Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Grandpa Don's Last Day

Grandpa Don died on Christmas at 8:19 p.m. The end was all that we could have wished for, considering that he died. Don got to die at home, contented, surrounded by people who love him, in peace and with little, if any, pain.

The day started like so many of the other recent days, though the evening before had been a rough one with little sleep. Still, as much as Don had moods at that point, he was in a good one. Our family was at the house, as was Doug (Larr's middle brother). Don's brother, Glen and his wife Mary, would soon arrive along with Mark and Lilia. When Ellie sat down next to Grandpa Don she held his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas. He mouthed, "Merry Christmas" back to her and did the little eye wink that they often exchanged. I am pretty sure that those are the last intelligible words that he uttered. Through out the day Don was less and less conscious. By mid afternoon it looked like he could be in this state for many days, so we sent Ellie off with Kohlton to do Christmas at Kohlton's house in Nederland.

As the evening progressed, Don's breathing became less consistent. He would stop breathing for many seconds at a time. With each one we wondered if that was the last. Then he would start up again. Slowly his body began to cool. His fingertips turned blue. His lips took on a grey tinge and his color left his skin. He was peaceful, but his breathing was labored. Through out the last many days he seemed to like to have both of his hands held, so that is what we did. We made sure that two people were holding his hands at all times. Remmie would come in to check on him from time to time, looking at him from a respectful distance. Somehow Remmie seemed to understand that Grandpa Don's feet had become very sensitive and even the slightest brush caused extreme pain.

Towards the end Larr and Ethan took turns placing their hands on Don's neck and head in an attempt to make sure that Don felt warmth and comfort. We all told him that it was okay to go and that things were under control (one of Don's favorite things to say). Ethan kept a hand on a place on Don's arm where he could monitor his pulse. Once he died, we waited ten minutes to check for a heart beat. It was very hard to reconcile the fact that Don was really gone. I think we all sat there feeling grief, sadness, disbelief and relief. It did not seem possible that Don's end had actually come. We took turned saying good-bye and looking at him, trying to burn that image into our brains, perhaps. Once his spirit left, his body seemed so frail and small, not at all the man he had been.

Eventually we called the hospice people, expecting that they would rush over quickly. It actually took them a few hours to show up. In the mean time, we removed Grandpa's watch and lowered the bed. Grandpa Don had wanted to be sitting up and in charge until the very end. His mouth was agape, so Doug sat for a long time trying to get it to close. He was unsuccessful at getting it to cooperate.

We spent some of that evening calling family members and important friends to inform them of Don's passing.

The woman from hospice showed up at around 11:30 p.m. She offered her condolences, set up an appointment with the coroners and explained how to dispose the unused medications. (When a person enters the hospice program, the caregiver receives a package with a variety of pain management drugs that come in blue containers that are housed in a box.) She suggested that the medication could be mixed with kitty litter and then thrown away. She explained what would happen the next day and then departed.

Don's body stayed in the bed in the living room over night at the rest of us tried to deal with the reality of the situation and then pretended to sleep.

Two men from the coroner's office arrived promptly at 9 a.m. in a pair of matching white soccer mom type vans. The two men were dressed nicely in black suits with black overcoats. They were extremely respectful, offering us as much time as we needed before proceeding. They offered an explanation of what would happen and what we would need to do. One of us would have to witness them placing an identification band on Don's leg. They asked if we wanted his face covered, or uncovered. It was snowing outside and I could not bear the idea that snow would fall on his face without his being able to wipe it away, so we decided to cover his face. Then we would be excused as they placed his body on a gurney. We all waited outside as we did not want to hear any sounds that might escape due to air trapped in his body. The men were quick and efficient. I broke down once they drove away. Don's body would be placed in a refrigerated room for safe keeping.

Larr and Doug met with them on Monday to make arrangements. Don's body will be cremated and placed in a spot next to Eleanor's. It was a relief to know exactly what he wanted done. Since it was all pre-arranged and paid for, that part was pretty quick and easy.

The memorial will take place in February so that important people from outside of the US can attend the funeral.

Many friends have since brought us meals so that we can focus on processing Don's passing. That has been a gift.

The night before Don died, Larr and Doug set up a slide projector in the living room and watched some of the family slides.

It is hard to believe that he is gone. He was such an important person in our lives.

No comments: