I've had about the most exhausting Christmas a Jew like me could have. My Catholic gf's dad, who was both the most crotchety old dude I know, and also a big softie who'd trap chipmunks digging up the yard then release them in a local park, died early Saturday morning. He was a week shy of 83.
This past summer he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He did chemotherapy and radiation, and was responding well to it. But a week after he finished the chemo and radiation, he kept feeling worse and worse. This past Tuesday he was rushed to the ICU—he got an ambulance ride the whole 7 blocks from his house to the hospital—and it turned out the chemo had weakened his immune system and he had come down with an infection in his lungs.
He was stable, so my gf and I packed up the car with everything for Christmas as planned, including the 12 pound bone-in ham I was planning to make for dinner. They're about 85 miles from us, and when we were 25 miles out from their house my gf got a text from her brother that the hospital was going to put her dad on a ventilator and wanted to meet with the family about his final wishes.
She broke down, and I pulled off at the next exit. We regrouped at a gas station, where I went inside and bought her a couple boxes of tissues. I texted her brother back that we'd be there ASAP, and unleashed the Hemi Jeep. I figured if I got pulled over, I'd use the "her dad's fucking dying RIGHT NOW" excuse.
I covered the 25 miles in...well, it was a lot less than 25 minutes.
We spent most of Christmas Eve in the ICU, but we still had our Christmas Eve dinner. We left his chair empty. Everyone was able to escape from the sadness for a while, but my gf's nephew got wasted to try and cope with the situation. He was an entertaining drunk though.
On Christmas day, it was more bad news, and her dad along with the family made the decision to move him to hospice. Friday was more visiting with the family. Her mom had half a turkey in the fridge she hadn't gotten around to cooking, so she asked me to put it in the oven before we left for the hospital. She copes with situations like this by trying to maintain a normal routine. I made a trip back to the house later to take it out of the oven and bring food back for the family.
He was comfortable, and kinda loopy on all the morphine he was getting in hospice, but still cracking the occasional joke. His last meal was chicken tenders with sweet-n-sour and honey mustard dipping sauces, fries and a shake from Culver's.
He kept falling asleep from the morphine with a partially-eaten chicken finger in his hand, and his wife kept shaking him to wake him up, and telling him to keep eating, to keep his strength up. It got sort of comical, but it was also pretty heart wrenching. With all 10 of us watching very intently as he kept nodding off then taking a bite of chicken, he cracked,
"I feel like I'm putting on a TV show here!"
Friday night we kept taking turns visiting with him until my gf and I finished the last shift around 10:30, and we gave the night nurse all of our phone numbers in case things took a turn for the worse.
We were staying at my gf's parents' house, and I woke up to the phone ringing at 3:45 am. He was gone. The nurse said he went quickly and painlessly. We took her mom to the hospital, said our goodbyes, and waited for the other siblings to take their turns.
Saturday was mostly the family making funeral arrangements. I stayed out of it, but I carved the damn turkey and the remaining ham, did some tech support for my gf's mom, and then we headed home.
When we were almost home, I pulled off the highway at the Culver's a couple exits from our house. I told my gf I needed to do something important. I got chicken tenders with the same sauces, fries and a pint of chocolate double caramel peanut frozen custard. Seemed like the right thing to do.
All I can tell you is, I'm spent. But I'll end this too-long post with my favorite story about the guy.
At a family gathering a while back, I as a DC native tried to tell gf's dad and uncle the stupid "what if the Redskins kept their name but changed their mascot to a potato" joke.
I got as far as, "so you know that Washington Redskins name change stuff?" when her dad cut me off.
"IT'S ALL A BUNCH OF POLITICALLY CORRECT BULLSHIT!"
Rest in peace, you big softie.