My dad passed away peacefully at home Tuesday afternoon. I've been reflecting today on the ways God has spoken to me and answered my prayers these last few week. I'll admit that for all the time I spend in church and involved with church, at times I question my own faith and wonder if this is all real. These last few weeks have been an experience of God touching my life.
About three weeks ago as I was leaving the office my brother called and said that Dad was in ICU and that the doctor said it was time to gather the family. I headed to Mississippi in rush hour traffic. That night in the hospital Dad wasn't terribly responsive and I wondered if he'd still be there in the morning. I spent the night at his house and my brother and sister from Georgia came in too. Friday he seemed somewhat better and since we had plans Saturday, I headed home. Saturday morning I got a call; Dad had opted for hospice care at home. Sunday I returned to Mississippi. Dad was barely eating or drinking and told the doctor that he'd made his peace with God and didn't want rehab or to stay in the hospital. I sat with him and prayed the Rosary with him since that has always been a favorite prayer for him. Monday was the day he was to be discharged. Based on the way he was talking and acting in the hospital, I thought his goal in life at that point was to lay in that bed and die. However, once the ambulance was ordered to take him home, he started issuing orders. He wanted PT, he wanted a bath he wanted to go to Mass on Tuesday. Unfortunately, he didn't get any of those things. He got a bed bath the next day but he was just too weak to take to Mass and they had problems with the PT so she didn't show for over a week--not that I think it would have made much difference at that point. However, he was home where he wanted to be and the hospice nurse said that she thought this could drag out for quite a while. Since we had 24/7 help, my sister and I returned home.
For the last year and a half, I've been taking my Dad to Saturday evening Mass most weeks. When I showed up at his house that Saturday, he asked if we were going. The aide said she was willing to try if I was. He had been asleep all day but we got him up and dressed and put him in the wheelchair to see if he could sit in it. Then it started to rain, which was probably a good thing because it gave me a way out of a situation I could see giving me more problems than I could handle. By that time he was exhausted so he went to sleep. I decided to go to Mass anyway. Because it was a last minute decision, I was late and walked into church as Father was reading the Gospel. As I entered the church I heard "I am the Resurrection and the Life..." Someone was reminding me of something I needed to hear. Sunday at home, I was the reader for the first reading, which I could barely get through without tears.
We had one problem at this point. My dad had an implanted defibrillator. If his heart started with an abnormal rhythm, it would zap him, just like the paddles you see on TV, and it would keep zapping him until the battery ran out. That's a problem because when you start actively dying, abnormal heart rhythms are part of the process. Generally speaking, when people go into hospice care, the defibrillator is turned off. My dad refused to do so. He said he wasn't ready to die yet. When I met with the hospice nurse when they first brought him home, she had all the paperwork. He had also refused to sign a medical POA. She wasn't sure what was in his chest, but obviously wanted any defibrillator turned off. She said they left pacemakers on but that the defibrillator was not doing anything for him but could potentially really hurt him. This confused me because my dad said that he had felt so much better once they got that defibrillator working right. Because of my dad's desires and because the nurse didn't think this was going to happen quickly, I suggested pushing the decision down the road a couple of weeks. I figured that by that time, he would either be on an upswing (and glad he hadn't turned it off) or he'd be tired of being bedridden and wouldn't care any more.
This Saturday morning my sister called. She had spoken to my dad, who was refusing to eat or take his medicine. I headed over there early and the aide said she was glad to see me; that he still was refusing to eat or take his meds and that he'd been sleeping all day. I went in to see him and told him that if he was tired of fighting, we understood and it was ok to quit, but that we had to turn the defibrillator off first. I asked if we could do that and he said "no". I had spoken to his pastor earlier in the week and he agreed with me, that as long as we thought Dad was capable of making decisions, we had to honor his decision, even if we thought it was wrong. That night I started having questions about whether he was capable of making decisions. We had gotten him up and gotten a little reaction from him, and he did eat and take his meds for me but I decided to spend the night since it seemed that he was more responsive in the mornings and I wanted to talk to him. I also started looking into my ability to make that decision for him.
Sunday morning we couldn't rouse him. He was still alive but he wasn't speaking, wasn't waking up. An old friend from work came by and he didn't rouse. Then a couple from church came with communion. He roused but was unable to drink, so they wouldn't give him communion. We prayed for him and I told them the problem we had. We then asked again if he wanted us to turn off the defibrillator. He said "please". I called hospice and they said they'd try to get someone there Monday (they had earlier told me that it could take up to two days to get someone there to turn it off). The priest came by and he acknowledged Fr's presence. Needless to say, but this time I was very worried. I spent the night at his bedside. I prayed the Rosary and when I finished the aide came in and said she could have sworn she heard two voices praying and wondered if I had someone on the phone. I said maybe my Mom was praying with me, since they always prayed it together. I had asked a lot of people to pray that he had a peaceful passing and I was pleading with God not to take him before we got that thing turned off.
Monday my sister came in and he acknowledged her presence. He also roused when they brought Communion and was able to receive a speck of the host. When Father came by, he recognized him. He seemed somewhat aware of what was happening when the guy turned off the defibrillator. Father came by again after the defibrillator was turned off. That afternoon I was at peace; he could die in peace. God had answered my prayers. He did not acknowledge the priests when they stopped by that evening. Again, I spent the night at his bedside.
Tuesday he was obviously weaker but he still responded when Father came. At that point we were praying that it would be over sooner rather than later. At 3:30, he made a loud noise and stopped breathing. He died peacefully as I had prayed.
This morning I want to Mass in my parish. In his homily Father talked about Henri Matisse, the artist. He said that Matisse had severe arthritis in his hands and even used clothes to help him hold the brushes despite the pain. When someone asked Matisse why he did that , Matisse said that the pain would pass but the beauty remained. What a message to hear this morning!
Throughout this ordeal I have felt supported by the prayers of many people and have really felt the Divine Presence. As sad as this time in my life is, it has reminded me that God is there and He does care.