It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.
It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.
We celebrated his birthday in March, but we noticed a marked decline in his health and behavior. He was eating much less, barely anything, in fact. He wasn't interested in the chocolate treats he'd so loved throughout his life, nor was he interested in even a sip of scotch, a favorite drink. He constantly asked when he could go home, which broke our hearts, yet we understood that often times Alzheimers patients ask to go home even if they are home. They are searching for the place in their past life where they felt safe, secure, and at ease.
I compiled his music on an iPod for him to listen to. Dad had been a great reader, but now was unable to make sense of pages of text. Very little seemed to interest him now, but at least his music seemed to soothe him.
A week or so later he stopped eating completely. Our family was asked if we wanted a feeding tube inserted; we didn't, and knew Dad wouldn't have, either. It was horrible watching him fade as we still questioned if we were doing the right thing. I hate this fucking disease.
For a while he was drinking fluids, but then he stopped that, too. Hospice was called in, and all of his children came home to be with him and Mom.
To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.
My sisters and my brother were with him most of the time while I stayed with Mom and tried to comfort her best I could. One day all of us—Mom, myself, and my four siblings—all sat in his room. It had been a long time since we had all been together like that. We talked and laughed and reminisced and consoled each other, and I believe my dad heard us even though he was deeply relaxed from the Xanax prescribed by hospice for his comfort. As the hours passed, one by one his organs began to shut down, but his heart refused to cease beating.
I talked to him, telling him what a wonderful dad he was, how I was living the life I wanted to live and was surrounded by love, how lucky our family was to have him. And he gazed at me, and I saw such a look of deep love and kindness, and was humbled.
To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.
Dad always taught his children by example, and even as he neared death we believe his lessons continued. My firstborn sister, always the fearless leader with her checklists and will to complete a task, was taught that not everything can be controlled and completed on a timetable. She laughed when she told the story of how a kind person at the nursing home saw her waiting at Dad's side for the inevitable, saw her frustration over her inability to end his struggle, and said, "Maybe you should open a window to let his soul escape." My sister, willing to try anything, did so, only to have a small avalanche of snow which had built up outside the window pile into the room (an inch or two of snow had fallen the previous evening—rare for April, even in Ohio).
My brother, the only son, was taught by my father in his final days that even though their relationship had been a struggle, my dad deeply loved his son and wanted the best for him.
My second sister was taught the same lesson about control, and that sometimes it must be relinquished in order for life to progress.
My third sister, terrified of death but no stranger to it after having lost a dear friend to cancer not long ago, and myself, afraid of living at times, were given the greatest gift of all from my dad. The two of us were present when he took his last breath. We gripped each other's hands and held onto Dad as his breathing slowed, and my sister gave words of encouragement to Dad as he prepared to leave us. I mostly studied his face, my voice stilled by this profound moment, this parting gift he gave to two of his children—possibly the two who needed it the most. I watched his breath leave him and felt his soul depart, as did my sister, and it was beautiful and peaceful. I have never witnessed childbirth, but I'd imagine it is as deeply profound and life changing.
In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.
Because of his final gift, I was better equipped to deal with the difficult days after his passing. I saw many relatives and friends not seen in a long, long time, and was comforted by their love and respect for Dad. I saw him in his coffin and understood completely that what I saw before me was not Dad, but a kind of cocoon from which he had flown.
In the days after his death, a red-breasted robin came to visit. He pecked away at my mother's garage window, charmed by his own reflection in the glass or perhaps entranced by what he thought was his perfect, unattainable partner. We watched him from the kitchen window, dancing away on the window sill.
Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.
Rest in peace, Dad. You did good.
"The Great Minimum" by G. K. Chesterton is a poem about gratitude. We are grateful for the life Dad lived and the joy he brought to us and others around him.