The Day My Parents Died
My parents died on October 14th. It was a day that changed me, shaped me and made me who I am, today. I’d experienced death with aunts, uncles, cousins, and a grandparent. I’d seen death up close and personal as a soldier, policeman, and park ranger. I’d talked to the dying while trying to comfort them just before they passed away at accident scenes. None can come close to the pain of losing my folks. It’s a pain that is with me always. I recently saw a movie where the lead character loses his Mom and never really got over it. That’s how I felt.
My Father lived in another state. He came to visit us for a week on March 13th. As soon as I saw him, I recognized something was wrong. My Dad had a grey aura around him. His face looked grey and the word cancer popped into my head. I was always a little prescient, so I knew not to question it. My intuition saved my life many times as a cop. I called my sister who lived near my Dad. She said Dad had been to his general physician, but not an oncologist. I said I suspected cancer based on his grey face. My sister, Noelle knew not to question my judgment. She remembered I was the one who suggested Mom had Alzheimer’s before she was diagnosed. I asked dad if he felt alright. Dad confessed that he was swollen in his private area. His general physician was a woman, so he did not want to tell her. Modesty kills.
My Mother had Alzheimer’s for ten years. Mom stayed with Dad most of the time with a day nurse, but Dad needed to occasionally put Mom in a nursing home for his rest. Mom wore Dad out and she would occasionally bite Dad and be combative. I was the sibling who suggested to the other siblings and Dad that Mom might have Alzheimer’s when she started to show strange behavior. Mom would talk to the television, she would spot enemy planes from World War Two, and she would hide things. Mom even said several times that she thought she was losing her mind. After Mom was diagnosed, we tried medicine. But, it was a slow decline. The last cognizant thing Mom said to me was, “Please kill me.” She knew she would be trapped in her body.
When Dad went home from his final visit to me and my family he went to the oncologist. Dad had terminal rectal cancer. She gave him three months to live, he lived six. Dad tried chemotherapy, but that just killed him worse than the cancer. I was able to travel to Maryland to see my Father several times. Each time he looked a little worse. In September, I was visiting with Dad and had to call 911 because he was having a hard time breathing. I visited Dad at the hospital. I could see every vein in his body as his skin was translucent. It was horrible. Dad loved old movies and the last movie was saw together was, Last Wagon Out.
Dad had a few weeks to live. In those weeks, I was in a terrible accident and had my truck totaled. My house flooded from a burst pipe and I had to retire a subordinate for an alcohol oxycotin addiction. I saw Dad one last time when we did hospice in the house. Dad wanted to die in the house he and I built when I got out of the army and he was getting his wish. The end was a blur with sibling fights, getting a priest on a Saturday night to administer last rites, and road trips up and down route 95. The nursing home called to say my Mom was having a hard time breathing. They warned that this was common with couples married for a long time. They suggested moving my Mom from the nursing home to my parent’s home so they could die together.
We sent an ambulance to transport Mom, but she died in the parking lot. Dad went a couple hours later. So, we had a double funeral. I was a pall bearer. I carried Dad into the church my Father built and Mom out of the church. My favorite part of the funeral was my Aunt Betty talking about family togetherness referencing all of the campouts we did in the 60’s at the Indian River Inlet State Park and going to the World’s Fair in Quebec in 1967. Camping seemed to be the funeral theme with several people referencing it. My Aunt Betty was always a strong godly woman, so it was great to see and hear her talk about my parents.
I was lost after the church service. We went to the veteran’s cemetery and watched the soldiers give my sister my Dad’s flag. My sisters did not think to tell me where Mom and Dad were to be buried, so after the military service was over my two sisters took off in the black limo to some distant part of the cemetery while I stood there trying to figure where do I go. One of my cousins asked, “Didn't they tell you where to go?” I said no and hopped in my car with my family and drove eight hundred miles home. There was no one to ask directions. My older sister told me not to come to my parent’s house for the family get together after our run-in, so heading home seemed appropriate.
Over the next year, I tried to figure it all out. I buried myself in work and that did not seem to help. I remember my Dad when his Mother passed away. Dad would take me with him every Friday to the cemetery where Grandma was buried. Dad would bring flowers, he would trim the bushes, and clean the tombstone. I would sit and watch. I never knew what my role in this was. Thirty-two years I understood his weekly vigil at the graveside. It took Dad about a year to deal with his Mother’s death. Dad did not get over his Mother’s because you never get over the loss of a true loved one. You understand the death and grieve in your own quiet way. I would swim laps in the pool or open water swim in the ocean. The physicality of swimming helped me focus on something less painful than the grief.
My grieving period was roughly a year. I call it the lost year. I did not get over Mom and Dad’s deaths and never will, but their deaths are now in perspective. A few years later, I reconciled with my older sister. This was important as her support was paramount in dealing with subsequent deaths. Jerry, my best friend since sixth grade passed away several years later. Jerry’s death would precede the death of my twenty-three year marriage by a few months over my former spouse’s Face Book affair with a former high school boyfriend. The death of my parents helped me deal with the end of my marriage and the death of my close friend. Even in death my parents were taking care of me.