My father died in my home on February 7th, 1994. He had moved in with us in November, 1993. He died on his terms, with his family.
My father had prostate cancer, which he had lived with for seventeen years. When my mother died in 1990, Dad remained in their home in Vermont until he came to live with us in Connecticut.
For the final four months of his life, I was the primary caregiver for my father. Both Dad and I knew it was the right thing to do.
In the years since his death I’ve often wished I’d kept a journal of his final months with us. I’ve also felt that having him here, with us, was one of the most powerful and meaningful things I’ve ever done in my life. I am now 65 and in good health, but aware of my age.
Dad was very strong, forceful and charismatic. He was an Episcopal minister. People were attracted to him (he was magnetic) and often intimidated as well. He had the kind of personality that does not “go gently into the night.”
Dad was, in fact, a fighter. He was a boxer at Harvard, and captain of the football team as well. He brought that same fighting spirit to his battle with cancer. He was alert and angry with his illness. Throughout his life he had been a fighter who did not back down from a challenge. He fought his cancer this way, and it was essential for him to be with family. We understood his background, his toughness and his fighting spirit.
We knew that we needed to care for Dad in our home, rather than at a facility. Everyone in our family knew this, including Dad. We had nurses and hospice volunteers, but my wife and I were the primary caretakers. Dad was critical of the nursing help, often blaming them as he became agitated with his condition. We needed to be there to help communication work.
I remember my father, in the middle of the night, climbing out of his hospital bed and becoming stranded on the floor. I remember him begging me to take him home to Vermont (we didn’t.) I remember him being afraid and angry and in pain. Even so, he allowed me to help him in all the intimate and difficult aspects of his care. He trusted me and showed this with his face and hands. As I write this, my eyes are wet. It seems like it was yesterday.
The last thing Dad did before he died was to tell me with his hands that he wanted to get out of the hospital bed and get into the overstuffed chair next to it. I helped him do this. He planted his hands, not to be moved, on the armrests. That is where he died, sitting up and strong.
I so appreciated the help we got from nurses, volunteers, and the in-house hospice supervisor. Our family doctor also came to our house several times mainly to listen and support us.
Here’s what I learned: Trust your own judgment. Know and love your patient. Accept the situation you are in together.
As long as I live, I’ll never forget this time in my father’s life—and in mine as well.
-By Hello! Home Care contributing writer and family friend, Dave Green