"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Monday, June 20, 2011

AND I WILL SING A LULLABYE

I wish I could say that before my father died we had a meaningful conversation or THE NOTEBOOK moment, if you will. Perhaps you saw the movie or read the silly book by Nicholas Sparks, so you know it's when the stricken wife comes out of her AD glaze, recognizes her husband, shares a dance, and dies in sync with him that very night. Beautiful. Poetic. And, of course, utter nonsense unless you have ever kept vigil during the last dying day of someone you love. Trust me, you are watching, you are waiting, you are willing that moment.

When we took my mother off life-support, we had six hours left before she died. My brothers were there with their wives, my kids and Charlie were there, and my dad was also partially there. We took turns vying for attention at her bedside, just like when we were kids performing handstands in a pool and coming up for air each time shouting, "Did you see me, did you see me, Mom?" Her throat was pretty damaged from the last attempt of modern medicine to save her life, so mostly we got nods which, come to think of it, we mostly got for our handstands too.

Mom was stoned on morphine - truly in and out of consciousness - and I remember waiting all afternoon for her eyes to focus directly on me, while everyone stood around taking turns holding her hand and smoothing her brow. She loved us, and we knew it, but you really, really want that last affirmation. Finally, thankfully, when I felt her total gaze, I saw my chance to take a breath and plant my hands squarely on the bottom of the pool. I thrust straight legs through the surface of the water and gurgled bubbly I love yous. For as long as I could hold an upside-down stance, I promised my mom I would take care of my dad just like she had. As my lungs gave way and my execution crumbled, I assured her we would be okay and she could go. When I came up for air, I got the nod.

My dad's death was different. He faded away and it took eleven days and everyone left way before it was over. I held his hand and smoothed his brow all by myself. I was protective of him and preferred no one come too close. I was vigilant; he was kept spotless and his sheets were crisp. I was prepared; his carefully folded burial clothes lay waiting on the bureau. I was aware; he was comatose, feversome, mottling, and moaning. It wasn't likely we'd share a dance.

Being there, watching him starve and shrink, was gut-wrenching and mentally exhausting. I had trouble keeping down food and could not sleep. Hospice said there was no timetable, everyone passes on their own schedule, and the priest reminded me how much strength it actually takes to die. My poor father had not sipped water or eaten for a week and a half, and I agonized over my refusal of an IV or feeding tube. Day after day, I told Dad he should go and prayed for Mom to come get him. I sang the same Beatles' song over and over again which he might have hated. I was losing my shit and eyed his morphine longingly.

On the evening of November 23, 2010, my father, Jack Terman Mommsen, Sr. died. I sensed movement in the room's waning light and got up from my chair. He opened his eyes as he struggled to say something, and I pretty much knew what it was. There was silence and I felt loved. I reached for his hand and held my breath. His suffering was ending and our moment had come.

7 comments:

  1. You have no idea how I have longed for you to write some more. Just when I'd about given up hope, you post this, perhaps the most beautiful one yet. In life as well as at the time of their deaths, you did your parents proud. I love you, too.

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  2. The real truth about Alzheimer’s. Please pass this around to all of your family, friends and Co-workers. Please add the link to your favorite sites. Thanks

    http://youtu.be/Kom7DGW84SM

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  3. Words were never more well spoken as to what it is like at those final moments. God Bless.

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  4. Both of my grandparents passed away because of Alzheimer's Disease. I am participating in an Alzheimer's Association event, a Run to Remember, to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's care, support and research. Please visit my website, http://alzheimersbookmark.org/, to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association and sponsor my half-marathon run. I am essentially asking you, and your loved ones, to help me support the Alzheimer’s Associations mission:
    To eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
    FACT
    5.3 Million people have
    Alzheimers (One in eight
    people aged 65 and older,
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    Alzheimers is the 7th leading
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    172 Billion dollars in annual
    costs
    10.9 Million unpaid caregivers
    Every 70 seconds, someone in
    America develops Alzheimer’s.
    By mid-century, someone will
    develop the disease every 33
    seconds.

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  5. Every 69 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. Please share this video and one thing that you never want to forget to help end Alzheimer’s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeHTTonG6co&feature=player_embedded

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  6. Oh! Oh, how beautiful this is. I'm so, so sorry. I see that this was some time ago, but I still couldn't leave without commenting.

    I nursed my mother as she died from Motor Neurone Disease (in the US they call it Lou Gherig's Disease, in the UK ALS). She was 43. Her final moments were anything but a movie. They were horrendous, and like your Dad they took a long time to come. Days. They never tell you that. They never tell you just how long it takes for a heart to give out after everything else already has.

    My heart goes out to you.

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