The Thriller is at peace. Me, not so much yet, but I know I will find some farther down the line.
On this, our wedding anniversary, I reflect back on his life: one well-lived and full of great adventures. I’m sure at the end he regretted nothing other than the fact that he couldn’t stay with us. On my last post in the “Fighting Cancer” category, I will write about his last day while it’s still fresh in my mind, so I never forget.
The night before he passed, he kept his children up for hours (they had forced me upstairs to bed at 10 p.m., as I hadn’t slept much over the previous four nights), wanting to walk around the house, suspended on the arms of his son and son-in-law. They all took turns walking him around in his restless, somewhat agitated state. This was his active period; according to my research and what I was told by the Hospice staff, cancer patients in their final hours have periods of activity or restlessness. They often cry out or moan or talk in their sleep. They see and talk about people who are long dead. With other patients, it’s a time of physical regeneration, albeit temporary. Such was the case with the Thriller.
He refused to lie down to nap on that last full day and night, and it was wearing us all out, because he couldn’t be left alone for a single minute. We feared for his safety, as he wanted to stand up on his own and try to walk, but as soon as he’d take a step, he would surely lose his balance. At this point, he was almost completely non-verbal, with just the occasional “yeah” or head nod.
Anyway, about 5:00 a.m. on the 23rd, I came downstairs and told the kids to go get some sleep. Oldest daughter Becky stayed, and my younger son came over. They helped throughout the morning, and then at 11 a.m., I told them to go on home, as I had convinced Michael to lie down for a nap, finally.
He never left his bed again.
As Friday gave way to Saturday, we noticed his breathing becoming more labored, so I increased his morphine, and it helped. Then the apnea began, and throughout the day, we counted up to 20 seconds going by between breaths. This continued throughout the afternoon. We all sat by his bedside, taking turns holding his hands. We told stories, laughed together at funny memories from the kids’ childhoods, kissed him and stroked his hair. I’m convinced he could hear us and feel us.
In the early evening, his breathing changed somewhat, and he began breathing in through his mouth and out through his nose, at a faster rate. We took more time to talk to him and tell him how much we loved him. When his physical body control gave way and there were several accidents, we teamed up to clean and change his clothing and padding, while talking to him and doing all we could to spare his modesty. We put on our gloves, and while the girls assembled the waste bags and replacement garments, Josh lifted and moved his father (saying, “Sorry if that’s uncomfortable, Dad; I’m just going to lift you up…”) so I could clean him. No one minded. It was our privilege.
I suppose I could have/should have called Hospice in at that point, but as wonderful as they are, I didn’t want them there. I wanted it to just be family. And since he didn’t appear to be in any distress, I was fine with it staying that way for a while.
Just before 11 p.m., his children and I saw Michael open his eyes wide and look right at me. I knelt down beside his bed and said, “Well, look who’s awake.” It was then that his eyes closed again, and he exhaled softly. We waited for him to start breathing again, but he never inhaled. It was over.
There was no wailing or rage or histrionics. It was perfect, still silence. After a few minutes, we called Mavis and the boys, and took turns sitting next to Michael, holding his hand and kissing him goodbye. We held each other. We talked and cried.
After a couple of hours, I called Hospice. A nurse arrived and formally examined him (although we know he died at 10:58 p.m. on the 23rd, his official time of death was when the nurse examined him at 1:35 a.m. on Christmas Eve; hence, the 24th will appear on all official documents, and on his grave marker). She then contacted the funeral home. By the time the two men came and placed him on the gurney with a beautiful quilt covering him, it was 3 a.m. We gave him a final kiss goodbye, one by one.
And now I begin another journey: my future. I’m sure the good times will return, but it’ll be a different kind of enjoyment. I’m as ready as I will ever be for it. Next post, I’ll be back to my normal drivel about entertainment, daily life frustrations, school, grandchildren, grammar, and various and sundry things that make me alternately happy and furious.
Happy new year, fiends. Much love to you all.