On Tuesday, November 27th 2012, many people were ankle deep in the work week after Thanksgiving weekend. They were enjoying left overs and warm memories from the holiday weekend. While this charming return to normal was happening for most people, my family and I gathered in my father’s ICU room, prepared to end his life. We were on the verge of jumping as almost as far from “normal” and “charming” as one can get.
My sister, her husband, my mother and I were the last ones to step into his room that day. After the necessary buttons were pressed, and the ornate breathing machine wheeled aside, the nurses apologized one final time. Their words, though brief, held substance and pain. They really were saddened by this outcome.
Nurses, as a whole, were the cheeriest, and most attentive members of the medical community I interacted with during this entire ordeal. They were kind when were conversed, and they were gentle with my father. Every time something major happened with my father, a nurse responded within seconds. Every time, they shoved the greedy, sour faced brute back into his corner.
Once we closed the door, and slid the curtain across the metal rod, we were alone with my father as death crept slowly from his perch in the corner of the room. The numbers on his monitor hovered at random intervals as death wiggled its way around his frail body. Even without assistance, my father’s heart beat steady, almost unyielding to the pressure and pain. He forced his ragged body to function and breath, despite the cancer’s disturbed will.
As a family, with tears fixed in our eyes, and tender pangs of sorrow lancing our hearts, we waited. As a family, we sat together and watched one of the most important people in our lives begin to suffocate. My mother held his hand as his heart rate slowly dropped. She held his hand as his breath count dipped lower and lower.
As the crisp fingers of death knotted across my father’s throat, he dared to breath. Defiantly, he continued to inhale, even as that darkened brute stalled his heart and drained oxygen from his body. The process wasn’t visibly violent, nor was it difficult to hear. He didn’t seize or audibly choke. It was immensely challenging to sit at the foot of the bed, watching the numbers on the monitor tick to zero knowing that I had been a part of the decision that led to that particular moment.
I was barely eighteen. I hadn’t done anything with my life besides go to school, and learn to drive. I didn’t own a car and I had yet to go to a job interview, let alone have a job. I had just started looking at college programs. I didn’t own a regular cell phone, mine was a pay-as-you-go phone. At that moment in my life, deciding to “pull-the-plug” on my father was the most significant decision I had ever made.
Hours after the hospital staff turned off the machinery that flooded his body with oxygen, my father’s struggle ended. He was gone. At the collective discretion of my family and I, my father had died. In the end, his death wasn’t a result of a series of bullets, a rocket, cigarette smoke or an unlucky accident on the road. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma had struck first, pillaged his body and kicked him to his knees. Together, his family granted him mercy, and allowed these complications to claim him.
It was a fall evening when he passed. The trees were bare, and the winds already had the frigid edge they adopted during winter. The skies were shrouded with somber clouds as we departed from the hospital.
Somehow, we were supposed to melt back into the world, and pick our lives up in the morning. First, my family had to plan and arrange a funeral. Then, my sister had to pick up her kids, and carry on educating and loving them. Her husband had to collect himself and go back to work. My mother and I had to finalize my father’s estate and then assimilate into the world of school and work. I had a mountain of homework, and tests to make up and school. With all of these normal and mundane activities, our life was riddled with an eerie newness that maimed our hearts and stained our minds.
My family came away from this nightmare intact, though completely changed as you might imagine. I came away numb, and distant. One of the beautifully lurid notions death had pressed into my body was a calm rage. Even now, this feeling still smolders in my chest, providing me with doses of angst while smearing my world with melancholy tones.
Of course, the government stepped up and provided us with compensation for my father’s death. My mother and I received death benefits from the Veterans Administration. My father’s cancer was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, which happened when he was patrolling the jungles of Vietnam, per the request of the government of the United States. However, their sympathy ended there, where they were no longer obligated by law.
None of these “benefits” come close to reigning in the fiery pangs of anger that have scorched my body ever since my father died. Money cannot dissolve the profound confusion that bubbled in my chest for years. To this day, different aspects of my life are pock-mocked with smoldering questions that will continue to smoke for the rest of my life. Even now, five years later, this smoke clouds my vision, despite the government’s efforts to wave it away with wades of money.
You can read the preivous section (Voting Day) here.