Saturday, May 03, 2014

OK To Let Go

My 97 year old dad is dying in Seattle. And I am sitting on my screen porch here in Houston on a perfect, low humidity, verdant and breezy afternoon. What to make of it all? A week or two ago, Dad was enduring his second bout of pneumonia in three months and he did not want to return to the hospital. He said yes to antibiotics, the use of oxygen and staying put in his adult family home. I don't blame him. The antibiotics worked well and for a bit, he seemed on the mend. But it's really all downhill for my dad.
After consultation with my sister Kate, I made reservations to fly to Seattle in mid-May so I can spend time with Dad, have conversations or simply sit beside him. Kate watches Dad struggle ever harder to move about, to eat, to read, to talk or hear. I've watched him make valiant efforts and I see that every single thing he undertakes is SO hard to do.

Early this afternoon, Kate sent me three texts, in quick succession, while I was indulging myself at Half Price Books. I'd just discovered a 1966 edition of selected works by Martin Buber. Serendipitously, I'd opened the book on this paragraph titled 'The Struggle.' Buber seemed to speak to today's state of the world, so I photographed the paragraph and then quickly decided I needed to have the entire book at my disposal.
I spotted a second book I had to own. 'Around the World On a Frayed Shoestring,' by Lyndall Finley Wortham, is a travel journal written by the future Mrs. Gus Wortham, published by The University of Texas, Austin in 1968. At once, I searched for whatever she might have written about Italy and found pages about Pompeii, Rome and Florence. A must have book.
With those two books in hand, I heard my phone buzz and read the first of Kate's text messages:
"Hi MM and JT, I am with dad. He looks bad again. Weak, no fever but on oxygen. Could not walk to bed room from family room. Wheelchair in use. He won't talk to me very much today. I don't know what to say. It is what it is."
Followed quickly by, "I am hoping for less misery for him and more mercy.  This is hard to watch week after week."
And, "We may want to get hospice involved so they can at least suction out his mouth. I may call on Monday."
I called Kate at once and said I thought she might tell Dad it was OK to let go, that he didn't have to hang on for the family picnic on September 6. We love him and it is OK to let go of everything. She said, "It is so hard to talk with him. He can't hear a thing. I'd have to yell."
"Close his door and yell." We hung up. I cried and waited to hear what she'd do.
I called my brother John.
"I got Kate's texts," he said.
"I'm glad Kate is telling him it's OK to let go."
"Yes," he said.
Kate, John and Dad on his 97th birthday, February 8, 2014.
Within minutes I got another text, "Talked to Dad. Told him it's OK to let go, OK not to fight on for the sake of the picnic in the park, and in my terms, OK to 'short out'. That term has been our little joke."
Followed by, "He heard me. He acknowledged, but had no words in response other than OK."
I wrote, "Perfect wording on your part. He will get that. Let me know about hospice."
And then there were texts about talking with Janet, that wonderful nurse practitioner who runs this adult family home. She agreed that hospice should be called and she will do it.
I called my daughters in Seattle to say that if they wanted to see Grandfather, they'd better get there this weekend and I recounted Kate's and my exchange.
And then I cried.
So here I am on this balmy afternoon, perhaps one of the last such days before Houston's leaden summer heat. I've seen a female cardinal and a blue jay, a bright green lizard. My cat Farrell did not see any of these creatures, for which I am grateful. I also saw the tail of a rat or a possum move into the aspidistra by my dining room door. Farrell didn't stir for that either. My two new books are by my side, waiting to be opened.
For months, Dad has talked of nothing else except the annual picnic. Lately he's been saying to one and all, "I hope I make it to 'that picnic'."
Family picnic in Discovery Park, 2013.
Dad does want to be with his very big four-generation family on the hill in Discovery Park. He wants to watch his great grandchildren fly kites and eat blackberry cobbler. I suspect he is also weary of the dreadful daily struggle to stay well, to mark the days and months until September 6. And the point is, Dad will be with us all on that big hill, even if he isn't actually sitting under the pine trees, wearing his baseball cap and beaming.
It's OK for all of us to let go.

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