A Golden Exit
“Happy New Year! You made it to 2013”. Donald Corbett, my widowed 89 year old father said “I wish I hadn’t”. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you won’t see 2014”. “Oh God, I hope not” Dad said.
There had been a swift change on the care front. We had convened a family conference before Christmas, prompted by another fall. We had told Dad it was time to move to a room on the second floor of Serenity Towers, where he could get more care. The second floor is where they keep the incompetent and incontinent. Dad calls them the droolers and zombies.
Nevertheless, there is round-the-clock nursing and attention on the second floor, and a small dining room right there, Residents can also take their meals in their rooms if they like. There is staff to help dress and wash those who can’t do it for themselves, and Dad has been having trouble lately. He’s almost stopped bathing, and dressing takes him hours. He would have help for all of that on the second floor.
He resisted us mightily, accusing youngest sister Rachel, his primary caregiver, of conspiring to get his prime suite, and get his money (he doesn’t have any, really. He insists he didn’t fall and can take care of himself. We left it unresolved.
A week later, after the new year, Rachel tells us he reluctantly agreed to move to the second floor. Two days later he said he was looking forward to it. Yesterday he said he couldn’t wait. I guess his frailty has caught up with him and he realizes how much help he needs. It helped that Rachel left him alone for a few days after he first refused our entreaties to move. Tough love worked.
Out of the blue, younger sister Harriet e-mailed to say she was flying in from the west, she had gotten a cheap ticket on points. She hadn’t seen dad in two years, since the memorial for my mother in the fall of 2010. At that gathering, dad was using a cane, but he was loud and bossy and overbearing as usual. I’m not sure Harriet was ready for the reed-thin, papery old scrap dad had become.
Dad decided we would mark the visit (four of his five children) with a “Last Supper” (his words) at Serenity Towers. We gathered at Rachel’s house and went over to Serenity Towers together. Rachel and her partner had moved his furniture in that afternoon, and he was seeing his new room for the first time.
It was one room, with a bed in the corner, but quite large, with room enough for his desk and computer (which he never uses anymore) and a table and several comfortable chairs. It was a much more sensible arrangement than his three room suite, most of which he never used.
We had a glass of wine (the ban on alcohol on the second floor was only for the droolers. Those with all their marbles, like Dad, could keep a fridge of booze). In addition to three squares a day (which he is encouraged to eat), he gets three snacks delivered to his room during the day. Also, the staff will encourage him to drink fluids and stay hydrated, with which he has a problem, like many of the very old.
We went down to the lovely dining room (dad being pushed backward seated on his walker) and had a big table set for the whole family (minus oldest brother Hal, still out west). A group photo was taken and immediately put on Facebook, where it immediately drew a number of comments about how good it was seeing Dad with his family.
The food, as I have mentioned before, was excellent, real home cooking, just not enough of it. Dad had a half portion, which he didn’t finish, but he was doing what he liked best in the whole world, sitting at the head of a table full of his noisy squabbling children. He slowly ate, and beamed at all of us.
We toddled back up to his new suite for a drink after dinner. He gave away a few things to his kids and then said “I’m not a believer, but what I want to know is what happens when you die? Is it just the end? All black? Has anyone ever come back to tell?”. This was a new direction for dad, never the most philosophical man. I wanted to say “you meet all those who’ve died before you. They’re waiting for you in the light, and mum will be there too”, but instead, I said “That’s a funny thing to be worrying about. You’re not going anywhere yet”.
I got a call in the early morning the day after the Last Supper. Dad had died during the night, peacefully. He had waited to host his children for dinner, had the time of his life, then slipped off quietly without waking. This is the golden end we all desire, the one that was denied my mother. I only hope I’m as lucky as dad when my time comes.