It’s been a little while since I’ve shared how my dad is doing, and I know some friends and family have been asking. The good news is, he’s still with us, and still at home.
The bad news is, he’s become incredibly weak, and the difference in his condition is huge even in the week that I’ve been back.
I arrived on Monday, terrified that he’d be in his final hours and that I needed to hurry. Imagine my surprise when I got out of the car and he was sitting in a chair on the porch, watching me come in. It was basically the same place I’d left him a week before, and he seemed largely unchanged.
We had some good moments together last week, sitting and watching television, talking a little about old times, and even just sitting quietly together while I caught up on work emails and such. Increasingly he’s been napping on the couch, and I’ve been trying to keep busy while being there with him, but those wakeful times have been really impactful to me.
My favorite was one particularly tender moment where I rested my hair on his shoulder and he rested his head on mine, like we used to do years ago… Back when he was taller than me and I was a kid seeking reassurance from his dad. I suppose I was still seeking reassurance this time, but I’d like to think I was giving him some, too.
I’m afraid those moments are largely behind us. Dad largely stopped eating two weeks ago when I went home to NYC. My sister, who’s a hospice nurse, gave me some helpful advice… One bit of it was that you shouldn’t try to force dying people to eat if they don’t feel like it. Apparently the energy it takes to eat and digest the food is often more taxing than the food is worth.
Sure enough, Dad can’t chew or swallow well, and trying to nibble on even a little something is exhausting. We’ve found that he’ll perk up for a milkshake – Strawberry McCafe from McDonald’s is a winner, but definitely not Oreo shake from Burger King – but it still takes him all day to drink it. He’ll sip a little here and there every few hours, but that’s all he can manage.
He’s also been sleeping more and more each day. We had a few wakeful hours together on Thursday, and maybe an hour or so on Friday when his wife’s son stopped by to talk about stuff regarding rental houses. That was the last time he’s been awake for very long at once, though. Yesterday he was up for maybe 20 minutes while my brother Jim and I chatted with his wife, but that was it.
For the last few weeks, his voice had been going… Now, he can barely get any words out at all. Before, it was just that his throat hurt when he tried, so he sounded hoarse. Now, that’s gotten worse, but he also struggles to have the energy to push out sound. He has to pause for breath after every word or two, and his throat still hurts when he speaks, so talking is very difficult.
The most alarming change, though — even more than him sleeping all the time — is how difficult it is for him to move around. On Monday afternoon he was helping his wife get up out of a chair. By Thursday afternoon, it was him who needed help. Now it’s almost impossible for him to get up by himself, and simply going to the bathroom and back (even with help up) is exhausting. Shifting his sitting position a little to sit fully upright will sap his strength for hours.
I’m here five more days, and then I fly home to NYC after being gone two weeks. Given his failing strength and him sleeping almost all of the time now, I’m honestly not sure he’ll make it until Friday. If he does, I’d be stunned if he made it much longer.
I’m glad I was able to bust my ass to finish my disertation and defend it last week, because Dad got to learn that his son was a Ph.D. My plan to show him photos of the commencement ceremony on June 4 may have been overly ambitious, though; I can’t imagine that he’ll still be with us a month from now, and certainly don’t want to even think about how weak he’ll likely be if he is.
For those who have asked: no, he doesn’t want to see anyone, or talk to anyone on the phone. I’m afraid that opportunity is behind us… He’s just too weak, and it takes too much out of him to try. I’m sorry, and I thank you for asking, but it’s too late for that now.
All indications are that we’re in the final chapter. It’s just a question of when he’ll let go.