soft, despite years of working outside and callouses. they felt so good in my hands. i rang my fingers over his his and squeezed his hands. they were lined and darkened by years of work, but they were so soft.

my aunt gloria and uncle frank arrived along with their son-in-law luciano. chaplain don french also came. he was good to come on such short notice.

by 11 p.m. the funeral home personnel came and took the body. my mom, sister, arnold and the kids and dawn were in the old tv room. they brought in the stretcher adn took it into my parents' room. they came back down, my dad's body covered in a maroon blanket. it was such a small shape under the blanket that it looked as no one was underneath.

a day later, arrangements made, it's still hard. but it's getting better. i'm torn between having my father gone and him still alive and suffering. he was gone for days, at least in my eyes and mind. but his heart was still beating and there was something of him there. after 9:10 last night, there was nothing.

the balance is shifting, though. i think he's in a better place now. he's not laying in a bed dying, suffering and withering away to nothing. i smile now because he's safe now. he's not in the throngs of that wretched disease. my pops is ok now.

goodbye popsy (i know it's weird to call him that, but i like it). you were a good man and the best dad i could have ever had. love you.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

back home with dad

we arrived friday and it was good we did. it's the last time dad's been really lucid.

we got in around 7:30 p.m. and he was sitting in a chair in his room, tv on. we went back there and recognized us. i held his hand and tried to comfort him. i spent of three hours or so with him, holding his hand, talking to him, telling him i loved him. he patted my knee with his right hand. dawn told him that we were glad to behome wit him. he got her hand and kissed it.

i chatted wtih him abut many things, especially the ranch. i reminded him of many fences we build and windmills we fixed. i looked at his ahnds and felt them with my own. i said they were rough hands. i asked for "los guantes" (the gloves) to put on them. i said we didn't have them now. then he grasped my leg andhe kept picking at it, picking at my jeans. i didn't know what he was doing.

i was during this time alone that i finally cried. a few times in the interim with the cancer i got close but didn't really. this time, it just came out. it was rough seeing my dad like that, thin, fragile, unknowing, a blank expression on his face. he wanted to sit up, thenlean back. finally at some time past 10, we helped him to the bed and laid him down for the night.

adn that was really the last time, we talked andhe knew of me.

yesterday and today have been no better. he's been bedridden since he was put in bed friday night. i helped him up to urinate a little bit sturday morning, but that was just to get up from the bed and then back down. that was it.

he's opened is eyes here and there, but the hospice nurses say he can't really see, only shadows. but he can hear. and perhaps taht's one of the saddest things because he knows people ar there to see him and why they're there.

all of us have told him our goodbyes and that we love him and it's ok to go. we've whispered it many times to him as we caress his forehead. he mumbles a few things and that's it.

people have streamed in all day yesterday and today. uncle rene has been here since saturday morning and slept at the ranch for the first time in years. then his sisters, friends, in-laws cousins have dropped in. what a testiment to my father. to me that's a sign that people like him and respect him. it's been rough to see some of them go in and see my dad. many simply broke down when they saw him, even though they've seen him recently. it's very hard to see him lying in bed, eyes closed, breathing through his mouth to get oxygen into his lungs.

he's on oxygen, a tube runing into his nose, but it's not enough. his breathing has become shallow and acccessory muscles that would help him breathe to get oxygen into the lungs are tiring out. once they go, then the only oxygen he's getting is from the tube. but that won't be enough. the brain is struggling to get more oxygen and will selfishly take it from other organs for itself. the extremities will lose circulation and eventually blood flow will cease to his legs and arms. his kidneys could go when they cease to function after teh brain takes oxygen from then. the heart is bumping too fast to get more blood out, but the heart rate is that of someone doing a light jog and he's too weat for that, so he could get heart failure. we don't know. he can't swallow, either, so he's been given tiny slivers of ice or a wet swab to moisture. no more food or water.

it is very painful to see him like that. , you have no idea how painful it is. my dad is gone. that poor man that's in the bed isn't him. and yet it is. the eyes are still him and is perhaps the most heartbreaking for me. in those eyes is still my dad. i long for some recognition. but it's gone. i mourn.

and so the trip that turned from one of a last visit has turned into a trip that will include his furneral, it seems. he's declined to much so soon. it's frightening.

yesterday at 6 p.m. father benito for last rites. we gathered around the bed and prayed, doing an our father and hail mary. since he can hear, i wonder what goes through hs mind? it felt good andyet sad. that an end there. and there's no going back.

this afternoon, though, was probably the saddest and i wasn't even there. a rosary was prayed by family members. i was busy making phone calls to people who are pallbearers and letting others know his status. later i found out that during the praying, he very clearly said "i love you." that tugged at my heart like you wouldn't believe. everyone heard him. my mom gave him a kiss. during the praying of the rosary, he was trying to also pray, mouthing some hail marys.

now it's a waiting game to see when he dies. he's been deemed eminent by hospice and he hasn't reached that point where death is an hour way -- though he can reach it quickly.

libby, alma and roland? what can i say. they've been great. they're the hospice folks. libby, especially, has been wonderful. very caring, informative and just there,watching, helping. what a great organization.

last night my mom and i were in the room that leads to the upstairs. she saw the cds my dad bought durng this past year. she started going through them. i asked if i could have some of them. she said i could have them all. they were bands like los tigres del norte, carlos y jose, los cadetest de linares, los relampagos del norte, los reileros and los alegres de teran. dad got me intrested in that music and i was happy to have them. i will treasure them. today mom gave me an old knife that belonged to was in a sheaf. that knife is old. i remember it from when i was young. i love keepsakes from my dad.

i will finish with this tonight. friday night we got one last picture with my dad sitting up in the chair. i'm glad for tht. we were all in it. i will like to have that enlarged and framed.

i love you, pops. i don't want you to suffer any more.