To See Your Son – Final Days with Dad

Derek Ouellette —  January 27, 2010

This week is the first anniversary of my fathers passing. Life is short enough as it is, I do not wish to forget my final days with dad so quickly. Though it may be painful to remember, I wish to remember anyways. To write it out and to share my experience with others.

Sometimes I think that if people would think about death more often it would cause us to cherish more deeply the people we still have in our lives.

Sunday I published an email my mom sent to me as she recalled the week leading up to his hospitalization. This post picks up where her’s leaves off, but through my eyes rather then hers.

This post is not in keeping with the content of Covenant of Love, so again, I invite you to feel free to move on hastily to the next post. But if you wish, stay and read this highly emotive account.

Here is my account:

I got the call around 2:30 Sunday afternoon. My wife and I dropped whatever we were doing, and utilizing my new GPS, we hurried our way over to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit Michigan.

We were directed to the waiting room just outside of the ICU where we were greeted by my uncle, aunt and sisters. I remember my uncle and aunt warning me to be prepared. “It doesn’t look good” they said. “He’s got tubes and wires everywhere. And they have him mildly sedated so that while he can probably hear everything you say, he can’t respond.” My mom was in the ICU with one of my sisters. Only two at a time were allowed to visit.

When it was our turn, I remember shaking with uncertainty as my wife and I entered my father’s private room. A son is not supposed to see his father like this, I remember thinking.

We stood on either side of his bed, each holding a hand. I remember telling him how much I loved him. I remember kissing him on his forehead. I remember it looked as though he responded. His eyebrows went up and he scrunched his nose.

There was a large tube coming out of his mouth. The doctor – his name was Ryan if I recall – told me that my dad was too weak to breathe on his own. That the tube in his mouth was hooked up to a machine that breathed for him, and that the monitor which seemed to fluctuate between 17 and 18 indicated that it was the machine doing the breathing, and not dad. “When you see that number rise to 21, 22 or more, that means your dad is doing the breathing and not the machine”.

I wanted the number to rise. I wanted to know dad could breathe on his own. I wanted to know he was going to make it.

He had a cooling blanket over his body. The doctors told me that he had contracted some sort of a virus. That it would be a few days before they would know what kind of virus, and until then they were trying to keep his temperature down with the cooling blanket while injecting him with some all purpose antibodies.

He looked uncomfortable.

We stayed at the hospital with my mom until about 2 am Monday morning.

I went to visit him again Monday. We were there all day and well into the night. We took turns going in and out of his room. The doctor – Ryan – was not working. I would not see him again. I liked him. He told me that when dad had first arrived he was wide awake talking and joking as they wheeled him in. He was probably nervous. He was probably scared. He was all alone. Alone, nervous and scared; that makes me sad.

Tuesday we went again. I remember telling my wife that I was scared. That I feared he wasn’t going to make it through this time. She told me she believed he would. That helped.

The family took turns again visiting him in pairs of two. In and out, that’s how it went all day long. I had already taken two days off of work. My wife believed he was going to make it. I wanted to believe that too. So we went to say good bye to dad. To tell him that we didn’t know when we’d be back because I had to work the next day and I hadn’t taken it off. So we went to see him to tell him this.

It was getting late and we stood in our usual places, one on either side of his bed, each holding one hand. I was scared to make any noises. I was scared to speak above a whisper. I was scared to step on any wires.

I remember watching a CSI episode where a kid fell asleep while visiting a grandparent in the hospital. The chair he was sleeping in had rolled back on top of his grandparents oxygen hose. His grandparent suffocated to death.

I was scared to step on any wires.

I brushed my dad’s hair aside and tried to straighten his foot. I kissed him on the forehead. And I kissed him again. I told him that I loved him. And I told him it again.

Then I told him that I had to go. “I don’t know when I’ll be back” I said. “But I will be back; you have to hang in there okay.”

He suddenly gripped my hand. My wife’s hand too. It startled us. With every bit of strength he could muster he pulled on us. The number on the monitor spiked to a whopping 27 and 28. It was dad and not the machine. He wrestled to lift his head. He waged it violently back and forth. His face was stern with a frown. He tried so very hard to open his eyes.

I was scared.

He managed to get them wide open for only a moment. He tried hard to land them on me. I could tell he hadn’t used them in several days. He had not the strength to keep them open. They were red and filled with gunk. His feet struggled to move as he gripped our hands tighter, hoisting his back up, his neck tried so very hard to get his head off his pillow so he could see me.

I saw it in his face. A man struggling to muster all the strength within him if but to look upon his son for one last time.

I started to cry.

“Okay dad, okay!” I pleaded, “we’re not going anywhere dad. We’ll stay a little while longer okay. We’ll stay a little while longer”.

His body relaxed again.

I began to cry some more.

With a choked up voice I began to sing. I sang slowly. My wife joined in. Worshipfully we sang: “Our God. He is an awesome God. He reigns, from heaven above with wisdom, and power and love our God is an awesome God.” We sang it again. And then again. Dad liked that song. He liked to sing. He liked to play that song on guitar with me.

He looked content.

“Beep! Beep! Beep!” The computer next to me began to sound an alarm.

I jumped back in a panic and ran out of the room. “Nurse! Nurse!” I shouted. Where are all the nurses!

Finally one came. She told me that one of the bags needed to be changed and that the machine was just letting her know that.

I thought I had stepped on a wire.

I began to sob.

Moments later my brother and his wife came bursting into the room, loud and unruly in my opinion.

It made me upset.

They were supposed to be quite. They were supposed to whisper. They were not supposed to tell jokes.

I was indignant.

My brother told dad a joke.

I became even more indignant.

My dad smiled at my brothers’ joke. He even let out a smirk.

That was the last time my dad would laugh.

I became ashamed.

Who was I to take that away from him?

Thanks Ryan for giving dad the gift of one last laugh.

With my brother and sister-in-law now present, we decided to leave quietly, to not say good bye again. I could not bear to see dad respond again the way he had done earlier.

I could not even bear to look upon him one last time.

I whispered, “I love you dad”.

I took my wife’s hand and we turned and walked away.

That was the last time I would see him alive.

To read the post I wrote last year about the morning dad died, click here.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.