Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Closest Things To Angels

The summer of 2007 was to be the last that my father would ever see. Advanced cancer was devouring him, and his time with us was limited. His legs were stick like; odd for a man of 6ft2, whilst oxygen cylinders and various medications were now familiar additions to the modern bungalow he and my Mother had moved to a few years before. He knew he was dying, and prior to the implementation of palliative care his moods were often tearful and forlorn. Whilst he never verbalized it, I sensed a deep and very understandable fear at what awaited. He did as many do under these circumstances; he found Jesus, and I'd often note the presence of a Bible near to him when I visited. In every sense we were traversing an opposite path. My faith was dead in the water, although I had not formally renounced it or ceased attending church. Just as he was seeking affirmation in his new found walk I was maintaining a diplomatic silence, allowing him to live out his final days on his own terms. I cannot recall what prompted this, but the Macmillan nurses who were coming to the house must have sensed that it was time to consider admission to a Hospice. I confess that I had noted no obvious deterioration; perhaps these wonderful women simply had a sense of how things were progressing. The Florence Nightingale Hospice was a calm, quiet, and comfortable place. Dad was in an open ward with other patients, each appearing to draw comfort from the other. The care he received whilst there was just wonderful; those staff are the closest things to angels that we could have hoped for. They were non intrusive yet always available. They respected my father and treated him with dignity, never blind to his personhood. As he faded they were there for him and for us. It made a dark time bearable. The final days were of course stark; I particularly remember how his breathing changed; fluid filled lungs issuing a bubbling rasp that I can recall to this day. It is not painful, however; at least not for the patient. I wonder whether this was what the term "Death rattle" meant? 
Dad's communication became less and less, his periods of consciousness  infrequent. When he did stir he was incoherent; I remember more than one occasion when he tried to get out of bed. The nurses would come, the morphine administered, the consciousness curtailed. In his final days he was moved to a side room that looked out into the peaceful walled gardens. The family would sit around and talk with each other, the hours stretching away and seeming elongated. At one point we all gathered around his bedside, and one of us, me, spoke to him. It had been suggested that sometimes the dying, at the subconscious level, need permission to let go. It was I that voiced this; although I cannot recall the words I used. I would wander in and out of the room, moving from shady interior into bright bank holiday sunlight. On returning to his bedside sometime during the early afternoon I noticed that his chest was hardly moving. It would rise and fall once every couple of minutes. I called everybody in and summoned the nurse, who confirmed that the time was near. It did not take long after that. We watched his chest rising and falling, rising and falling, rising and then falling in a final physical requiem before he ceased. The nurse tended to him, so gently and with such care, before turning and simply saying, "He's gone"
My father was dead. It had been peaceful and dignified. And he died surrounded by those that loved him. It remains one of the most profound moments of my life, an will remain with me always.

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