Trigger warning: this post is about death.
I know it’s only 4:30AM but there’s no way I’m laying in my bed for 3 hours thinking about the implications of my dad’s wife dying. I’ve barely had time to process her diagnosis let alone the lack of prognosis and how she could have progressed from seeing an FP doctor less than two weeks ago to being surrounded in her own living room by her children and grandchildren yesterday, breathing her last breath.
It wasn’t Covid but it was, apparently, everything else. At one point in the evening yesterday my dad, standing between my sister and I behind their kitchen table, pulls an 8 by 10 paper that he had folded up smaller than a dollar bill out of his wallet. On it was a hand written list with her name at the top. The list was all the things she had going on inside her body. The list was not in my dads handwriting. Might have been a nurse or perhaps his wife’s daughter (my step sister) who wrote it.
The list helped clarify why we were all standing there, the lot of us crammed in the living / dining room of their new house, congregating around a hospice bed waiting for the guys from the funeral home to show up. But it doesn’t change the speed at which a thing can be processed. Especially something a person is not prepared for.
Despite our differences and disparate histories, I don’t believe any of us was prepared. But who ever is really?
I received a text in the late afternoon that I just didn’t know what to do with. I wasn’t sure how to respond and not having more info I spent time thinking about it. Too much time. Which is to say that she was already gone by the time I arrived. Inside the big picture of their lives, it’s inconsequential I wasn’t there. A person on the periphery of their circle. In my own words, a red-headed step child.
I’d never even been to their new house. They just moved a few months ago and I suppose if there was no pandemic I’d have been invited for a visit. At least that’s what I’d like to think.
Instead I’m seeing it for the first time. At one point my dad awkwardly suggests a tour. I opted out until after they came for his wife. After she was gone, the crowd started to peel off, one by one, hugs, tears, and “see you tomorrow’s” as they went out the front door.
When most folks were gone my dad goes to the kitchen and brings back a coffee mug. Some thoughtful gift from someone else that took time to collect pictures of me, my children, his other kids and their kids off Facebook. He shows me the mug and goes through each picture, talking about us. He tells me his favorite is the one of me and my kids, Z and C, at Universal Studios, where we all had matching captain America t-shirts. I have the same photo framed in a display case at my house. “Tup, that’s one of my favorites too” I say.
When look around the house there are lots of family pictures. Of all of us. Seeing how fairly represented we are both surprises me and also makes me want to cry. I go ahead and cry. Lots of people have been so it’s not unusual.
I learn that my step sister and her daughter have taken turns staying the night with them since they came home from the hospital Saturday. Which is just two night’s but the setup in the house makes me realize she didn’t want to die in the hospital and that’s why they let her come home. They tell me she had two last mornings with her coffee and cigarette in the garage. They said she was still capable of conversation that morning.
What must that be like? Death imminent? I can’t begin.
When I arrived they were taking off her jewelry and already deep in reminiscing. I was there about 3 and a half hours and waited until everyone else was gone. I knew my dad had not eaten and neither had I. He said he wasn’t hungry so I fixed us grilled cheese sandwiches.
We talked idly about how cooking on a gas stove is easier and how he’s still getting used to it. Their previous apartments always had electric. We remained at the kitchen table with our empty paper plates without a lot to say. He mentioned his nightly calls with his brother so I urged him to make the call. I listened in as he relayed the news.
Before he made the call he asked if I wanted to be on speakerphone. In the moment I said no and didn’t think too much about it. But thinking about it now makes me realize that that’s probably how those calls were with his brother normally, on speakerphone with his wife at the table too, listening in. In hindsight I should have said yes when he asked.
After the call, my dad urged me to get going home. Having developed a headache which I’m pretty sure was headed for migraine status, I was grateful. I asked him if he was going to be ok. He said he thought so.
Not super re-assuring but I could not envision spending the night. I hope that wasn’t a mistake too.
It’s now close to 6AM and I’m gonna try to slip back into bed so I can be there when Jim wakes up. Both him and Z work today so it’s highly likely I’ll be headed back over to CB.
I really have no idea what to expect from today. Phone calls and making arrangements I guess. Likely I’ll be talking to two of my siblings. I need to call C too. That’s a whole other thing I’m not prepared to process. The first death my children have to deal with. How does one do that? Help their children when they, themselves don’t know what to do or say.
The answer is, do the best you can, I guess.
Headed back to bed now,