A few hours ago the phone rang. Typically, this is not a big deal. Six o’clock, cooking dinner, the telemarketers know and use this time to reach you at home. Except this wasn’t a telemarketer, it was my Dad. And my Dad, as of one week ago, is on hospice care. I literally cannot remember the last time my Dad called me.
Six months ago, a call from my Dad would have been a regular thing. He, my aging aunt, my stubborn sister who spurns technology, and telemarketers are about the only folks who reach me on the landline. And, full confession, had my Dad called me six months ago at six o’clock on a week night, I guarantee you I would have shut that call down and fast, probably with a sigh of exasperation for good measure, just so my Dad knew it was an inconvenient time for me.
6 PM is the height of the bewitching hour where the kids are losing steam before bedtime, I am juggling dinner and homework and a melting down toddler, and counting down the minutes before my husband walks through the door after long days for both of us.
But when your dear Dad who is on hospice calls you at 6 PM, you take the call and you’re grateful for it. You realize, even while you’re talking to him, what a gift that call is and that you may never get another one like it.
I spent a couple of hours at my Dad’s bedside today. He didn’t really talk to me. He slept, ate about eight sips of soup for me, grimaced every time he tried to turn over in bed, and didn’t respond when I said goodbye.
Hospice is the real deal, folks. My Dad knows his time is coming to an end and we talk about it regularly now. I don’t know if it is the quality of relationship we have, or that I worked with older adults and hospice as a social worker, but we speak about his death with ease. We have both made our peace with it, it seems.
All of this makes me sad, so very sad. I will miss my Dad terribly, something I was sure to tell him last week just after I informed him the docs thought he was hospice appropriate. I also told him he was one of my very few anchors — one of the people I rely on most for advice, guidance, support.
Did I mention how much I will miss my Dad? How much I have missed my Dad these past five months of medical turmoil?
I used to help people — older adults and their families — cope with this stage of life. I have sat at the bedside of countless dying people. Seriously, I don’t even know how many. It was my job and my passion and I was good at it.
So much of being helpful is just about showing up. Being there, being present, and bearing witness is the only thing a dying person needs at this stage of the game. I did this for many clients over the years and now I am doing it for my Dad.
It’s a different experience with my Dad. I go home heavy, feeling the weight of his soon to be absence. I want to cocoon up in my bed, alone and silent, thinking, until the next time I can be at his bedside. I don’t truly want to be anywhere else right now.
But that’s not realistic for me. I have kids and a husband and a badly neglected blog. The dinner must still be made, the laundry must still be washed, the kids must still be bathed and shuttled back and forth and cared for. So tonight, at 6 PM, I was doing just that — tidying the house, supervising homework, wondering what I could pull out of the fridge and call dinner when the phone rang.
And there was my Dad. “What’s happening?” he asked. Just like that. Just like it was six months ago and he was perfectly independent and perfectly healthy — well, as healthy as an 81 year old man with a history of lung cancer, heart attacks, COPD, and emphysema can be.
He asked what I had done all day, not remembering that it was me who had fed him his soup at lunch, me who had stuffed the pillows behind his back to help achieve some level of comfort. He wanted to know when I would return. He wanted to talk about money, “Who’s paying for all this?” he wanted to know. I am hoping that by tomorrow he forgets he was curious about money. My Dad might shoot me if he knew how expensive it is to die these days.
For those few moments, on a call at six o’clock, it was just me and my Dad talking about our days. What a gift.