My dad was a man of tremendous patience. He was a humble man. He was a man of faith. But above all this he was a kind man.
This is a story about the legacy my dad left me.
My dad began to show a decline in his health and functional abilities a few weeks after my sister’s death. One day, I asked him, “Dad, would you be surprised to celebrate your next birthday?” He immediately responded, “I am an old man, I have raised my children, your mother is gone, your sister left ahead of me, and I have served my purpose. I have watched my family grow, and I am proud of the success each individual has experienced, either because of me or in spite of me. I am not afraid to die. I have lived a good life. I am ready to go when God is ready for me.”
Dad and I talked at length that day. He told me he did not want to live in his house over the winter. He said he wasn’t sure he was ready for a permanent move. He wanted to look living in an adult foster care situation through the winter, and then make his decision in the spring about staying or going back to his home.
From our conversation, I knew it was time to ready Dad and the rest of my siblings for dad’s eventual death, and assure he would receive appropriate end of life care.
I made an appointment for Dad with his physician, to discuss Dad’s decline and explore potential hospice services.
On a bright sunny Halloween morning, my brother, Randy, and I took Dad to his physician’s appointment. Dad’s primary care physician had been called away from the office, so we met with another physician in the practice. This physician was reluctant to begin hospice services, however he agreed to have home care services start to monitor Dad’s health status.
When we left the physician’s office, Dad announced, “Let’s go look at some of those homes we talked about.” So, off we went. The three of us looked at three homes that day, and Dad made his first and second choice. There were no open rooms at any of them, so his name was placed on their waiting lists.
Within a week after seeing the physician and home care services beginning, Dad had a couple of falls. He became more confused because his oxygen levels were dropping, he was sleeping more, and spending most of his days in bed. We were still waiting to hear about a room for him. Dad was eventually switched from home care and enrolled in hospice services. Family members took turns staying with Dad in his home and providing additional care for him.
Randy received a call within the next week, the home that was Dad’s second choice had a room for him. However, when the owner’s learned he was now receiving hospice services, they declined to accept him. As luck, or should I say divine intervention, would have it within the next few days, Dad’s first choice called to say they had a room for him, and they had no issues with him receiving hospice care. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Dad moved into the home of this choice with hospice services on board. (Side note: my sister had died mid September, just six weeks prior.)
Dad seemed to really be enjoying living in his new home. There was an old neighbor of Dad’s who also lived there, so Dad was delighted. Three days after moving, my brother received a phone call from the home’s owner. Dad had got up sometime during the night and went to a bathroom across the hall from his room. The owner, who lived on the lower level of the home, heard water running during the night. He went upstairs to investigate and heard the shower in the bathroom where Dad was. There was no answer when he knocked and called to Dad, and the door was locked. When the owner was able to gain entrance he found Dad sitting backwards on the shower chair in the shower with the water running full force, and Dad very confused. Because of what the owner deemed an unsafe situation, my brother was called and told Dad would not be able to stay there. However, bless the owner’s heart, they agreed to let him stay until the family could make different living arrangements for him.
The day following the “bathroom event” I went to see Dad. As I entered his room, the owner and his wife were helping Dad out of the bathroom. Dad was relying heavily on them for assistance in walking. The owner’s wife told me Dad had been complaining of ankle pain and was having a hard time putting weight on it. When I asked him about it, he seemed a bit confused. The expression on his face was one I had never seen him wear before. Was it pain, was it resignation, maybe confusion? His affect was very flat, his eyes were wide and glassy.
Family members stayed with dad for the next two days. The next day was Thanksgiving, I arrived later in the morning and was told by the owner at the home Dad had a quiet night. He was sleeping as I entered the room. I kept vigilance during the day with Dad seemingly sleeping and comfortable. One of my sister’s came that afternoon and as we were turning Dad, he held up his finger in a pose like he was about to tell us something very important and we better be listening closely. His voice was so soft and weak when he spoke, I was standing on one side of the bed and my sister on the other, I thought I heard, “Be Kind.” I said to my sister, “Did he tell us to be kind?” I asked her. She replied, “I think so!”
I leaned over, took Dad’s hand, and looked him in his eyes. “Did you just tell us to be kind?” I asked. He nodded his head slightly, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep. Died died early the next morning.
Those words, “Be Kind,”were the last words my dad spoke. Those became the most powerful influential words in my life. “Be Kind” was the legacy he left me.
“Be Kind” is how I try to live my life and honor his legacy.
Lesson learned: ALL WAYS BE KIND!