By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
At 89, Daddy had been deteriorating physically and mentally for several years, but the past couple of months the slippery slope turned into a ski jump.
He’d been at the Veterans Home in Oxford for more than a year after a stroke had affected his judgment and made it unsafe for him to be at our rural home without full-time supervision. The folks at the Veterans Home were good to us, and I got to visit him most days, but when it became clear the end was nearing, a primitive instinct kicked in, and with advice from sources medical, spiritual, legal and personal, I brought him home.
We figured we’d have a few hard but rewarding weeks, during which I would tell Daddy stories he’d told so many times before, reminding him of loved ones and his travels and the farm and our history. I’d remind him of principles that he’d tried to instill in me. I would play CDs of his favorite music and, after years of medicine-related restrictions, give him all the greens he wanted, accompanied by our family’s unique cornbread.
Time was shorter than we realized. We got to enjoy only a little reminiscing, a little music, a little cornbread and greens before Daddy withdrew into himself. He rallied just enough to acknowledge loved ones who came to say farewell.
The next-to-last day was the hardest, when only the drugs so mercifully provided under hospice care could make him comfortable.
On his last night, I was preparing for a long vigil on the twin bed next to Daddy’s hospital bed, but within minutes I saw him take his last breath. He passed from time into eternity from the same room where he’d been with my mother, his wife of more than half a century, when she’d died a few years earlier.
Like Mama, Daddy had donated his body to University Medical Center, so Coroner Rocky and Nurse Chris stayed with Sue, Patrick and me until the van arrived from Jackson. As we waited, I told Daddy’s stories again and opened the finest bottle of wine I’ve ever owned – a long-ago gift of Opus One – and we toasted one magnificent man.
Most deaths aren’t so predictable, and not everyone’s job, house, family situation, geography and other circumstance would lend themselves to such exits even when they’re obviously close. I couldn’t have had both my parents at home without sympathetic employers and especially without a wife willing to sacrifice her own time, energy, convenience and pleasure during seven years of caregiving.
By no means am I recommending our experience as the ideal.
But I am overflowing with gratitude – and no regrets.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at firstname.lastname@example.org.