Mudty Relationships: An Essay in Closure - Part 6

This post is part of an 11 part essay that I have written in memory of my father, Tod “Mudty” Eaton, who passed away in August 2018. On this blog, I had previously shared the eulogy I gave at his Celebration of Life, which I think was a meaningful public goodbye to him.  This essay though is a bit more complex and nuanced in drawing out the final days of my father’s passing and how I reconciled his life, his death, and our relationship.  It’s a deeply personal essay that I have spent many hours on for the past year and with the encouragement of kind friends, have chosen to share.  

Additionally, if you feel so moved, I would encourage you to donate to my fundraiser for Care Dimensions, the hospice home that made his final days more comfortable for all of us.

Tod and Paula sitting at a table with their hands in the air as if dancing.
Tod and Paula Eaton, circa 2009

Part 6: Transitioning

From entrance into the hospital to exit of life, my father spent nearly the entirety of those final 18 days or so in three different rooms. The first room invoked the tedium of modernity. Between paying ten bucks or so to park every time, to the long hallways to travail, to the constant needing to rely on stretched-thin (but generally kind and helpful) staff, to waiting for days for an official diagnosis and estimation of life expectancy, we felt wiped out and numb in that room. We make sure every day of his 12 days in that hospital room that there is a family member around from morning until evening. We sit in uncomfortable chairs, perform whatever tasks he needs, and talk with whatever medical staff visited. We order his meals, bring him what he wants, and most important for him, keep the TV on, which turns off automatically every 20 minutes.

In this room, we see increasing signs that the end is near; well before the oncologist sits on the bed and explains to my father that her optimistic view is four to six weeks. When I contrast her outlook with the American Cancer Society’s “What to expect when a person with cancer is nearing death” website, I think four weeks overshoots the reality. He shows more than 75% of the signs. But this is the room that we are told that an approaching and immediate death is the only real outcome.

None of us are surprised. Though it was necrosis on his foot (that he hid and avoided addressing for some time) that got him into the hospital, his yellow-tinted jaundice indicated that there was much more going on inside of his body. The scans revealed tumors on his liver, gallbladder, stomach, lungs, and spine. As I will repeat almost daily to people over the next year, he was 78, he’s smoked for 65 years, the last time he was in a hospital was 1974; there was no other endgame that I could imagine. But in that room where we spent 12 days in, we confirm that my father chose cancer to end his life.

His second room is my brother’s guest room in his house. I prepare the room before hospice arrives with hospital bed, commode, and bed table. My wife and my friends help in gathering food and resources for both me and my father. My brother’s away for two days competing in an Ironman Triathalon. My father insisted he go, “I’d be pissed if you missed it.”

It is largely up to me for the next few days. I set up two televisions, something that my father always did for as long as I knew him. Entertainment on one and often, sports on the other. I hook up Netflix so that he can endlessly watch his favorite show, The Office.

Though it was stressful to get him here, I feel some relief for the time being. It’s part of a plan; get him home, monitor what’s going on, communicate with hospice, and when he declines further, he may be eligible for a nearby hospice bed. We can breathe a bit. He is in one of our homes. We can provide him with food, blankets, whatever he may need. We can have some sense of comfort while also knowing he is not alone.

I spend nearly the entire next 48 hours watching over him. In this room, we manage to still have some conversations but even in the transition from the hospital to the house, his conversational ability has diminished. Though just 20 feet away in another room at times, I keep checking on him and helping however he needs it. Sometimes, it’s repositioning him on the bed or refreshing his drink with ice; at other times, it’s emptying his urinal bottle or helping him on and off the commode. The nights are the most challenging. I try to balance getting some sleep, but also keeping my ears open to any assistance he may need. If I get two hours straight in either night, I’d be surprised.

It’s an exhausting 48 hours on top of two weeks of a low-level adrenaline rush of working with (or against) the bureaucratic healthcare system, coordinating schedules, maintaining any possible self-care, lots of emotional eating, and attempting to be present while my father died. When I’m relieved and go home, I get rest but it is at times, not enough. My mind still wonders and worries; numerous texts and check ins dash back and forth with my brother and my mother.

My brother covers the next two days. It’s the beginning of the fourth day that his decline becomes significant enough for the hospice nurse to elevate him to a hospice bed. She indicates that he likely has less than 24 hours to live.

In hospice, his third and final room, he lasts just over 48 hours. But his awareness dissipates after the first eight hours. He is fidgety for a few more hours but not often aware. He stopped taking food or liquids, and he spends long stretches motionless, except for breathing.

In this room, my brother, my mother, and I sit vigil, switching among us from chairs to recliners to couches to standing to pacing. At night, someone is always awake and by his side. During the day, our partners are present as is my half-brother with his daughter.

We have conversations with one another; a mixture of serious, joyful, and irrelevant. We make jokes and we talk to my father as a group or individually. We all take our chance to say goodbye, and we make plans for services.

If the first room was to figure things out, and the second room was to give him a home, then this third room is for us—to have a neutral space to see him in the beyond. We are grateful for that. We can wait until they take the body and leave the room, having the memories of his passing but not the weight of his death in our homes.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  If you haven't read the essay in full or have missed previous parts, feel free to navigate to other parts from the links below:

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