Coming Home to Watch my Father Die

I awoke at 4:30 this morning, not originally knowing why I was tired. I had tried (unsuccessfully) to get myself drunk the night before. I wanted to numb the pain. I didn’t want that dull ache in my gut that told of bad times to come. I didn’t want to hear that voice that was trying to tell me what I was going to see. But I couldn’t drink fast enough. I couldn’t put a stop to the future.

So this morning, I arose, dressed, and caught a cab to the airport. I checked in, made my way to the gate and boarded my plane destined for Toronto. All the while, and through the flight, I tried to simultaneously ignore and accept one simple truth:

I’ve come home to watch my father die.

This was not a trip I wanted to make. Partly because I’ve never dealt well with death. I universal constant it may be — but it’s one that still leaves me with the cold sweats, one that I sometimes wish didn’t exist. But I also didn’t want to come and see a man who was not the father I know and love.

This is one time I’m glad death does exist. My father is in pain — perhaps not physical, but the pain of living as he is now probably makes up for it.

This is all due to his worsening medical condition. Last year, my dad beat lung cancer. However, as we were celebrating the victory, some rogue cancer cells were preparing a second offensive in his brain. It led to the condition that brought me here today — a stroke that hit him early last Friday morning.

Still in Calgary, I had to hear only news and stories from Mom and Cathy — how Dad couldn’t recognize people, or how he wanted things that, to us, made no sense.

Today, things are a little better. At first, Mom and Cathy had to take care of Dad on their own. This was a burden they could not fulfill — it was wearing both of them down. So instead, the hired a nurse to look at his medical condition, a homemaker to change Dad’s clothes, wash him, and change his diaper (the stroke left Dad without basic bodily controls), and a “night watchman” to keep an eye on Dad while they slept.

I walked into my parent’s home feeling very guilty. I have done nothing. I am almost an outsider here, feeling like I’m only a spectator in a macabre show. Cathy and Mom have done so much and I so little.

Dad is bedridden. He sleeps in a hospital bed in what was once my bedroom. It is now the room he will likely spend his last days, however many they may be.

Today, he saw many visitors: Ross Gray and Jimmy Johnston, old friends and co-workers from Truck & Tractor — a company Dad worked for during most of my upbringing. Complete live wires, they had Dad laughing most of the morning, but also wore him down. Rod MacPherson, Cathy’s and my godfather, was also out. Auth Ruth, who picked me up at the airport, come down to see her brother and keep him in good cheer.

Mrs. Robinson and Julie popped in and out. At one point in the afternoon, she came in to say that she could smell urine — Dad’s diaper needed changing. Cathy, Mrs. Robinson, and I took to the task of changing Dad’s diaper and rolling him on his side (as not to get bedsore).

Most people look at their fathers as strong, powerful individuals — it’s a view of my father that I’ve had for whole life. But in the last year, I’ve been watching that view slowly develop little cracks. Today, the image was shattered by what seems to be a simple act.

My father is a proud man. Fiercely independent, he had serious trouble when the progression of his illness cost him his driver’s license. But I’ve never seen the pain is experiencing — not until his daughter and his wife’s best friend, with the loose assistance of his son, changed his diaper.

I don’t know if he really knew what was going on. But he looked like he wanted to cry. His dignity was gone, and he was now dependent on others. He puts up with it, but I doubt he likes it.

Mind you, I’m not even sure Dad knows what’s happening to him. I almost hope he doesn’t — knowing that you’re doing to die is knowledge that I don’t think most people would want to know. I think Dad’s having a hard enough time without knowing that.

Hell, I don’t want to know. I want to reset the clock back 12 years — back to high school. Things were easier then. The worst thing I had to worry about was my math homework.

I know a lot of people who thing that I must be mad for wanting to go back in time to high school. But most people don’t seem to look past their own bad experiences — the cliques, the homework, the bad relationships. I was a simpler time, when families were stronger, and people healthier. While I wish I could dwell in the past, I can only look to the future.

The next few days will be hard. If the doctor is right, we have only until the end of the week.

Life is short, and unfair.

Luckily though, the man in my old bedroom is still my father. He older, he’s frailer, and with almost no hair, but he knows who he is, who I am, and remembers the good times. I suppose that there is some comfort in that when the time comes, he’ll have seen me one last time.