Monday, March 7, 2022

A Lesson for the Living

By Marietta Miles

There are very few assurances in this life. Death is one certainty, and yet, the timing and manner can be out of the blue.

A few weeks ago, my father passed away, and though he had been suffering from dementia and had life-changing medical events in the past few years, his body was still chugging ahead like a freight train. His mind had times of perfect clarity. He would talk about growing up downtown and watching his uncles get ready for dates or reminisce about our time in Hawaii. Then, one night, he fell out of bed; not a terribly big fall as my mother and I got him up and situated and he seemed fine the next day. No bruises or headaches, just a sore arm where he had caught himself as he fell.

As the week continued though, he became increasingly agitated and confused; we spoke about what was for dinner and he told us about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He would forget why he came into a room, or he would leave the kitchen with the faucets running. One morning, he couldn’t remember how to make coffee, this was maybe the surest sign of trouble. Truly, we joked that Folgers ran through his veins. The next afternoon however was wonderful and surprising as he appeared to be happier than he’d been in quite some time. He knew where he was, and he knew who we were. He was present.

That evening he had a seizure and by the time the ambulance arrived he was unresponsive. It was unbearable to see him like that, frail and struggling. My Dad, as a young man who wanted to see the world, touched toes in the Arctic Circle, crossed the equator several times and traversed the mountains and sands of the Middle East. Served on the Princeton, Oriskany and Shangri-La. Became a lifetime airman. How could such existence fade?

I went with him to the E.R. They intubated him and began running tests. They showed me the scans of his brain, one side was bright, and the other was completely dark, like the moon in shadow. He had suffered a catastrophic brain bleed and it was killing him. Twenty-four hours later he was gone, and our hearts shattered. I was holding him when he passed. I told him how thankful I was that he was my father and how much I loved him. Those moments were a torturous gift that I will always hold tight in my heart.

My family was given such gifts. During the Covid quarantine I became the most constant caregiver to my parents. It was hard for them to be shut away from the world, even if it was for their own good. It took a toll on their spirit. My father grieved that he would never step inside another hobby or bookstore in his lifetime, but we got by and did our best. I brought cats for them to love and plants for them to care for. Books to read. We made fun food. Tried new mixed drinks. We spent a lot of time together, because I was their bridge to the outside.

Towards the end of the shut down and once my parents were double vaxxed and boosted, we would go on small adventures. Milkshakes and a drive through the country. Breakfast and a sweet new haircut. I know my Dad enjoyed those days even though they weren’t exactly what he wanted. These past few years in isolation helped my mother and father and I get closer. We talked for hours about everything. Faith. Politics. Family. He told me about growing up with his big family and the boarding house his mother ran. We talked about forgiveness and regrets. Nothing was left unsaid. I never left his side without telling him I loved him. If I felt it, I said it, and he knew he was loved.

There are many heartbreaking lessons in life, but each is so important. And whether you believe in God or follow the word of science, you must realize each moment is a miracle and a gift and the time we have together so limited. This loss has taught me to give all my love and time, right now. Don’t wait. Always share. Love with no regrets.

1 comment:

Bob M said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's never easy to say goodbye. I was 2.5 hours away from my dad when he had his heart attack, but I was next to my mom as she passed.

May his memory always be a blessing.