I was really hoping a sequel to my original post (A Few Hours to Live) would have an uncondtional happy ending. I really did. Unfortunately, I'm punching the keys with watery eyes and a broken heart.
On November 7th, 2019 - a day I now will never forget - I walked into a hospital awaiting the fate of my father through multiple meetings with his doctors. And after various hours of zoning in and out, being in states of disbelief, and hearing all sorts medical phrases and big words. the common thread statement that was being said was this: "you need to prepare yourself".
I remember holding my mother in my right arm as she wept uncontrollably while I tried to drum up questions and coherently articulate them. I sat there stunned and dazed facing doctors who I'm sure did this everyday - as cold, calculated, rehearsed, and common as they came across on their side of the conference room table - I struggled to process the sudden sequence of events.
It all certainly felt too real. The hurt was real, and still remains very much so.
While there remains slim hope for my father, the likelihood of him returning to the man he was who entered the emergency room with hours to live will never be again.
From the doctors prognosis, my father held a fine line of living in regards to his physical reserves that were impacted due to his dementia. Some of the doctors stated they found his resolve this late to be amazing. My father was always a fighter. However, surgery and post-complications left it's damage, leaving my father in the state that he's in.
As doctor's went on about my father's resolve and his fight, all while explaining his new, and even more so poor state, the only thing I could think about was this:
My dad is dead.
I know, that may sound wrong of me. And as I type that, my eyes are filling up and my chest is heaving. But, the hard truth is, the man I once loved is never returning. I've learned to accept that the first time when my dad - that guy - was diagnosed with early on-set dementia. I grew to love, know, and appreciate the newer version of that man fighting his new battle late in life.
But, again, neither one of them is returning.
And this version, is now just awaiting his last breath.
TRUE BEST FRIEND
On a phone call early this week leading into November 7th, my mom, calmly discussed her love for my dad, and how much she misses him. The phone call was different, considering the last couple of weeks of events, the current unconfirmed (at the time) state of things, and the possibilities and fears that can enter your thoughts at any moment throughout the day, can certainly reek havoc on your mental health.
Especially for her, who had been filled with angst, sorrow, and sheer defeated-ness whenever we chatted about my dad as of late. All of our phone calls for the past year have been filled with frustration, tension, and a high cause for concern. And naturally so.
But this one was different. Again, she was calm. She was collected. She was in that deep story mode that only people with years of experience can reach, weaving memories together that keep you on every word, and made you wish you were there.
She delved back into time, and told stories about how excited my dad was when they brought me home. Stories of his stubbornness. Laughed about his unfiltered ways through dementia. She smoothly segued into how much she loved him. How she still feels his spirit next to her at night. She then called him her best friend right before breaking down.
It then hit me that in almost 40 years of marriage, this was the first time - THE VERY FIRST TIME - that my mother and father were separated.
Besides their jobs, they literally did EVERYTHING together for as long as I can recall. I don't ever remember my parents spending a night alone. Ever.
It reinvigorated my empathy for her, and for her hurt, with a new level of perspective. It was VERY difficult for me to wrap my mind around the sense of loss my mother was going through right now. For the first time in 40 years, she was alone. And it happened suddenly.
SACKETT STREET AND 5TH AVENUE
I left the hospital on November 7th in a mindset I can't even describe. How does one prepare themselves for the death of a parent?
I drove to one of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn, The Burger Bistro, and thought that maybe getting something to eat would help me clear my head and deal with my emotions.
My heart had already been destroyed in the first meeting, and my eyes repeatedly welled up in the last meeting. Riding the elevator down to get my car, tears slowly began to make their way down my cheeks.
During my meal, I looked at my phone in which my wife wanted to follow up on the visit to see how things were.
"Hey let me know how the meeting goes..."
I quickly replied in text the situation, thinking that maybe typing it would be easier. After all, I knew I wouldn't be able to utter the words I was feeling at the moment. Not a chance.
Upon sending it, I was right that it was easier. But it wasn't easy. I shoved my burger down my mouth and quickly called for the check. I made my way outside as an escape from whatever this was, or so I thought. Again, my eyes welled up, my chest felt like a powder keg, and the world just felt like it was rumbling below my feet.
I made my way to my car and got in. I quickly flashed back to sitting in that same car while it was on the sales lot, unsure if I wanted to spend the money to purchase it, when my father in the passenger seat, laying back as cool as he made important decisions like that moment always seem, said to me, "Buy it. Trust me, you won't regret it." He was right. I've had that car for over ten years.
And that was the thing with my dad. I realized how much I trusted him. Gave myself, in various uncertainties and vulnerable moments to him without hesitation. He made life seem so less complicated as we often make it. Because, really, it isn't.
I immediately clutched the steering wheel, and bursted into tears. The Borough of Brooklyn carries with it many locations and narrations of my life. Even as she evolves in commerce, real estate, gentrification and more. Right there on the corner of Sackett Street and 5th Avenue, I cried - no, I balled - for the first time since I was fifteen years old.
Back then, at fifteen, it was when a doctor deemed a recent leg injury too much of a risk of breaking the steel rod that holds my left foot together. He denied my release to return to High School Baseball, and went even further by stating to my parents, "it would be in his best interest to stay away from strenuous activities such as sports throughout his life".
With my veins bulging at the top of my hands from the tight grip I had on the steering while, I cried, and cried, and cried. I briefly looked up wondering if anyone noticed this total breakdown in the car, but immediately wouldn't care if they did.
The ten minutes felt less like a reaction of what had just happened to me, but more so of the past few years. The weight and burden that I somehow carried throughout this entire ordeal of watching this man deteriorate before us all, while also supporting my mom, and trying to be there for wife and little boy came pouring out.
I very much believe that God gives us what he knows we can handle. Over the last few years, very few people have understood what I've gone through. If I'm being 100% honest - it's been a lonely journey. A long, weighted, emotional, lonely journey. I say that not to sound selfish, but in that I've become very good at hiding my emotions, or at the very least, keeping them in reservation while validating others and allowing their feelings to be exercised.
While trying to dry my tears with my sleeves and pull myself back together, I realized what spurred this all was simply a brief chat with my father's surgeon. After sharing similar experiences - his father also suffered and passed away with dementia - he asked me, "are you alright?"
He knew without saying anything what I've been through. And in many ways, am still going through.
And the truth is, I wasn't. I haven't been. And while that's okay, his question alone was seeped in experience knowing how powerful the question was, because quite frankly, it wasn't heard enough during his experience. And he shared that with me.
He was in the room as professionals, friends of our family, and others gave advice to me, handed me materials on assistance clinics, what I needed to ask, and various other should-do's as the "default (?)" go-to person in this scenario. All while of course, still being there for my mom.
Since I'm completely shooting from the hip in this post, it seems more and more as of late that same crowd of hospital professionals, family, and friends have never stopped to realize that the man on the bed is indeed my father. And it does at times lead to my frustration that this burden, this weight, this responsibility, this entrustment from God, somehow places me in the perspective of a pseudo-social worker in their eyes, rather than the raw glob of feelings that I'm held by - because yes, he is my father and I too am working through this.
Much like the last couple of weeks, I'm not sure what to expect.
I'm not giving up, as there is still that small hope that my father can return home. And I'll continue to pray that he will. But there is a part of me that is resigned to the grayness that is this area of him not feeling or responding to stimuli and going home to meet the Lord. What exactly is this stage of his life?
And are we in fact just waiting for the final chapter?
But that's not my call, but it remains an area in my experience I may forever wrestle with.
All I can do is pray. Pray that my mom gets just a few more days with her best friend. And that some how, some way, I can get one more version of my father to experience.
Again, I love you, Dad.