Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bringing out my dad (long, sad, surreal)

So I called the hospice to tell them that my father quit breathing. Funny, I didn't like to say "died" until it was official. I said "My father stopped breathing about 7:10"

The answering service told me they'd send Jerry over. I sat with J for a few minutes. I looked at my father. There was nothing very terrible about his body. We didn't move the bed from the 45 degree angle I had set it at the evening before, when he'd started having trouble breathing. He had been uncomfortable flat on his back, probably from the fluid I had heard moving around in his chest.

Jerry called and said he'd be there in 20 minutes. I got dressed. I wanted to be doing something, so I occupied myself putzing around the kitchen, looking for different phone numbers I would need. I called my brother N who was already on his way to Nashville. J called my brother M, the one who'd left the day before. We asked my brothers if they wanted to see my father, but both of them said they didn't feel they needed to.

After a few minutes I sat down with J. She was still on the couch. She turned to me and said "I'm so sorry." I wasn't sure what to say to that. I looked at my father again...he was gradually transforming from a person to a thing.

Here then, was I, standing at the precipice of the uncanny valley. Dolls that resemble humans too closely become corpses because they seem to be people but are actually things. Corpses are dreadful because they were people, but are things.

I have seen the same thing in reverse at births. The baby makes its entry slowly or quickly. With relative ease or difficulty. Then the baby breathes. Many traditions hold that the soul enters the body with that breath. I always cry at a birth, I can't help it. I used to be embarrassed by this when I worked as a doula, but after a while I found that almost everyone understood. Sometimes I cry just telling the birth stories.

I did not cry at my father's death.

Jerry arrived at the apartment. He sat down next to my father and lowered the head. This startled me, somehow. Making my father look even more dead. "I'm just going to listen to your chest." Jerry said to the body that had been my father. I'm not sure if that was for our (mine & J's) benefit, or just his manner of being with the patient. A long moment passed. Jerry looked at J who still sat on the couch. "Yes, he's gone."

J nodded, seeming to suck up her tears. Perhaps she felt she should be stoic. Jerry looked at me "He seems pretty peaceful.".

"What happens now? Should I call the funeral home?" I asked. Jerry said he'd call the funeral home if we were ready to let them move my dad. I was waaaay ready.

I helped Jerry with some housekeeping chores while we waited for the transport guys. Getting rid of the now-useless medication etc. Jerry said he'd wait around until they'd come in case they needed help.

After about half an hour, two gentlemen in dress shirts and ties appeared at the door. They'd arrived in a white delivery type van and set the cot just inside the door of the building. I was grateful for this. The last thing I wanted to do was discuss my father's death with neighbors.

My father's apartment had a long stairway with a turn at the end. The cot wouldn't fit up those stairs. The two transportation gentlemen stood around for a minute discussing whether to go back to the office for a device better suited to tight spaces. "Couldn't we just wrap him up in a sheet?" I asked "There's four of us and he doesn't weigh more than 150lbs."

The two men looked at each other and shrugged. "Thats fine" said one, he want downstairs to get another sheet. I grabbed a pair of gloves and started wrapping up my dad in his bedclothes "We really don't want these back."

I wrapped the sheets around him all the way up to his neck and one of the men actually covered my fathers now yellowing face. Another moment of weird startlement. Of course, you cover the dead's face.

We all took a fistful of sheet and lifted on 3. He was heavier than I expected. Dead weight.

"He needs to go out the door feet first" said one of the gentlemen. We sort of manhandled him around. We got to the stairs and had to put him down. We picked him up again, but it became very difficult on the narrow stairs. Finally, the larger of the two gentlemen picked him up like a child and carried him, cradled in arms, down.

I helped the gentlemen lay him on the cot and arrange the wrappings again. I belted him onto the cot and zipped up the body bag. The two gentlemen quietly wheeled the cot (feet first) out the door.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Wow. What an experience. I'm sorry for your loss.