My father died today.
We all planned some months ago to be up in the Sault this weekend. We knew he would not last much longer and, while not a superstitious lot, we all know the family lore that put his death in 2004. He himself often joked about it, grimly. Still, the fact that we chose this weekend seems strangely prophetic.
Last week, my brother started calling us. Every day, the news became worse. By Thursday, however, we had moved him back from the hospital to the nursing home, on palliative care. We knew that, because of the respiratory complications, it was a matter of weeks, perhaps days, and we all agreed to a DNR order.
So the three of us who don’t live here arrived by Friday. Spouses and children waited behind, preparing to come if necessary. In the afternoon, he opened his eyes once, and saw us, and then he closed them again. To our knowledge, he never opened them again.
In the evening, we went out to a neighbourhood Italian restaurant. Saturday morning my sisters drove up to the nursing home with my mother. They dropped me off at the Steamy Bean, a contemporary coffeehouse plopped on the frozen old Great Northern Road, the way out of the city, the way north. I checked my e-mail and my messages and signed into E2, and let people know my father was ill. Then I walked through the blowing snow, down the highway we used to take to the cottage. I recalled taking the snowmobile out to the lake in winter, and remembered the time he and I drove out to join the rest in summer, circa 1970, and he picked up a couple of hippie hitchhikers, let them ride in the back of the truck, because it was raining hard.
I arrived at the home. My sisters left to make some purchases, and, after a time, I spread out some work. My mother began knitting.
And then she asked, “has he stopped breathing?”
We looked closely, and waited. He’d stopped before, for a few moments.
At that moment, my sisters returned.
He wasn’t starting again.
We buzzed the staff and then I hurried down the hall to get someone while they phoned my brother. Hurrying seems a little pointless, now, given the DNR order.
Mary dropped by while we waited for the doctor. She lives elsewhere in the home. In her 90s, her physical mobility has been restricted by age, but she retains her mental faculties. When she'd been a young mother, her yard was the one where the kids of my dad’s neighbourhood congregated. She knew him as a boy. She spoke with certainty that he could look down on us, and that she would likely be seeing him soon.
The doctor came and went. She had a pleasant manner. We remained until the representatives of the funeral home arrived.
I've tried to keep things in perspective. Last week, a family I know lost a son to a traffic accident. He was nineteen. He didn't get a very long life, and the family had no time to prepare. I cannot imagine their grief, knowing what mine is.
My father led a good life. I just wish it had been longer.
Our mother, whose Alzheimer’s progresses, can be confused and irrational now, though she has not forgotten that her husband is dead. She used to visit him at the nursing home, and they fed her. We’re not certain what will happen now that she no longer has that routine.
I’ve written about his life elsewhere, and can barely write more now.
I thank those of you who’ve messaged me.
I have one more thing to write.
Almost two weeks ago, I had a dream.
Now, I am a skeptic, and recognize that, knowing my father’s condition, it would only be natural for my sleeping mind to construct a dream where I said goodbye to him, to the person he was before illness took him down. Even so, I find the experience odd, and haunting. But, as my sister-in-law said, it was a good dream to have.
I was traveling from place to place, initially alone, but later with my dad. We were clipping views, some of them places he had been, the way that one might clip images on a computer.
We arrived at the turn off to Haviland Bay, but one less built-up, more wild, as it was when he and his brothers first built the cottage.
A second horizon appeared, beyond the first one, looking like the view from an airplane window, brought down to earth. He and I had a lengthy conversation, though I cannot recall a word of it. I only remember that it seemed real, and he was the person he’d been, not so long ago. He seemed younger, in fact, as though he’d been turned back ten years or more.
Then he said goodbye, and walked into the horizon.
And I suppose that’s what he’s done.