Sad end to a sad life
by Leigh Ann
My dad died on June 29, 2012. His death falls somewhere between what I've read as anticipated and sudden.... Late afternoon of June 9th, I got a call that my dad had fallen in his driveway, hitting his head, and was out cold for a long time before EMTs were able to rouse him and transport him to the best known trauma hospital in town. Let me also say here, my father was an alcoholic and was intoxicated and naked at the time of his fall. :(
My mother, who left my father after 35+ years of marriage due to his drinking and severe depression, my brother, and myself all piled in a car and drove the 2.5 hours to dad's city as quickly as we could. By the time we arrived at this downtown trauma hospital in atlanta on a Saturday night we felt in the middle of a tv show, the place was crazy and it took us a long time to get back to see him. When I finally did see him I really thought they ushered me into the wrong room. I did not recognize my dad at all. He was in and out of sleep and restrained to the bed, but he said no more to me than "hi".
Doctors wondered if there was any way he could have been assaulted because none of them had seen a CT scan as severe as my dad's, but over the course of the next two days we were told he should make a full recovery, although he still was mostly uncommunicative and didn't really seem to recognize us. Then, on the Tuesday after his fall he had the worst CT scan yet and the prognosis went downhill fast. After working then ropes in the hospital and finally talking to a real doctor with experience and not an intern, we were told dad would have no meaningful recovery, meaning he would be in a nursing home forever, in diapers, and, at best, we would be able to visit and watch tv with him. My father did not have a living will, but we knew this would not be what dad wanted. So, after much deliberation between the 3 of us and my dad's twin brother, we decided the best thing for dad would be to transport him to our city and place him in hospice with pain control and let him pass peacefully away. A decision I would not wish on anyone ever.
What had happened is that the impact from dad's fall caused his brain to shift so violently that it slammed one side of his skull, causing bleeding, and then it bounced off that side to hit the other side, causing more bruising and bleeding. Doctors said the ONLY reason this fall did not kill him is that his brain was so shrunken by years of alcoholism, there was room for the excess blood.... So his addiction actually saved his life... How ironic.
So, a week and a half after dad's fall we brought him home to us, and where 19 of our family members live, and withdrew fluids. He had not eaten anything since his fall at this point and was unable. We brought him here on a Wednesday and he passed away 9 days later. I was there as much as I could be, as I juggled life at home with 3 children out of school for the summer. It was hard. I tried to schedule some family member to be there as much as possible because I felt guilty if he was just laying there in that nursing home all alone, maybe not having any idea what was going on....or maybe, hopefully, he was blissfully unaware. I really think he was unaware, but I still wanted companionship for this man who lived such a life of seclusion. For this man who thought he was so unloved... I wanted him to be surrounded by the people, family, that had always loved him. And, there in that nursing home I slowly watched my dad fade physically. And on that Friday as I was preparing to go see him, the nurse called and said we better come quickly. We rushed there and again, my mother, brother, and myself were by his side as he took his last breath. I watched my father die. Again, something I really wouldn't wish on anyone.
So, my relationship with my father was, from what I remember, never great. He provided a nice life for us, we always had what we needed physically, but emotionally we were lacking. Dad suffered depression for years and years and slowly recessed into himself and stopped coming to school functions, stopped going on vacations, stopped spending time with us. My brother was under the mindset as take him or leave him. I never could. I always wanted him. Guess that's a little girl's desire of her daddy no matter how old you get. In more recent years, since i've been married and had my own family, My heart was always broken anew when he failed to show up for holidays, my kids birthday parties, and even the 70th birthday party I threw him. He wasn't always absent, but you never knew and I learned not to believe he was coming until I saw his car in my driveway. But I always stayed in touch with him and called him weekly, updating him on things, asking him about himself.
Now I miss our phone chats so much. I wish I had known the extent of the sadness his life was. After having to go through his house after he passed, I learned a lot about him. His life was so small, so closed up and he knew it and used beer to forget about it. I wish I had told him I loved him more. I want to hear his laugh or get another envelope in the mail full of newspaper articles he thought would be of interest to me. I try to think of good memories, but it's hard to pull some up and usually I am plagued with the mental images of his last hour and finally his last breath....of the velvety red draped gurney from the funeral home waiting at the top of the hall way to take dad away, which I ran and hid from...of knowing in the last 20 days of his life I am not sure my dad knew who I was...of knowing I played a direct hand in his death....of knowing how sad of a person he really was.....of knowing he should have been at my daughter's recent birthday and that he'll never hear his grandson as he learns how to read those highlights magizine dad loving gave to the kids, and who's subscription is about to run out......
So I guess my grief is somewhat for a sudden death and somewhat an anticipated death, and maybe a big part of my grief is over what never was between the two of us. I do miss him, more than I ever thought I really could. Some of the most innocent and random things will start me crying. And, some days are harder than others. I think, overall, I would be doing better if I didn't have the images of actual death behind my eyelids all the time. That haunts me somewhat. Is this normal?