It’s been nearly six months since Dad passed away now. It feels like it’s time to continue telling his story, his final days. Am I ready for this? Never. I’ll never truly be ready to re-live the last moments I had with him, but in my head, I re-live them every single day. It only makes sense to finish the story I started writing, so……..here we go.
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If you haven’t taken time to read Part 1 – 3 of Dad’s story, I definitely recommend it. Everything will make more chronological sense that way.
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I talked with Shaulene, our Admissions coordinator & set a plan to admit Dad into the facility at the end of the week. Part of me felt guilty, but not as guilty as I would feel to come home and know that he took his last breaths alone. When Friday came, Dad was transported to the facility and given a room directly across the hall from my office. We got him settled in, although he expressed disdain because he didn’t understand why he was there. He insisted that he had much more time here than what many of us thought, but I knew better. Later that day, I picked Cyan up from school and gathered a few essentials from home – a sweatshirt and toothbrush were really all I needed, as well as a phone charger. I knew the nights I had left with him would be long ones, as sleep had not been my forte as of lately. When John got home, I kissed Cyan goodnight and headed back to the facility to be with Dad. He was sleeping soundly when I got there, so I curled up with a blanket on the fall mat beside his bed and attempted to do the same.
My sleep was interrupted when Dad called out – “Help me, oh help me,” he’d say.
“I’m right here, Daddy. It’s okay,” I promised him. I knew he was becoming anxious though, so I got the nurse and requested some medicine to help him calm again. The medicine worked as it should, and Dad began another round of peaceful rest. I was so grateful for that, because I knew how difficult it had been for him to sleep over many years. Now, nearing the end, he was truly able to find rest, and he deserved it.
The weekend looked nearly the same – I got up from my bedside arrangement, ran home to clean up and kiss my family, grabbed breakfast for dad, and headed back to the nursing home. Saturday morning, I brought biscuits and gravy back for him, but he was having a bed-bath at the time I returned. I took the thirteen minute drive back home and started some laundry. Inevitably, I still had a home to keep in the midst of the rest of my world crashing down. That was good though, because it helped to distract me. I finished a load of laundry and drove back to the facility to find dad clean and resting, but he hadn’t touched his breakfast. It was past lunch time at that point, and he had a full lunch tray sitting on his bedside table, too. This wasn’t a shock to me, as he hadn’t eaten much over the last few days, but it was enough to remind me that time was ticking.
I curled up in bed next to dad for a few minutes and watched him breathe. How grateful we are to see the breath of our new babies, fresh into the world. I was equally as grateful to see Dad’s breath, because that meant he was still with me, at least for a little while. I finally took my place on the ground next to his bed, and that’s where I stayed until dinner time. When his meal arrived, I accepted it for him without the expectation that he would consume much or any of it. What I really didn’t expect, though, is for his swallowing function to be completely absent yet, but it was. Even from small straw droplets, Dad couldn’t swallow the tea or water that came on his tray. That was like a punch to the gut for me, because once the body stops the intake of fluids, the output usually decreases and the time to say “goodbye” gets closer.
I was dreading that time. If you ask me, I didn’t get enough opportunities to spend time with my dad during his life, and the opportunities I did have weren’t always positive. My child-heart was still longing for time lost in the years that had passed. I was grateful, still though, because of the many chances I had to be with Dad now. I made a promise that I would walk him home, and I would keep that promise.
Saturday turned into Sunday, that turned into Monday and Tuesday once again. Dad’s condition stayed about the same. We had to request new medication from our hospice nurse because dad’s breathing was becoming more of a struggle as his respirations continued to lessen. I went to my meetings, then pulled my chair & laptop into his room to complete my work for the day. What a wonderful thing it was to work by his side and hold his hand. He hadn’t been responsive to really anything since Sunday night. His breath was still there, barely, and his heart was still beating, but his consciousness was in a depth that I’ve never experienced in this life time. I stayed beside him and played his favorite music, Bobby Flores and his steel guitar, on my Spotify. Nursing checked on him frequently (and on me, too) as his respirations decreased to six breaths per minute. Not many people hang on like that, ya know.. It makes the rest of us hold our breaths, expecting our loved ones to take their last at any moment. Not Dad, though. Would you believe me if I told you that Dad maintained six breaths per minute for over twenty-four hours? It’s the truth. My dad was a stubborn bastard, and he didn’t run on anyone else’s time, but his own. He and I are alike in that way.
Wednesday rolled around, April 10, 2019. I had been married for 11 days, and knowingly pregnant for 9 days. Dad’s heels and ankles began to turn a patchy purple. His body was ready. I’ll spare you the intimate, end-of-life details, but I’ll tell you this.. Our hospice nurse, Staci, sat on one side of Dad as I sat on the other. We were talking about his condition and about our families when the lights in the room flickered. I suspected a generator test, but I made the comment to Staci that when spirits are present, they often mess with electricity as a way to communicate their presence. Staci smiled and spoke to my dad, saying, “Did you hear that, Dennis? Is someone here to get you?” My sweet Daddy, who had been unresponsive and hadn’t moved his own body in three days nodded his head twice, in answer to her question, right before he took his very last breath. Dad’s hand was in mine, as Staci and I stared at one another in disbelief. Was this it? And surely, it was. Daddy breathed his last breath on this earth at 1:03PM that day, and Staci and I embraced in happiness and tears. Daddy was finally free from the ailments and bondage that his body created for him. He could breathe freely now, wherever he was, and I was so grateful.
As Staci notified the mortuary to retrieve his body, I helped a sweet friend of mine (who was also a CNA at the facility) provide post-mortem care to my daddy. When I was a CNA, I always jumped at the opportunity to provide post-mortem care to a patient that had passed on, as I knew that it was the last time their body would be fully cleansed, and I wanted to be sure that it was done with the utmost respect and love. We washed Dad’s hair and his back, and I kissed him on the forehead over and over, knowing that I was only kissing the hollow shell of who my dad once was. The mortuary arrived and loaded my daddy into the back of their pretty black suburban. As they drove away, I said farewell to all that I once knew, because I realized even then – death changes you.
I’m still changing to this day. I’m 32 weeks into this pregnancy now. My body has changed, as expected. My heart still aches for my dad, but that will never change. I’m learning to adjust to this life without him, although I still catch myself picking up my phone to call him and ask him about his day.
The journey that I went on with my dad wasn’t an easy one, but I am eternally thankful that I was able to keep my promise and walk my daddy home. Thank you so much to all of you that have continued to reach out and followed my story. My dad, Dennis Blackburn, was a hell of a guy. Even that’s an understatement. He was kind and simple and so funny. May his spirit live on in Clamatos, grandma’s deviled eggs, steel guitars, and bright green John Deere tractors.