9/23/2006

The Flea Sisters and Dad- Packin' for Heaven

It has been an amazing day for the Wisest Man in the Universe, my dad.

He's sleeping now. It is 1 a.m.- T-Minus "Whatever" and counting on the launch pad out of this existence. Becky snores softly on the bed beside him. I am in the green recliner wearing the red cherry pajamas my son calls "the happy p.j's." Dad's heartrate is slowing down. His breathing is softer and I'm having trouble finding a pulse in his wrist...But I eventually do.

Somehow I thought losing my dad would be worse than this...


Dad has been waltzing with death for a few months now. I can think of at least six times when we have been summoned to his bedside for the final round...Only to have him rally.

Frankly, I think it's all the attention. See, all of his life, Dad took care of everybody else. His children; his wife; his parishioners...strangers, friends...homeless people...Anyone with a need. When he got sick the tide slowly began to roll our way, much to Dad's great chagrin.

He hates not to be in control. He never let anyone "do" for him...Not if he could do it himself. But Pulmonary Fibrosis has robbed Dad of that option. Over the past eighteen months, I have watched this wretched disease slowly rob my father of his ability to do more than lie in bed and fight to breathe.

Pulmonary Fibrosis slowly destroys the lungs, stiffening them into useless lumps of hardened scar tissue. There is absolutely no cure, and as it is a fairly rare disease, not much money to research a possible cure.

Throughout it all, Pulmonary Fibrosis has never been able to steal my father's spirit or sense of humor. As close as he is to death today, as delusional and doped up on morphine as he is, that sense of humor and good natured caring still rise above the threat of death.

We are having a total blast.

My sister and I have been dubbed "The Flea Sisters" by Dad's hospice nurse. "You can scratch 'em, you can swat at 'em, but no matter what you do, you can't get rid of 'em!"

So, with the exception of one hour where I passed out on the floor by his bedside, I stayed awake last night. We're giving him liquid morphine every 2 hours, so it's like having a newborn, only a cagey, wily newborn with a stubborn streak.

My sister and I set an alarm clock to remind us when it's been two hours and time to give Dad his morphine. We are just too pre-menopausal, attention-deficit disordered and plain old tired to remember on our own.

At 5:30 a.m this morning, it went off, startling me out of the coma I'd fallen into on the floor beside Dad and apparently awakening him as well. We scared the shit out of each other.

I'm sure he didn't expect to see a wild woman suddenly spring up from the floor beside his bed and I certainly didn't expect him to be awake. In fact, we'd pretty much assumed after yesterday that Dad was going to remain unconscious until he died.

"I've got to go!" he said, throwing back the covers.

I am sooo not awake for this! But Dad is totally awake and quite intent on getting out of bed and "going."

"There's a line and the person at the end of the line is me."

Becky's up now, panicked.

"Whoa, Dad," I say. "You can't walk, remember? Let me help you."

He looks from one of us to the other and smiles...Like this is just another day in paradise, which I suppose it is, because he says, "Don't worry. It's all right."

The smile he gives us is nothing short of euphoric.

It takes a lot to keep him in the bed but somehow we manage. He falls back asleep and I take a Xanax. The doctor who wrote the script said, "Times like these are what Xanax was made for."

I don't know what in the total hell she was talking about. I don't feel a thing. However, ten minutes later I do decide it would be a good idea to drive my convertible across the huge bridge spanning the Trent and Neuse Rivers and down Broadcreek Road seven miles to my pit of a rented room. I have decided it will be "quieter" there.

Quieter than two sleeping people in a rest home?

My two best friends in the world have come down to New Bern to be with me. They are sleeping in my condo. This means I will have to sleep on an air mattress on the floor. It is like, 7 a.m. on Saturday morning and one of my friends is a cop. A skittish cop with a 9 mm Glock semi-automatic.

I send her a text page that reads, "I'm coming there to sleep for an hour or two. Please do not shoot me. I will knock first."

Maybe the Xanax is working...

Two hours and a second Xanax later, my cell phone rings. "His pulse is 180...Sharon says...so you'd..." is all I can make out of the garbled connection. But it's enough.

The cop comes out of a dead sleep, is dressed and out the door, driving me back into town in two minutes flat.

Big deal. I'd been like waiting over a minute for her!

I can only convince her to run one red light.

I think...Hell, I'd run one red light just to go buy a breakfast bisquit!

When I run into Dad's room, a large, black woman in scrubs is sitting beside the bed. My sister is nowhere and the hospice nurse is gone too. I've missed it. I'm too late. I just know it.

"Is he dead?"

"Lord, no!" the lady exclaims. "Your sister just had to pee."

Dad is awake and smiling at me...enjoying my little freak-out.

He stays awake for the next 15 hours.

He is doing the reaching thing again, only this time, he's not reaching for the filing cabinet like he said he was doing 2 days ago. Nope. He's adamant. He's talking to someone and it is not a inanimate.

All day long, Dad listens to conversations we can't hear. His eyes widen as he tracks something flying across the room above his head. His expression says he can't seem to believe what he's seeing.

Being The Fearless Fleas Sisters we are, we must know....What does Heaven look like?

Who better than Dad to tell us, to settle this "heaven" stuff once and for all? He is the most Christ-like man I know. His life is a how-to manual of kindness and compassion. If God was going to let someone take a peek into the Great Beyond before exchanging the secret handshake and pinky swearing not to reveal to mere mortals any details of an eternal nature, who better than my dad?

At first when we ask, Dad ignores us...But you can only ignore the Fabulous Flea Sisters for so long.

"There is no road between here and there," he says.

Becky is just sure she has a blueprint of the other side...However, I would hasten to add that she was also the one who consulted Shirley, the cook in the Homeplace kitchen, about Dad's blastoff date. Becky brought the woman into Dad's room, where Shirley pronounced Dad "not bad off enough" to "go before I get back here on Tuesday."

When Shirley leaves the room I just shake my head.

"She's a psychic," Becky says, with utter conviction. "But don't tell anyone. It was told to me in strictest confidence."

Which is, I assume, why she's blabbing it to me. But I digress...

Becky is just sure Heaven looks like the books she's read. She's told Dad how wonderful it will be, who will meet him at the gates, what angels look like...And by this I mean even down to "Wings or No Wings." The ones who "stand behind you all the time" don't have wings. But "Special Occasion" angels are larger and come equipped with super deluxe wings.

Sorta like her daughter, the black angel of death...(See yesterday's blog for details.)

Dad's not so sure Becky's right. In fact, he told me and not in the strictest confidence, that he was pretty sure we "went on" in some form, but not a stereotypical angel form.

All day long Becky tries to launch him into her Heaven, while Dad looks into his own. It's a trip.

I play the role of mediator and pseudo-buffer/reservation agent.

I assume Dad knows about our little silent battle over Heaven because he takes my hand and places it in Becky's, patting them with his own. His intent is clear. "All right, already!" I tell him. "We won't fight or argue. We'll be Fleas forever!"

"You got that right!" Becky swears.

When Mom arrives, he has us swear the whole thing over again, including her.
When we call my brother on the cell phone, Dad makes it clear that he's in the pact too, by putting the phone right in the middle of the pile of hands he's built.

I start singing, "We Are Fam-ily!" and Dad rolls his eyes. But nods vigorously when I say, "Family is everything."

Okay, this is not the only song I trot out from my repetoire. Earlier, when Dad said he had to go and I was not really awake, the only song I could come up with was the theme song from the show about that family, the Jeffersons. "We're moving on up! To a de-luxe apartment in the skyyyy!"

And yes, I did sing it to him.

I guess was just a little punch drunk because over the course of the day I also sang the Kellogg's jingle, the Oscar Meyer Bologna jingle, "The Church is One Foundation," "Holy, Holy, Holy," and eventually, "What wondrous Love Is This."

It cleared the room of visitors and Dad made a fake gun, shoot-the-piano-player gesture in my direction.

Freakin' critics!

Dad says, "We're packing the car and we're going to need about three days worth of clothes." Then he looks at his assembled family. "I've got to go. You have to stay here. I'm packing the car."

He pulls our hands with his, out in front of him, and seems to be consulting with someone. "I'll have to check with them to see who goes," he explains. But I know he is only being diplomatic.

Later he says, "I'm going to head out this way, " he points to the corner he's been staring into all day. "You're gonna head out that way." He points to the doorway of the bedroom.

I try to get him to rest, but he is worried about us. "You shouldn't have driven all the way down here for no good reason."

I assure him this is a very good reason! I say, "Just rest Dad. This is hard work and you're tired."

Dad nods. "I know. It requires a lot of inside work."

Becky is still telling him what he is seeing and pushing him for confirmation of this.

He tells us he sees colors "fanning out" across the ground. "I would like to be able to describe it a little bit better. There are many," he gestures out toward the corner, "out there." But he can't or won't be more specific.

"When I am trying to pull my thoughts together, I need to be fairly well divided," he says. "It's a pretty nice place to be."

Then something really important captures his attention. It is directly above his head. "I'm lookin' at the way in and the way out," he tells us. "We've got a lot of things we can decide...like which way to go."

This is around seven in the evening, after he's adopted both my friends, "thanked the sponsors" again, kissed us, hugged us, told us goodbye a bunch of times and tried to make his oxygen cord into the rigging lines from his sailboat.

"It's getting a little dark in here," he says abruptly. "My vision's not right." He peers earnestly into my face. "What does this mean?"

He is asking for the truth and verification of what he already knows.

"It means you probably don't have real long," I say. "You're dying."

Dad nods like I've given him the weather forecast and keeps on watching whatever it is he's seeing.

"When the show's over," he says, "sometimes they provide transportation."

"This is a great ride, Dad," I say. "I'm so glad we're doing this together."

"Yeah," he answers. "It's nice to have company. People are different." He stares out again, cocking his head to one side and cupping his ear with his hand. "We're between the ship and the shore. I'm listening."

"To the horns, right?" Becky asks. She's thinking Angel Gabriel horns and not foghorns.

Dad is coiling up spare oxygen hose, asking for envelopes, picking at the bedsheets and rolling our sleeves up because he thinks he's reefing the jib. "I need to stow this," he says and hands Becky's son a belt. "I need things to be organized. That's the way to do it. I always do it the best way..."

Now he's stretching the truth, teasing us.

He beams, very satisfied with himself. "I think things are going very well!"

We smile and assure him that, yes, things are indeed splendid.

"Good!" he says, as if that settles the matter. "Now, I'll need twelve envelopes."

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry about your Dad. My Dad died two years ago and I think it is easier when they pass away gradually. Mine died in the hospital after heart surgery. He woke up once and talked to the family there at the time. But, he died several weeks later. I saw him a couple of time but it just seemed he wasn't still there. All those machines kept his body going but that was it.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Kim said...

Oh my lord Nancy, This is so hard to read. I admire your strength, I really do. Your father sounds like one in a million, to have such determination... Again, I can't say enough that I know how you feel. When I watched my Angie pass, I kept thinking that it wasn't right that I wasn't a wreck, that I was calm and able to find humor in the goings on. It made no sense to me, but Angie loved it. I guess that's the lesson, eh? I wish I could hug you right now.

Nancy said...

Thanks, Kim. I read your post about Angie again (and if I knew how to turn the word "Angie" blue so it'd link to your blog I would because it is just about the greatest think since sliced bread..but for anyone interested, go to Hook ups on the sidebar and click on I wasn't always like this. It's fabulous!)
Anyway, your post about Angie underscores everything my father's ever taught me...Love is all about staying in the moment and loving your friends and family like this is the last time you'll ever see them.

Chrissy said...

Nancy, I had to comment on this story. Kim and I are best friends and your blog came highly recommended. You are a very talented writer. Your story about your father brought me right back to sitting in my mothers room at her bedside with all my sisters and brother. The laughter, tears, panic, peace, everything you feel at that time you expressed so well. That indescribable feeling of helping them pass. I was very blessed to be there with each of my parents when they passed. I will be visiting you site again and already called one of my sisters to read this blog...Best wishes to you and your family.

Chrissy said...

Nancy, I had to comment on this story. Kim and I are best friends and your blog came highly recommended. You are a very talented writer. Your story about your father brought me right back to sitting in my mothers room at her bedside with all my sisters and brother. The laughter, tears, panic, peace, everything you feel at that time you expressed so well. That indescribable feeling of helping them pass. I was very blessed to be there with each of my parents when they passed. I will be visiting you site again and already called one of my sisters to read this blog...Best wishes to you and your family.

Nancy said...

Oh, wow! THE Chrissy! I feel like I know you! I've been reading about your for what, years now? I'm glad to hear someone else has had such a rich and juicy experience with a parent's passing. I sometimes feel like I should pretend to be more devastated and sad than I am...but hell, I am totally broken-hearted...just as I am happy and grateful and overflowing with the love he's given me!

Ain't life a feakin' miracle?!