Mudty Relationships: An Essay in Closure - Part 7
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.
|Tod and Paula Eaton, circa 2010|
Park 7: CrackingAt least once in this process, I get asked if I’m a robot. Some assume that I’m putting on a front or trying to be strong. My emotional expression in this whole ordeal is largely absent in the ways that people expect or witness.
When I explain to people that I’ve been emotionally preparing for this since I was in high school, they think I am talking about anticipating he will die of cancer, but I mean I cried the tears of my father’s death years ago. I have already felt much of the intensity of his passing; his actual passing has, in some ways, been a formality. And maybe that’s strange, but I watched my dad smoke cigarettes every day of his life, and as a teenager, I knew he had already been smoking for some 40 years and wasn’t likely to quit any time soon. To me, the message was clear: cigarettes was his choice of death in a world where we so often don’t get to choose.
But being emotionally prepared and spending years of my life developing mostly positive emotional-coping practices, doesn’t mean that these three weeks haven’t been really fucking hard. It’s just that the hard parts aren’t necessarily my dad’s dying.
Around the tenth day in the hospital, I am on bedside duty from 8am until after 5pm. That in itself is a bit tiring with no real comfortable chair, regularly chasing nurses and nurses’ aides to get some assistance, and anticipating my father’s needs so he doesn’t have to waste more energy getting help. More importantly, we’ve been getting nudged by the social worker that he will need to be discharged soon. I’ve had at least one discussion with a nurse from a hospice facility.
I am actively avoiding further conversations with the social worker as I wait for my mother. The end of the day rolls around and she arrives to relieve me. While sharing the requirements for the hospice facility, my father asks about going home. He doesn’t understand why we’re talking about hospice. We stumble through an explanation that going back to the house where he has lived for 35 years isn’t really an option.
He struggles to come up with reasons why he should be brought home. We recognize them but ultimately have counter-reasons. He compares himself to his mother, whom he watched waste away, almost daily, for four years in a nursing home while the rest of us maybe visited monthly.
“No, dad, your time there will be much shorter; probably weeks.” It’s not spite; it’s reiterating what we have already told him and what he already knows. We’re reassuring him that it is not the same fate. Throughout his life, my father repeatedly told anyone who would listen, that when his time comes, if it’s not quick, he gives us permission to go full Hurling Day on him.
He still wants to go home, and the conversation is left unfinished when I leave. My mom engages with him afterward, but I’m all out for the day. I get to my car and feel my stomach drop. I know he wants this, but I also know it is largely impossible. That I can’t give it to him generates the grief. I sit with it for a time crying before driving home.
At home, my wife and a family friend are there both checking in with me, asking about how the day went. I am largely ok with talking through it but explain how the conversation about hospice was hard. They are comforting and recognizing the stress of it; they tell me that I am being strong, but also that I don’t have to be strong. The invitation at that moment summons the tears again.
I am back at the hospital the next morning and the door is closed as the nurses are cleaning him up. The first thing he tells me when I come in is that he had an accident. He woke up in his own shit. It’s not his first accident, and it’s part of the process. However, his next words hit me hard. “You’re right. I can’t go home. It’s better for me to go somewhere.”
His resignation hits me as hard as the conversation last night. In just over 12 hours, the man has been defeated and with that, my stomach drops again. I know this resignation signals that some of his dignity has slipped away. I know that he has tried to hold tight to his dignity and his control of the situation for so long. People don’t end up in a hospital with cancer so pervasive they have three weeks to live, unless that person has been maintaining some level of control over the symptoms for a good while.
Those moments are the first fissures, but the biggest crack manifests during a tense confrontation with the social worker. In the last 24 hours, we’ve been told that my father has (optimistically) 4-6 weeks to live, but because he’s not in need of constant care (i.e., he’s not in enough pain and isn’t in need of oxygen yet), he’s not eligible for a hospice bed at an acute facility. She tells us that he will be discharged in the next day or so and she can recommend a good many nursing facilities. However, they generally require 30 days payment in advance. Don’t worry, she reassures us, you’ll be compensated for days he doesn’t use. I am asking for options and she’s giving me options of different skilled nursing facilities. Those are not the options I’m looking for, but she keeps insisting we have a choice.
And that’s when I come the closest to losing it in this whole ordeal. With my mom beside me and on the verge of tears trying to process these “options”, I’ve hit my limit. I know this is the social worker’s job, but I need her to stop. I need her to just stop and admit that this isn’t a goddamn choice, it’s a continuum between how much can we pay and how much of a questionable facility do we want my father to end up in. I don’t yell, but yes, I raise my voice. I explain my resentment of her condescending tone that pretends forking over $9,000 or $12,000 is a choice, especially if it is just a stop-gap until he meets the standard criteria for a hospice bed.
My frustration emanates enough that my mom initially tries to get me to stop by placing her hand on my arm and saying my name in a softer voice--nearly breaking. But it’s not the climactic showdown one sees on a screen. I’m just spent from the last 24 hours and I’m cracking a bit because getting a dying person a decent place to die shouldn’t feel like a battle or highway robbery.
A family shouldn’t have to discuss the pooling of available money and hope that there’s enough to cover the prolonged death and passing of a loved one.
A family shouldn’t have to entertain, even in passing, fleeting moments, that if he dies sooner, then at least, that means no one will go broke.
A family should just get to focus on providing comfort and companionship in their loved one’s final days. And it’s because hours are spent negotiating how to get him the care he needs in final days that I crack at times. It’s time away from him and from family.
I am emotionally present in this process, but where it hurts the most is where I or my father have an absence of control. I am my father’s son, after all.
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