I don’t even remember it; so casual was the moment. I’m sure there was a quick hug and a “see you later” before I walked down the path from my dad’s woodland house to my car. I had spent the first two days of a planned staycation week visiting with him and my former stepmother, B., his partner of the last eight years, following his previous week’s diagnosis of lung cancer. Third time around. The news over the week-end was confusing and I had expected, when I left my house at about 7:00 on Monday morning, to be going to the hospital, where he was scheduled for a biopsy. But before I arrived a few hours later, he had been sent home. With one of the tumors wrapped around a pulmonary artery, the doctors had concluded that no surgical procedures would be possible.
We spent the next day or so relaxing and talking. It seemed that the cancer had appeared recently and spread rapidly. He and B. were optimistic, anticipating a short round of chemo and radiation and, B. told me privately, perhaps a few more good years. “Perhaps it will disappear as quickly as it arrived.” I did not say anything about that not being the way in which cancer behaves. My dad seemed to have completely forgotten the horrors of his last wife’s debilitating treatment for the same vicious disease, and his resolution at that time that he would never pursue a similar path. I did try to present some of the realities of treatment and to question its advisability, although some serious testing loomed ahead and it was impossible to get too far in our discussions.
Before I left, I asked my dad to try to consider what he would want if he had five years left, or a year, or weeks. “If the latter,” I said, “you may want to purchase a new winter sleeping bag and curl up on the deck to watch the birds.”
I meant to ask Dad and B. to be sure that his living will and health care power of attorney were next to the front door, but I got distracted and forgot.
I drove home Tuesday afternoon, wondering about my own answers to the questions I had asked him to ponder. I read about the consequences of a tumor tangled around a pulmonary artery ~ quite possibly catastrophic.
On Wednesday there were visits to oncologists, and on Thursday, extensive testing. And on Friday morning at about 9:15, I received a frantic call from B. “Robin! Your father is dying!” It developed that the EMT guys were there, engaged in all the activities he had hoped to avoid, and she couldn’t find the paperwork and hoped I had it. My cousin, a vet, was standing there with her and repeating, “Peter wouldn’t want this; Peter wouldn’t want this.” The medical personnel were apologetic, saying that in the absence of his instructions to the contrary, they had to act. We found the file in our house, and my husband went off to fax the papers to the hospital, while I started to pack.
No one called. I talked to a nurse at the hospital, explaining that my dad was en route. A few minutes later, I called again, and reached a neighbor, who was there with B. and my cousin. After a couple of exchanges, I said, “Well, how is he?”
“Uh. . . he died,” she said.
Later, as those who were there put the pieces together, they concluded that he had gone into the bathroom off the bedroom, begun to load the washing machine, and collapsed — probably gone before he hit the floor.
B. said that a few minutes earlier he had dressed and been sitting on the bed, and she had brought in an email harshly critical of the president-elect, to ask him whether it was too much to send to an acquaintance three days after the election. He read it, gave her a big grin, and said, “Send it.”
A few days later, the test results came back ~ extensive metastases.
My dad had always articulated a desire to depart this life quickly and without fuss. I would have been honored to care for him for a bit. But quickly and without fuss it was to be. Thanks be to God. Sort of.