September 27th, 2011 at 11:17 am
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My dad’s last breath

by Judy Kirkwood

My mom and dad had so many critical health crises that we were on the edge of our seats for years. That meant whenever I traveled anywhere, I was never sure of what might happen. Since I was a travel writer that really added stress to each trip I scheduled. Thank goodness my younger sister was never more than 10 minutes away from mom and dad, but when they had their most significant downturns, I was many hours and miles away.

I was at a travel writers conference in the Hudson Valley, about an hour and a half from New York City, when sis called to tell me dad had been admitted to the hospital with congestion. She thought he’d be okay, but promised to keep me informed. He declined rapidly, failing swallowing tests. When it appeared he was aspirating, she called and tearfully but calmly suggested I make arrangements to get home.

I was on a break at my conference and burst into tears in the hallway. A colleague stopped to be supportive and it turned out she had just lost her father. I told the conference director my dilemma and her husband immediately drove me to LaGuardia airport.

Dad’s last journey

After I got to Champaign, Illinois, we moved dad from the hospital to a private room at a beautiful nursing home where my mother later stayed for over a year. For the six days he was there, we had family visit, ate in the room or cafeteria, and one of us stayed each night to hold dad’s hand to keep him from ripping out his catheter.

My older sister had a retirement party scheduled she couldn’t miss, with former band students and others flying in from all over the country to play in a tribute performance and to honor her long teaching career in music. My younger sister and mother left reluctantly that day, but they knew dad would want them to be there for his oldest daughter.

Toward the end of the concert, sis called and I held the phone up to dad’s ear as they played Amazing Grace. I was with him when he died shortly after that. He was already mostly gone. I had told him his mother, sister, and brother were waiting on him for dinner and it was time to go home. And he did.

There was no need to feel bad we weren’t all there. I don’t think dad could let go while his precious wife and caregiving youngest daughter were in the room with him.

I was there. All was well.

Posted in Caregiving, Death | 3 Comments »
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3 Comments to “My dad’s last breath”

  1. It is very touching. I shall be ninety-one in January. When I die, I wish I could go as calmly as his father did, having so many of his children by his side.

  2. Helen

    Judy Kirkwood’s experience mirrored my father’s last year, I cried. In the end, I told him “Mama” (what he always called my mother when he talked to me) is waiting, and he let go.

  3. Lila

    What a touching ending. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

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