Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Last Goodbye

Barry Mayfield (Papa Bear)
The best Dad and Grandfather EVER.
When I was ten I went away to summer camp for the first time. I took the first intrepid steps onto the school bus and waved goodbye to my parents as I watched them from the window. I remember coming home and couldn't wait to tell them all about my experiences. It was the best week of my entire kid life.

Then when I was fifteen I got a job as a camp counselor for that same camp. My parents would drive me to where the buses would leave every weekend. I waved goodbye just like I did when I was ten. Eventually, I was driving myself to the departure lot, leaving every monday and spending entire weeks during the summers working as a counselor - hiking, swimming, backpacking and rock climbing in the Sierra Nevada every single week until I was in my early twenties. I hugged and kissed my mom and dad and said goodbye week after week, and just like when I was ten, I was excited to tell them all about my adventures on my return, what life lessons I had learned, the people that I connected with and all the fun I had.

Then when I was eighteen, my parents helped move me into my first dorm room at San Jose State University. After all my furniture was unloaded, delivered, and arranged in my room (a shitload of crap that required multiple trips up nine floors in the elevators on my dad's trusty hand truck with the big ass wheels) and after a quick lunch with a short trip to the grocery store to stock my dorm fridge I stood there on the front steps of Joe West Hall feeling terribly abandoned and scared while at the same time buzzing with the energy of my first taste of true independence. I remember my dad waving goodbye to me as they drove out of the dorm parking lot. I think my mom was crying.

Then there was the time I moved to Europe, taking my first red eye international flight on my way to Sheffield, England when I was twenty-three years old. I was almost late for my flight at the airport because I spent too long at the restaurant in the terminal saying goodbye to my parents. I remember arriving back home at the SFO terminal twenty-five pounds heavier (a result of spending the semester drinking abroad) and not recognizing my dad through a newly grown, bushy, white beard standing in front of me and my mom who had lost all the weight I had gained. It took us all double takes to recognize each other. We hugged and laughed at the visible irony of our reunion.

There were so many goodbyes we said throughout the years, but every goodbye was reconciled with a big hug and a kiss hello to tell about my travels, encounters, adventures and people I had met.

All except for one goodbye.

A week ago I gave my last goodbye. It was the hardest goodbye of them all.


I said goodbye to my dad. My sweet, sweet dad.

It was my dad's hope that this stem cell transplant could give him another 7-10 years of life and possible remission from his Multiple Myeloma. He knew the risks but he was in good health and the strongest he's been since his last chemo treatment months ago. The doctors gave him the greenlight to go ahead with the procedure.

But a clusterfuck of complications and a roller coaster ride in hell later we all came together at his bedside in the MSICU at the hospital - my mom, my brother, and I - together, ready with breaking hearts to make the hardest decision we will probably ever make in our adult lives...to take my dad off the ventilator and pull the tubes that had been suspending his life in his own barely living, barely breathing nightmare.

Yeah. To say that was hard is an understatement.

That was hard as fuck.

But it was just as hard to let him suffer.

The nurses agreed not to touch the ventilator until we were ready. You could tell part of us didn't want to let go when we were spending a little extra time taking a lunch in the cafeteria downstairs while the nurses put in the order for the morphine drip that would be dad's last comfort cocktail. But honestly, I couldn't stand to wait and leave him suspended in torment for one second longer.

A conversation with my brother.
My biggest fear was his fear. I didn't want him to be afraid. I didn't want him to be alone during death.

My dad had been breathing like he'd been running an ultra for the past 21 days and his body was so fatigued it was failing him. He even managed to tell us he was ready to throw in the towel in his own words at one point when the doctors had briefly taken him off the ventilator - a futile attempt at testing whether his lungs were capable of doing their job.


He said he was trying to figure things out. He was gasping in between words. When one of the nurses asked him what he was trying to figure out he said...

"I'm trying to figure out a way to die so my family can go home."

I can honestly say that those words induced a real physical reaction in my gut and my heart - kinda like when you hear a really low base sound on a sub woofer and it shakes you on the inside - and the emotion that followed was an instinctual denial that my father didn't just say that. It made me so very sad to hear him say he wanted to die. I could literally feel my heart breaking at that very moment.

But he did want to die...and he was ready.
My last picture of my dad.

As he was in and out of heavy sedation it was hard to capture a glimpse of awareness in my dad's eyes during the last few days. When he looked at me as I stood in front of his bed it was as if his spirit was already gone and there was an eerie far away glaze over his eyes like he saw right through me or had no idea I was there.

But I think I saw a few moments of consciousness during the window between his sedation and morphine induced state just before the doctors had begun to slowly turn down the ventilator to help him let go on his own.

I saw a flash of fear - or maybe it was sadness - followed by thin streams of tears seeping out of the corners of his eyes and I recognized a few extra quivers in his chin. I touched my dad's forehead with my ungloved hand and kissed him on the cheek with my unmasked face. I was relieved the gowning up ritual was ignored and I could finally touch my father, snuggle up into his perspiring neck and hold his bruised and swollen hands with my own flesh. I had been so afraid to touch him the weeks prior during his neutropenic state out of fear of passing along an unknown virus. Even the smallest of germs could compromise his recovery. Turns out the smallest of germs were the least of our worries.

It's possible he realized what was happening when we told him we were there to help him let go if that was what he needed to do. My brother led my dad through a visualization that took my dad down an elevator where the chaos of the world disappeared and he walked along a beach hearing the crashing of the waves and the peace of the ocean. My dad's eyes were transfixed on my brother's face - my brother, red faced with tears and intensely filled with emotion telling him he himself was created in the eyes of my father, his living mirror of which he will continue to live his life in such a way that my father would be proud of him.

It was a deeply moving and haunting interaction between my brother and my father - a relationship that was already being healed from a rocky past just before my father had gone into the hospital.

While my brother verbally reminisced and my mom talked sweetly to my dad about how he was a wonderful father and husband, I found myself empty and paralyzed. My mind and body went dark and I receded with it. I couldn't even begin to extract any semblance of thought about what was happening at that moment. I couldn't remember one memory I had with my dad. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to say to him except "I love you." I was completely vacant. I wanted so bad to just crawl up onto the hospital bed and snuggle up to my dad and fall asleep with him... but there were tubes, IVs, electrodes like barbed wire blocking me from getting close. So I stood by his side in my hollow space - eyes closed, holding his hand.

Jeez, I must have stood there for what felt like hours. Present but emotionally absent. Not being able to give anything.

And then I found myself crying. It was fragmented though and it came in spurts but it was a relief.

Death happened relatively quickly once my dad was off the ventilator. We had been standing at his bedside for a total of four hours. He died at almost exactly 7pm on Saturday November 16. He always was a very precise man.

This is a post with a quote from my facebook status that I posted last Sunday after his passing:
Those that knew him knew an amazing man - a beautiful, loving, caring, giving man with a great sense of humor and a love for good beer. Dad - I'm so proud to be your daughter. You will be missed terribly. It was a long and arduous journey to the end, but you endured and fought for life like a champ. Please rest now and breathe easy my dad and if they have good beer where you are, drink a couple pints for me. Love you.
The numbness has crept back into my heart and I'm trying to distract myself these days, but yesterday Patrick and I met up with my brother and took a few moments to remember a wonderful man.

Last night we drank a Troubadour Belgian Ale in honor of my dad. He will be greatly missed.


Cheers Dad. I love you so.









5 comments:

  1. He sounds like an amazing man. The toughest thing in life is losing parent well before their time.
    Many virtual hugs to you. This may just be your toughest ultra too. One that will bring a roller coaster of emotion at the most random of times. Don't fight it. Just embrace it. Thinking of you. Perhaps some day our paths will cross at some race and I can cheers your dad as well.

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    1. Thank you so much. That's some very good advice. I do hope our paths cross one day (although I'm sure they probably already have and we just didn't realize it). I would love to meet you in person and give you a hug!

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  2. Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot) wrote that, “Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.” It is clear from your heartfelt and beautiful post how much your father meant to you, and how much you loved one another. I know this probably wasn’t the way you guys wanted to say goodbye, but at least you were able to be there for him as a family. Wishing you the best. ~ JB

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  3. Prayers and hugs and tears from the Murphy clan. Thank you for sharing your heart and your family. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, it made us all appreciate each other a little bit more.

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  4. that was beautifully written.

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