When daddy had a stroke in 1993, when I was 17, none of us thought he'd make it even 5 years. He lived for another 17. There were arm spasms and a seizure and subsequent hospital visit, and he was left almost paralyzed on the left side of his body. He could walk, but very slow and with a quad cane. No driving, and he didn't go out much. But nothing major happened until this past December.
A couple of weeks before I arrived in DC for Christmas, daddy had a mini-stroke and lost the ability to read or do his beloved crossword puzzles. We both wondered what he would do with himself without these things. But he regained those abilities two days later. By the time I saw him, though, he was fine. Last Sunday, he had another small stroke and again lost the ability to read or write. The major stroke that eventually killed him happened sometime on Tuesday afternoon (19 January). The doctors did a CT scan and saw massive bleeding in daddy's head, as well as the damage from the other strokes, which was more extensive than we thought.
By the time I got to DC and saw him on Wednesday morning, daddy was still holding on, but he couldn't (technically) see, hear, or feel. I asked him to squeeze my hand if he could hear me, though, and he did. He even opened his eyes and looked at me for a nanosecond, and I am positive he saw me. However, when we went back to see him that night, he was super agitated and trying to take out his catheter and fluid tube and get out of bed. This time he couldn't hear or see me, and he kept trying to let go of my hand so he could get out.
Thursday morning, we met with the palliative care doctor and his nurse. The prognosis was very poor, and even if daddy did make it out alive, he would be a vegetable. I honored daddy's wishes and let him go. I watched the nurses take out his feeding tube along with everything else. I freaked out. He was moved to another room, where he got a morphine drip to keep him relaxed. He held on, and when he awoke from the haze, he would moan. Just short moans. But mostly, he slept. We went home and I called the phone company to have his phone disconnected. I called the Washington Post to have his subscription cancelled. I called the cable company. Wrote his obituary.
Friday, I went to daddy's room to meet the hospice care worker, Betty, a very nice lady from Georgia. She told me that they would keep him at the hospital for a few more days on the morphine drip, and if he survived until Tuesday, today, he would be moved, morphine and all, to a nursing home where they often tended to terminal patients. After Betty left, I stayed with dad and held his hand. That night, my mom and I decided I would go back to NYC and then come back for the service and the "administrative" stuff, like the bank accounts, the house, etc. Throughout all this, I was terrified that he would die alone. I didn't want to leave him. But I had to continue my life. He would have wanted that. So I bought my bus ticket.
On Saturday, I went to the hospital to say my goodbyes. I cried a lot and I prayed with him. I held his hand. Noticed how his fingers were like mine, short and chubby. His hands looked like crinkled paper. His cheeks were sallow, but he looked so young. When I left, I gave him a kiss on the cheek, told him I'd see him again, and although medically speaking, he was completely out and couldn't feel anything, I saw his head turn towards me, the corner of his mouth turned up slightly. I know he was smiling, and if he could have talked, he would have said something like, "Don't worry about me. I'm OK." He always said that. Mom and I went to his house to start the clean-out process. I thought I wouldn't be able to do it, but I surprised myself.
I went home Sunday. Sat on the couch and watched TV with my cat, JP. I eventually fell asleep. At around 5 am, I woke up to find JP sitting next to me, staring up at me. I had a picture pop into my mind. It was just for a second, but I remember it clearly.
Daddy was in his hospital room, lying in bed. He wasn't moving, but his eyes were wide open, looking to his left. He had a slight smile on his face. His cheeks were full and young. Standing at the left side of the bed were a huge group of people: grandma and grandpa were there, as well as aunt Ida, Ruth, and the rest of my grandma's brothers and sisters. I had never met grandma's family, but I knew Ida and Ruth from pictures. Grandma's parents were there too; I recognized them from pictures. Great-grandpa was wearing his dark hat and thick mustache. My grandpa's parents, who had died when grandpa was 14, were also there, and I recognized great-grandma from a picture. Uncle Walter, also known as Big Sonny, was there with aunt Patty and their son, Little Sonny. I didn't recognize the others, but I knew they were family. Grandma and grandpa looked as they did in their fifties. Ida looked as she did in her thirties or forties. Grandma wore a white dress.
Then I got the call from daddy's nurse that he had passed on. He was calm and comfortable, she said. I thanked her and called my mother to tell her.
I surprised myself again, and I got out of bed this morning. I breathed in and out. I cry every so often, when I see his picture or listen to his favorite songs or read letters he wrote to me. I missed having someone to talk about the new senator from Massachusetts with. I never got to discuss with him the biography of RFK that I've been reading. I want to know more about Jimmy Hoffa "pleading the fifth" before the Rackets Committee in the '50's, but I can't call him. These things I cannot discuss with my mother. Daddy and I did not just have the typical father-daughter relationship. We were best friends. We were supernatural. We were devoted to each other in a way that few people, including my mother, understood. No one could ever make my eyes light up with pure happiness just on sight like daddy did. And I just really miss saying, "Hi daddy", and hearing him say, "Hi Maria", in his slight southern drawl that made my name sound much longer than it is.
Yesterday, I had to sign the authorization form to have daddy cremated, and it was the most surreal thing I'll probably ever do. As I walked home, I laughed to myself and thought, "Just like daddy to kick my ass into adulthood."