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The Rainbow Vanishes

Jan 28, 2009

by Tim


— Fleeting moments are all we have —

“I think he’s dead,” said my mother.

“Yeah,” said my younger brother Frank. “He hasn’t breathed for a couple of minutes.”

“He’s dead,” said Mom.

dad_and_charlie.jpgI’d just walked into the living room-turned-hospice bedroom of my parents’ home after tucking the kids into bed in the basement, missing the moment of my father’s death by less than two minutes.

Nobody cried. We’d done our crying, and we would do more.

I went to the kitchen and poured large glasses of red wine, and the three of us sat wordlessly on the beige sofa of the Seattle house my parents had lived in for 37 years, our feet propped on the coffee table, my newly dead father silent company on the rolling hospital bed that had taken pride of place in Mom’s living room for the past month.

\häs-p?s\ • noun • early 19th century
1: a lodging for travelers, young persons, or the underprivileged especially when maintained by a religious order. 2: a facility or program designed to provide a caring environment for meeting the physical and emotional needs of the terminally ill
(Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Hospice is the best way to die, as far as I can tell.

Jeannie, one of several regular hospice nurses, taught us about how people die, about why you shouldn’t force-feed when they start refusing food (eating causes nausea and interferes with the body’s natural process of shutting down); how you know the end is near when they refuse water (again, forcing them to drink is interference; dehydration eases dying); about grief waves, about the narcotic patches that erase the pain of cancer.

We learned about Lorazepam, Prochlorperazine, Naproxen, Oxycodone, Metoclopramide, Fentanyl. As the days and the drugs wore on, Dad changed. Coherent jokes gave way to nonsensical mumbling, then hallucinations. He saw a Greek emblem on the ceiling. He talked of copyrights, of two kids wrestling in a ditch. He asked for “two glasses of chlorine mix.”dad_and_me_135.gif

I’ve got to go to the worksite, he would say. How are you going to get there? … No, I know how to get there … That’s Grandma Quaitt’s face on the credit card … Keri, go get that kangaroo.

Once, he started to clap his hands. This continued for about 20 minutes off and on. Asked about it, he said he was “transferring information,” and that it was “in a different language.”

I smiled at these entertaining remarks and at the irony of my sober, hard-working father — a man whose liquor inevitably aged longer in the high, dusty kitchen cabinet than it had at the distillery — spending his final days stoned on opiates.

In an e-mail to my oldest brother, who was aboard a naval vessel at sea, Frank wrote:

Mom is a pillar of strength and stamina, but her level of exhaustion is evident. She’s bordering on hysteria. She hobbles around the house like the Energizer bunny with one square wheel — fiddling with stuff, moving stuff around, and general thrashing about that vaguely resembles cleaning and organizing. The whole time she chatters and rants about every thought that crosses her mind. She desperately needs to chill out, but she cannot and will not stop her constant motion. It will be a relief when Dad dies so she can rest.

He ended with a postscript:

Dad is pain free, comfortable, surrounded by family. So all in all, his last days are pretty decent and peaceful. We will continue to care for him with love and gentleness.

Dad’s face was in a grimace at death, prompting dismay from my mother. She put pennies on his eyes, then took them away. None of us knew what to do, what we were supposed to do. We were exhausted. Mom insisted on sleeping beside Dad. Frank and I went to bed.

bubble1.gifThe following morning, Dad’s face was transformed; he was smiling peaceably, looking his old self. We traded theories as to why.

My kids emerged from the basement and heard the news. I forced them to touch my father’s dead body, a clumsy attempt to impart a solemn childhood experience of death. I wanted them to understand that someday, all too soon, it would be their father lying before them, cold and lifeless. But they didn’t understand. How could they, when I was just beginning to understand?

Now Dad was dead, and reality was fragile, like a thin soap bubble quivering atop a child’s plastic O-ring, poised to pop silently and wisp into nothingness.

My father’s life, my father’s death. A bubble quivering, one last time before the rainbow vanishes.

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5 Comments to The Rainbow Vanishes

On Jan 29, 2009, Cindy Marsch commented:

A beautiful post–lovely to share.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
—Romans 8:37-39

On Jan 29, 2009, Eileen commented:

Thanks for a beautiful and sad story. Death of a loved one – something most everyone will have to face but something rarely described.

On Jan 29, 2009, Tim commented:

Thank you, Cindy, for those beautiful words, and thank you, Eileen, for your thoughts.

My Dad died on January 27, 2006, so it took me three years to write this. Not three years of writing, but three years of waiting and thinking of what to say about it.

Experiencing hospice with Dad was one of the greatest, most positive experiences of my life.

On Jan 29, 2009, Steve commented:

Thanks for writing and sharing this, Tim. As you know, this is very close to home and heart for me. I’m very grateful that I had the privilege to meet your father.

On Aug 2, 2009, Soul Shelter » Art Awakens Us: The Diving Bell & the Butterfly commented:

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