I lost my dad this past Friday 12:57am December 8, 2023.
That’s when our hospice nurse declared his passing.
They didn’t use the word death and now I see why. It’s so negative and final.
It implies the person is extinguished like a flame.
Gone from history.
I don’t believe that people are ever gone from history, they live on through their loved ones.
My dad entered into hospice at 7pm on a Wednesday and passed at 12:57am that Friday but so much happened in between.
He had pancreatic cancer which couldn’t be treated due to his life threatening heart condition. A Fib. He was 83.
He went into the hospital on the cardiac ward about a month prior to his passing.
Before being admitted he turned to my mom, his wife of 52 years, she who moved households 3 times, shared many ups and downs including the loss of their son, and said “I don’t have long to live.”
In the hospital, he was in excruciating pain. They couldn’t give him pain killers because it would affect his heart function and lower his already dangerously low blood pressure.
It was eventually recognized that his cancer was so aggressive that it could not be treated without killing him so he was given the option of signing a DNR. “Do not resuscitate.”
After he signed that we had a family meeting with a palliative care specialist.
My dad stated that if he could take a pill to end his life he would.
Unfortunately that’s not legal in New York State so he had to endure the pain until he reached hospice.
It was a couple more days of excruciating pain until they found a bed at Regional Hospice in Danbury Connecticut. 45 minutes away from mom’s house but worth every mile and the $600.00 a day room and board.
Not so fun fact, most insurances do not cover full hospice care. It would appear that dying in the United States of America with out pain is a luxury.
He was given morphine that Wednesday morning and it put him to sleep. I believe this was the start of his transition.
He was mildly responsive according to the EMT’s who transported him.
When he got to hospice, he was still asleep but had his eyes open. They were unfocused and to me, looked pain ridden. I could also see permanent tears in the corner of each eye.
This broke my heart in to a million pieces. He could still move his arms and legs enough to push his hospital gown and sheets off.
He could still communicate enough to relay his distress.
His breathing was labored that first night in hospice. He would stop breathing at 3 or 4 second intervals. That’s called “apnea” and is a symptom of the first stages of transition to passing.
By early morning his apnea had increased to 5 or 6 seconds.
He would moan or breath out with a sigh that sounded like crying.
Our hospice nurse said it could be a coping mechanism and he’d seen it before.
My dad had a recurring nightmare since childhood where someone would break into his apartment and he couldn’t scream, only moan. This was the sound he was making.
A little background on him, he was the oldest child of 5 to his parents who came directly to the Bronx New York from a poor area of Puerto Rico. His dad was not always present as he was an alcoholic. He felt responsible for his family’s safety and well being from an early age. This nightmare he had was every fear he had in the world.
I would hold his hand in these moments and ask if he was afraid.
As if answering me he would grip my hand in short spurts like an irregular beating heart or a manual distress signal. His eyes wide as they could be in shear terror.
We’d call for the nurse and they’d give him more morphine.
By day break, he’d appear to be in more pain but when the nurse came, he’d say in a labored whisper, “I am not in any pain.”
His pain at this stage was emotional. Shear terror. I could feel it like it was mine.
He’d had a violent cough for a few years before this that no doctor could find the cause of. In his last years, he avoided going out because of this cough and it made it impossible to sing. Singing was his passion.
In hospice, his cough got worse producing phlegm that couldn’t be suctioned out. They tried but it was too deep in his lungs.
I got the feeling he felt he was drowning in it. He’d call.. Help!…Help!!! Throughout the day.
The nurse asked us if it was okay if they gave him more meds to make him unaware. The nurse said “he deserves to be comfortable.” We couldn’t agree more and we knew he would agree.
This began the last stage of transition.
It was at that point that he looked past me, as if to someone, eyes focused that he said, “No, I don’t want to be with you now..”
A few hours later, mom and I had gone to sleep. Well, mom did, I was half asleep listening to his now even longer apnea.
I know he was talking to his son. My twin, Bobby. I could feel him there. He didn’t have fear in his his eyes and he said this in the matter of fact way he spoke to Bobby when he was alive.
He was moaning. Mom and I got up and put our hands on him and he stopped. The tech came in and called for the nurse. I knew it was the end.
I could hear what they call the “death rattle”. It sounds like snoring but the mouth is closed.
When I put my hand in his, he didn’t grip it.
Mom and I went back to our beds.
Within the hour, I heard my dad talking to someone with conviction.
About 20 minutes later, the nurse came in and declared his passing.
I didn’t believe it at first.
I kept seeing his chest move but I think it was an optical illusion.
She declared the time.
I whispered that I would like to climb into bed with my mom and tell her.
I’m glad I could be the one to tell her.
It pains me to say she’s a widow.
And unfortunately has bills to pay.
The hospice was instrumental in calling the undertaker for the funeral home we’d unfortunately used before.
Mom and I went home together.
This is a sad holiday season but we’re glad he’s not in pain anymore.
That’s all we can ask.
I know we’re not the only ones to go through this.
My heart goes out to everyone who has.
Especially during this holiday season.