Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dear Dad:

Dad. You left this world Tuesday morning, January 18th, just minutes after Billy left and told you it was okay to go to Mom. It was around 9:30am. One month to the day since Mom passed away. Just a few hours before, I stopped in the hospice in the middle of the night. You were so thin and so frail. It was really hard to witness. But you were still breathing. You seemed comfortable. You looked like you did every other time you were sleeping. You were covered in blankets we brought from the house. The one that stood out to me was the Pottery Barn kids blanket that lay on top. It was one of Chandler's blankets from when he was little. Bill and Dawn let us borrow it last time the kids were here for either Evan or Eliana. The day we brought you to the hospice, the nurses got you comfortable in the bed and tucked you in and the blanket with all the little rocketships sat on top. In some ways, you seemed like a little kid that day. You weren't speaking but you looked at us for guidance as the priest folded your hands in prayer and we prayed together. I felt so bad. I just wanted to hug you and tell you it was going to be okay. Paul and I were right beside you as the priest read you your last rites. I wouldn't have had it any other way. As hard as it was, I'm so glad we were there.

I've been having trouble processing losing the both of you in such a short time. After losing Mom, I was upset with myself because I never cried like I felt like I should. Saturday night, or more like Sunday morning just a few days before you passed, I stopped in the hospice in the middle of the night around 3 in the morning to see you. The staff at the hospice were so friendly. They let me in right away and left me alone in the room with you. I told you how much I loved you and how much you meant to me, and most of all, thanked you for everything you did for me. I knelt down beside the bed and cried my heart out. I have never cried so hard in my 42 years. Never. It was as if the dam broke. My chest was tight from crying to the point where it hurt. I was crying as if the little boy inside me was crying out to his Daddy not to leave. It was as if everything was coming out at once. Losing Mom, losing you, 9/11, barely surviving addiction, the divorce, no longer being able to have a conventional family with my wife and kids. Most of all, what hurt the most was was kneeling beside you at the bed, your son, not wanting to say goodbye. I cried so hard and so loud that the nurse came running in and check to see if you were still breathing. She thought maybe you had already gone. I squeezed your hand one last time, put my hand on your head and said, " I love you Dad. You can go and see Mom now." 

Dad, I don't know what happens on the other side, but I hope you are with Mom again, and all of your family. One of the last things you said to me was, "Just make sure you take care of those kids." Dad, you know I will. I'm going to miss you. We are all going to miss you. With you watching over us, I'll always think of the Liverpool FC song, "You'll Never Walk Alone." Bye for now.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I got the text from Paul early this afternoon. The nurse had decided it was time to move my Dad to the hospice. Paul and Shari, who have been nothing less than saints taking care of my parents for the past few months, had been getting very little sleep making sure Dad would stay in his bed. He kept getting out of bed wanting to go somewhere. This is common when someone is in the later stages of dying. The get agitated and feel like they have to go some where. He's so frail and thin, that if he fell, he would undoubtedly break bones. So the nurse made the call and let my Dad know we would be moving him to hospice. There, he would get medicine to keep him comfortable until the time comes. He asked the nurse, "And what happens next?" She said, "Well, then you will go and be with you wife." and he just nodded his head and said, "Ok."

I didn't rent a car while down here in Naples, so I've been biking everywhere. I raced all the way from my brother's house, to my parent's house. 8.5 miles away. Made it in 35 minutes. I went in and said hello to Dad, he slowly turned his head and made eye contact, but he could barely utter a hello. Just yesterday, he said "Hi Pete!" as clear as day. In the past few days I've watched a sharp decline in his condition. He's transitioning. He's peaceful and quiet. His movements are slow. Occasionally he mutters things that I can't understand. Sometimes he'll ask me if I can come back early the next morning so that I can take him to Sam's Club or Costco. He liked when I drove him around in November and took him shopping. It's as though he doesn't realize how weak and frail he is. There's no way I could take him out in his condition. But his brain is still going. "Pete, get here around 9 tomorrow. I want to go to a few places." It breaks my heart, because I have to say yes knowing full well I can't

So we were waiting for the hospital van to arrive. Not an ambulance, but a van they use to transport patients to hospice. I'm standing there next to my Dad, in his last moments in his home. A home he was very proud of and did so much work to try and make it better. And now he was about to cross the threshold of that front door for the last time in his life. I'm not sure he understood the significance of that moment, but the rest of us did. I had a lump in my throat. This is it. He is not coming back.

The van was backed into the driveway. They turned around the stretcher and my Dad was looking at the house. His house. I wondered what was going through his mind. I didn't want him to see the tears welling up in my eyes so I smiled at him and waved as they lifted the stretcher onto the van. My Dad's gaze continued toward the house. The van doors shut. I rode in the van with my Dad to the hospice. A lot of the neighbors had gathered outside in their driveways, and as we pulled away in the van, I didn't know what else to do, I didn't want to wave, so I gave a salute. Like I was transporting a wounded soldier. Dad's stretcher was facing out the back window. He couldn't see me so I said Dad, just so you know, I'm here. We left Forest Park, their home for the past 15 years for the last time. It was sad to say the least. 

When we arrived at the hospice, Dad was in the back asleep, but when we got him out of the back, the sun seemed to hurt his eyes so he lifted his arms up to shield them. We wheeled my Dad in to Room 8 North, the exact same room my mother was in exactly one month earlier. A parade of nurses came in got my dad changed, cleaned up, and got him nice and comfy in is bed. On top of the bed was a child's blanket. I don't know if it was Chandler's or maybe Evan's, but it seemed kind of comforting. Minutes after the nurses left, a nice priest came in and administered last rites to my Dad. It was a beautiful moment. I really wanted this for my Dad. 
Paul and I were present as last rites were read. We all bowed our heads and prayed. The priest said he had been absolved of all his sins and can now rocket up to heaven to be with Hilda. 
Seriously, that's what he said, it was kind of funny. I don't know if it's appropriate to take photos at times like these, but I did want to document my Dad's last days and write about it. Paul and I returned later that nigh for about an hour but Dad was asleep nearly the whole time. When we left, Dad again said that he wanted us to come pick him up early to go shopping. Wherever my Dad is going, there had better be a Lowe's, Home Depot, Sam's Club, and Coscto or there will be trouble.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dad, it's okay to go home. Mom is waiting.

My Mom and Dad were married for 62 years, and as is common with married couples as they approach their golden years, when one passes away, the other is usually not far behind. When my Dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer 18 months ago, the doctor told him he had about 12-18 months if he decided to forego chemo treatments. I remember being in the hospital and asking my Dad if he wanted to go through chemo. He looked out the window for a second, looked back and said, "No, I've had a good run. If the doctor says I have 12-18 months, I'll take it." That was 18 months ago. Back in the fall, I spent nearly the whole month of November down in Florida visiting my parents, thinking that my Dad, who was quite frail, would be the first to leave us. As fate would have it, my Mom passed away first, on December 18th, a week before Christmas. I truly feel that my father hung on to see my mother get to the other side. I know he was worried about what would happen to her if he passed away first. I'm just glad that I was able to take that time to visit with my parents and spend some time with them before my Mom passed.

At my Mom's funeral, my Dad appeared frail and weak. He had to be brought in to the memorial service in his wheelchair, but he was still able to walk with the help of a cane. I could see that he was heartbroken. Things have declined sharply since then, and even more so in the past 5 days. Just last week I came to visit him and he was sitting at the kitchen table peeling potatoes for his "Scouse," a stew from England that was popular during WWII and especially popular around the Burke house. That was the last time I remember seeing him still being himself. In the days since, he has been mostly confined to the hospital bed in the living room, which was originally intended for my mother. He's been sleeping about 20 hours a day, maybe more. He's lost nearly all of his physical strength to the point where he can barely sit up. It is hard to watch when I think of how physically fit and strong my father was. One thing my brother Paul told me that was heartbreaking, was that one night last week, while he was helping my Dad get into the hospital bed, my Dad said, "I want to go home." Paul said, "Dad, you are home." But I know what he meant. He's tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of fighting. After seeing him today, I think he's ready, I want him to know it's ok to go. It's okay to let go Dad. Mom is waiting for you.