December is an entire season for me, and is a difficult season. Not because of the cold we endure in the northern climes. Not because of the unreasonable holiday expectations we, as well as others, foist upon ourselves. Not because of the shortened hours of daylight. December is my season of loss.
As Thanksgiving approaches, so does the reminder of the fall onto a hard floor. The fall was caused by messy children, and a parent who had no desire to parent those children. My dad fell, causing a small hernia to strangulate.
In the end of the first week of December: the surgery. All went well. He was laughing with us, despite the pain killers and the large surgical wounds. When I entered his hospital room, he was sitting up in a chair, doing his ever present crossword puzzles, and wondering when he could leave so he could “have a cigarette.” He was released, and all was well.
In the end of the second week of December, pain wracked my dad’s thin body. The surgeon had nicked his bowel in the initial surgery, and his blood was full of waste and poison. I received the call to come to the hospital. Pale, sweating, and groaning, he still found a way to joke with the nurses. He was so thirsty, and could only wet his mouth with what he called his “suckers,” lime green sponges on sticks. We dipped them into water and swabbed his mouth for him. I try not to think about Dad’s green “suckers;” they never fail to freshen the grief. That was the last time I had anything resembling a cognisant conversation with my dad. He was put into a medically induced coma to help with the pain that wracked his entire body, from the poison in his blood. From this point on, time is jumbled.
My dad was put into the ICU, a respirator helping him to breath, tubes everywhere. His heart rate slowed, his blood pressure continued to drop. A heart specialist was called in. Nothing helped. I remember standing in the ICU holding my mother as she sobbed, “What am I going to do without him?” over and over. Family started to arrive from all over the US and from other countries. I remember being angry with a few of them because they were smiling at each other in reunion, while my dad was dying.
His vitals went lower and lower, and eventually his BP was at 42/27, his pulse so slow. My mother, my aunt Bonnie, and I sat by his side. My brother hadn’t arrived yet, and my sister, who couldn’t deal with it, had to leave the room. I remember pulling a chair up to my dad’s side and laying my head on his left arm, swelled up like Popeye’s arm, and I simply started praying. I prayed hour after hour, never leaving his side. And his vitals went up slowly. For 20 hours, I sat by his side, leaving only once to use a restroom. I remember the sound of the heart monitor, the respirator, small beeps, and the rest of the silence around us. Mom came, at one point, to Dad’s other side and cupped his cheek, and told him she loved him. He somehow opened his eyes and looked up at her, a tear rolling down his cheek.
My brother made it in at around 6 (?) am and collapsed in the doorway. I still sat at Dad’s side, never breaking touch with him. And we continued to watch his vital signs slowly rise. At 9 am, he was making miraculous strides, and I finally left his side to go to my parent’s home to sleep for a few hours.
For the following days, we each spent our free time in the ICU with Dad. I would walk in on the quiet nights, my steps muffled in the snow, and sit in the dark with him, talking to him , while the respirator continued to breathe for him. Christmas approached, and we were simply happy to have him alive. The doctors were satisfied with his progress and the plan was made to remove the respirator on December 27th. I went to work that day, and my sister sat with my mother in the hospital as they awaited the doctors.
The phone rang at my store, and it was hospital telling me that I needed to come. When I got there from South Bend, my mother was sitting at Dad’s side moaning, while my sister sat in shock. When I touched his arm, it was so cool to the touch. I still remember how it felt. His heart had basically exploded from the trauma, and he was gone. Simply gone.
I dreamed about Dad sporadically, disjointed, strange dreams, until he said good bye to me one night in one of those “real dreams,” the ones that actually make sense. Now, I just have the memories of standing on his feet while he danced with me, of him driving me all around town one Halloween so I could go trick or treating in the rain, of him telling me why it thundered so that I wouldn’t be scared, of him chasing us around the house with his smellly socks, of his idiomatic phrases, his laugh, and his hugs and kisses.
December is a hard season for me, and everything is amplified.