Saying Goodbye

Question: What do all of these things have in common?

  • A bottle of Purell by the front door
  • Protein bars in the pantry
  • A partially filled pill box on the kitchen table
  • Reading glasses on the side table
  • An unopened letter on the desk
  • Protein shakes on the second shelf of the refrigerator

Answer: They will inspire unimaginable waves of grief when you realize that your father will never use any of them again.

Dad went into the ICU on Thursday. And even though he had been in and out of hospitals since December 26, it was different this time. He was in pain, unbearable pain, from peritonitis. When the Emergency Department doctors diagnosed him, I asked if it was curable. They assured me it was.

Except that it wasn’t. And three days later, Dad drew his last breaths surrounded by his wife, his children, and his pastors.

Dad was the epitome of love and compassion. He thought of others and how we could work together to make this a better world. When I was in high school, and questioning organized religion because of (insert myriad of reasons), instead of forcing me to attend services, he asked me what I would like to do to help others. So from then on, we worked the Samaritan Soup Kitchen downtown on Sunday mornings. I didn’t think much of it then, but later I realized what a sacrifice he was making to take me downtown every Sunday morning. He actually liked church. He liked the social aspect of it; he liked the faith aspect of it.

I was supposed to travel to Charleston on Thursday morning for a friend’s 50th birthday celebration. As I was getting ready to go, I went into his bedroom to say goodbye and noticed he was in incredible pain. We ended up calling an ambulance because I couldn’t transport him in my car without hurting him. He apologized, saying that he always ruined my trips. I laughed and told him not to worry about it – there were more important things. On Friday, from the ICU, he told me to go to Charleston, to be with my friends, it was important to celebrate relationships.

One thing he was clear about was that he did not want to be sustained by life support, and he had documented that thoroughly. We had discussed it on Saturday morning before I left for Charleston. His doctors had come into the room and said that if the infection didn’t clear up soon, they would need to remove the Tenckhoff catheter that he used to perform peritoneal dialysis. I looked at them and asked how he would be able to perform dialysis. They said he could revert back to hemodialysis. I shared that that wasn’t an option for him, since his blood pressure was so low. They said that CCRT, the continuous dialysis (which was apparently very painful and could only be done in the ICU) was the other option. From his bed, Dad shook his head and looked up at me with pleading eyes. I told him I knew that wasn’t what he wanted, and we wouldn’t let that happen. The doctors left. I reminded Dad that he was of sound mind and he could make the decision at any point to leave the hospital and we would engage with Hospice at home. He joked that he had never been of sound mind. He also said that if they told him he would have to be in this existence for a month, that wasn’t the life he wanted. I asked him if he would agree to the treatment for a few more days, maybe a week, to see if things got better, and then we could re-evaluate. He said that sounded like a good plan. He told me to be safe, enjoy my friends, and we’d see each other the next day.

So on Saturday mid-morning I went. Early Sunday morning I learned his condition had worsened, so I drove immediately to the hospital, praying the entire four hours I was driving that I wouldn’t get a speeding ticket and that he would survive until I got to the hospital. When I entered the ICU room, my Mom, my brother, and my sister were already there. I was overcome by guilt and sadness. He was fully on life support, exactly what he didn’t want. His eyes were half open and he was gasping for breath. I was gutted.

I leaned over, kissed his forehead, and told him I was there. He opened his beautiful blue eyes and said, “No way!” I repeated that I was there, Mom was there, Greg was there, and Ashley was there. The whole family was there and he was surrounded by love. Again, he said, “No way!” closed his eyes, and leaned back. We talked to him and told him how much we loved him, how much we appreciated all that he had done for each of us and for our community, how much we’ll miss him, how we cannot imagine living without him in our lives. I choose to believe he heard us. Occasionally he would squeeze my hand, or an eyebrow would raise, or a slight smile would pass his face. My brother left to get some sleep before his night shift.

And then the nurses asked to speak to us. I went out of the room. Before they said anything I blurted out, “He’s dying and he’s on life support and he didn’t want that and he’s in so much pain and we have to abide by his wishes and I don’t want him to die and he’s going to and is there anything you can do to cause him to be in less pain?” And then I collapsed.

They tried to tell me I was making a decision out of love. I was honoring his wishes and he was suffering and if we moved to “comfort care” they would have a lot more latitude with what they could administer.

I called his pastor. They ordered drip painkillers from the pharmacy.

We waited for his pastor to arrive. We waited for my brother to return. I checked his phone to see if anyone had sent messages that I could share with him. There were a couple, as well as about 300 spam and marketing messages over the course of one day. I chided him for subscribing to so much junk, then proceeded to read the offers to him, one by one. We laughed, and I hope he was laughing, too.

The pastor arrived. My brother arrived. The painkillers in a drip bag arrived. We said a prayer, holding hands. I explained to him step by step what would happen. I reminded him the first thing he told anyone when he checked into a hospital was that he has a full DNR (do not resuscitate) order. And that he didn’t want to live a life sustained by life support.

The nurses started the painkillers. “Dad, they’ve hooked you up to a stronger painkiller. You won’t feel the debilitating pain that you’ve experienced over the last few days anymore.” They stopped the blood pressure medicine drip. “Dad, they’re stopping your blood pressure medicine drip. Your blood pressure might drop.” They stopped the CCRT process which was cleansing his blood. “Dad, they’re disconnecting you from CCRT. I know how painful this was over the past few days, and you won’t have that pain anymore. This is what you asked for, and we love you so much.” It was 3:33 pm.

I had an idea that when someone is taken off life support, they die. But they don’t. The body keeps fighting, keeps breathing. The heart keeps pumping. We continued to hold his hands and tell him how much we loved him for the next 1 hour and 13 minutes. I was watching an artery? a vein? in his neck, mirroring his heart beat. I watched it slow. And slow. And stop. And I heard a guttural cry. I wondered where it was coming from when I realized it was coming from me. There is nothing that could have prepared me for him drawing his last breath. The tears would not stop flowing as I sobbed, heaving to breathe.

The nurses told us we could stay as long as we wanted. I don’t know if we stayed a couple of minutes or much longer. I do know that when I leaned over for to give Dad one last kiss goodbye, his body had gone cold.

50 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye

  1. Oh Lori, I am so sorry for your loss. I know how much your dad meant to you and this is a beautiful tribute to him. Sending you so much love.

  2. Oh Lori I am so so sorry for your loss. Our love, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Keeping you in our hearts xxx

  3. I’m so very sorry to hear this, Lori – my heart breaks for you. How lucky he was to have you there to honor his final wishes in that way. My thoughts are with you all. ❤

  4. We should all be so lucky to have someone in our last moments who is so attuned to our wishes, and so full of selfless love. I hope that the knowledge that you helped ease his transition gives you some solace in this difficult time.

  5. Lori, my heart goes out to you. It’s so good that you and your family could be with your dad, and that you were there as an advocate for him, but I’m so sorry you had to. You’re in my thoughts.

  6. I can only imagine how it hurt you to write this, having to go through these terrifying moments again. I’m sorry for your loss, and hoping that the pain will be replaced with love and good memories of the time you had together. :hug:

  7. Your father was so lucky to have you, Lori; your love and care for him is so clear in your writing. I know how precious and heartbreaking those last moments are. Sending all my love and hugs as you and your family navigate the path ahead.

  8. Oh, Lori, my heart is breaking for you. Such strength, such sadness, such pain, such peace. I’m so glad you made it back in time to be there with him as he passed. Sending you and your family all my love.

  9. Thinking of you Lori — I’m so sorry for your loss. Reading him his “offers” — what a beautiful, funny, and tender moment. May your fond memories of your dad comfort you. [HUGS]

  10. What a heartfelt passage, Lori. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad was well-loved, and I’m sure he took comfort in being surrounded by his family. You’ve captured this sacred transition for you to remember how you nourished his heart to the end.

  11. I’m so sorry for your loss. How beautiful he must have been to have the family gather like that. Although it was so difficult, I’m glad you could be there for the last moments, along with the rest of your family.

  12. Lori, my heart is heavy and I’m so sorry for your loss. This is such a beautiful recounting. Your Dad sounded like such a wonderful man and I know how deeply he will be missed. Sending you my love and condolences, xoxo. Lisa

  13. Lori, I don’t know you or your family. I am so sorry for your loss of your wonderful father. I also lost my father, my mother, and my sister. I feel your pain! I will keep you and your family in my prayers! 🙏🙏

  14. I am so sorry, Lori. My condolences and love to you and your family. You have such a beautiful heart and mind and as sad as I am for all of you I know just from knowing you how amazing a life he must have lived. Thank you for sharing the story of your last moments with him with us. ❤

  15. Lori – I’m struggling with what to say. There’s nothing to prepare for such a difficult experience! You were so brave in making sure your Dad’s wishes were honored. I hope in time you can gain peace knowing you were there with him, knowing you could honor his last wishes on this earth, knowing that his pride for community and helping others will live on through you. All our love, The Karkoski Family

  16. My sweet Lori,
    Prepare yourself. The grief journey has just begun. Yours has initiated much like the everyone else’s by jumping into a quagmire of emotion that defy description and reason. Your grief will be unique to you; however, different from Miss Sybil, Greg, and Ashley. Your relationship with your father is yours alone.

    Go cautiously into this place of grief. Having lost my mom only three years ago, there are times I am fine and times that I degenerate to an openly weeping mass of protoplasm wondering if I will ever recover from her loss.

    My love and prayers are always with you and your family. Your family has always held a special place in my heart. I pray that all of you be given the comfort, strength and wisdom that you need in the upcoming days of your journey in this foreign land.

    • Thank you so much, Elaine. I can’t imagine how these feelings will continue to play out week after week, month after month, year after year. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your mom. My prayers are with you. ❤

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