However while the Smile-Surgery was a success Tara’s fortunes were fading. The good contracts that made 1996 so successful were winding down and the new testing wasn’t making up for it. Reluctantly in March of 1998 I had to let Jeanne go. It was back to Mom, Dad and me again. The work that came in was just enough for us to handle.
By May of 1998, Tara was running at a good pace when Dad found he had trouble closing his left hand. Then his back started to bother him. He went to see a doctor who found that Dad’s cancer had spread to his brain and lower back. There was little the doctors could do. Chemotherapy wouldn’t work this time and radiation therapy was ineffective. This cancer seemed untreatable. Dad’s condition steadily worsened. Eventualy he lost all movement in his left hand. He had more and more trouble walking. Finally Dad had to use a walker. He clunk-stepped his way around the house just as I had.
One Saturday in July at home he fell. He had put out his right arm to block his fall but broke his arm. An ambulance took him to Port Arthur General Hospital where they set his arm. Dad spent a week in hospital and then came home. The movement in his legs got worse and the arm with his good hand was now in a cast. Dad became bed ridden. Now I pushed Dad around in a wheelchair. Within two weeks of Dad returning from the hospital we realized we couldn’t take care of him at home.
Tuesday August 5, 1998, Dad was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital hospice unit. An ambulance came to take Dad to the hospital late that morning. He never looked back as the paramedics put him into the ambulance. Dad sensed he would never see home again.
The hospice unit was a row of 14 private wards on the fourth floor. They faced the front of the hospital and lined one side of a wide hallway with a large picture window at the end of it. On the other side of the hall were supply rooms and a nurse’s station. Dad had the last room at the end of the hall. I brought Mom to see Dad every evening. Catharine often came to visit with Dad then too. I stopped by to see Dad each morning on my way to work.
The nursing care was exceptional and Dad was glad to be there. Dad’s condition quickly worsened. Being bed ridden he developed pneumonia. Two weeks after Dad was admitted to St. Joe’s he suffered a small stroke during the night. It affected his speech. The morning after his stroke his speech was slurred and I couldn’t understand him. I could tell from the sound of his voice and the way he looked at me that Dad knew what he was saying. Dad repeated himself but I still couldn’t grasp his words.
“Dad I wish I could understand what you’re saying.”
I knew then the heart-rending frustration Dad must have felt in not being able to understand me when I was 13 during my radiation therapy reaction. It was a few days before I understood him again. After his stroke Dad spent a lot of his time sleeping. Now when I stopped by in the mornings I mainly watched him sleep. I stood by helplessly as Dad’s life trickled away day by day. I knew my time with Dad was growing short but my heart wouldn’t accept it. I would have willingly stayed with Dad all day but each morning Tara called me. Tara was doing well but Dad was slipping away.
The afternoon of August 25th, Mom had Fr. Allen, the Corpus Christi parish priest, give Dad the last rights blessing as he lay in his bed at St. Joseph’s hospice. Fr. Allen stood to Dad’s left and Mom stood at his right while I watched from the foot of his bed. Catharine was tied up at work. Dad was silent through the prayers but just after Fr. Allen left Dad broke down. This was final. His tears said what all of us had avoided saying. Dad’s life was coming to an end.
That evening as Mom bent over Dad to settle him for the night Dad looked up at her. With deep sincerity in his eyes and voice he said, “I kept my promise. I stayed with you.”
“Yes Peter. You did,” Mom replied stroking his hair.
It was apparent Mom and Dad’s marriage had been strained for years, but at that moment there was a spark of the love that brought them together. Right then I don’t think either of them was aware that I was present.
As his cancer progressed there were times when I think Dad didn’t quite know who Mom, Catharine and I were. For a man who used his mind all his life it was hard to see it fading. Dad got to know the nurses. They were around him all the time. There was one nurse in particular he liked named Clara. Once he winked at her and another time he told her she was beautiful when she was bent over him tucking him in for the night. Dad’s body was failing him and his mind was fading but there was nothing wrong with his eyesight.
On the evening of Tuesday, September 1st, exactly four weeks after he was admitted to St. Joe’s, Dad knowingly looked at me and called me by name to ask me to adjust his bedside lamp. I hadn’t heard him say my name for a week. At twenty to ten Mom and I were getting ready to leave Dad for the night. The nurse taking care of Dad that evening went to settle another patient down for the night. Then she would come back to settle Dad. After that Mom and I would go home. Mom walked out of the room and stood in the hallway looking out the picture window that we had both looked out of many times. I sat in the chair opposite the foot of Dad’s bed. He was resting quietly on his back when all of a sudden Dad popped his head up looking at me in distress as he waved his arm. He couldn’t call out. Dad seemed to be choking. I rushed out of the room and up the hall to get the nurses. Mom saw me and knew something was wrong. She hurried in. When she saw Dad she cradled his head. “I’m here Peter,” she said. Mom knew it was all she could do.
I found Dad’s nurse. I said, “I think he’s choking.”
”Choking!” she exclaimed. She and I hurried down the hall followed by nine other nurses. When we got back Dad had lost consciousness. I stood with most of the nurses at the foot of Dad’s bed and watched with them.
While still cradling Dad’s head Mom said, “Brian, hold Dad’s hand.”
The nurses made room for me to go beside Dad and I held his hand. Then Mom picked up the phone on the bedside table. “Catharine, come to the hospital … come now.” She cradled Dad’s head again. Catharine lived 20 minutes away and came as fast as she could.
The pauses between Dad’s breaths became longer. He started to snore as he inhaled. Then there was one long pause, a sharp snore, a slow exhale and then silence. The head nurse, who had witnessed all of this, took out her stethoscope and listened to Dad’s chest. Then she put it away.
“What?” I thought. I reached over and felt Dad’s neck. “I can’t get a pulse,” I said.
“I can’t get one either,” she replied.
It was only then that I realized I had held Dad’s hand as I watched him die. I looked at Mom. “Dad’s dead?”
“Yes Brian. You didn’t know what was happening?”
“No,” I said.
“He threw a clot,” the head nurse said to me.
No more than five minutes had passed from the time Dad waved his arm in distress to his final breath.