Day one of Hospice, things were confusing, as the Medical Director from the sub acute facility said one thing and did another. Looking back, I think my husband was already beginning to die. The first night I had to call the hospice nurse twice since he became more restless and spiked a fever. She told me what to do then said she'd come in the morning.
Her initial assessment was 6-8 weeks, then he'd slip into a coma. That first night I slept squeezed between the bed railing and his thin body, stroking his hair, singing Amazing Grace and Swing Low Sweet Chariot until I lost my voice and fell asleep for four hours.
Day two of Hospice, while one son had to go to Philadelphia for business, the nurse re-assessed my husband and said he had already started the transition, and had possibly 24-48 hours. She changed his meds, and said to administer more of some, every two hours. My daughter took the day off from work, quietly sitting on the sofa in front of the wood stove, with firewood delivered by her husband's brother. An aide arrived to bathe and clean him, even though I had taken several hours the night before to trim his fingernails and his beard.
Day three of Hospice, after the nurse left at 2pm, a Chaplain arrived. She asked a lot of questions about how we met, family members, and what his job had been prior to retirement. Both she and the nurse said that even though he'd been almost deaf for years, in their experience, towards the end of life hearing seems to heighten. The Chaplain put one hand on his leg; I had one hand on his feverish forehead and the other on one of his hands. She began by saying, "So, Paul, I hear you're an atheist but I want you to know God's arms are open wide, already embracing you as you begin a new journey."
She went on, saying that his work on Earth was done, that he had been a good steward, a good son and brother, a good husband, a good father and grandfather, a kind and gentle spirit. I was surprised that instead of crying, I felt overcome by a swirling energy that started at my feet and circled my husband, then the Chaplain. Later, I told her this and she said she had felt God's presence as soon as I opened the door, not so much from "that room, where your cats are freaking out, but from you."
The Chaplain left; the aide hugged me and left. I checked on my husband at 4pm, was slightly annoyed the aide had completely shaved off his beard and mustache, but happy she had put on a fire engine red collared shirt my father bought for him years ago. I was on the phone with someone who had me on hold when our younger son urgently called me to my husband's bed. I remember thinking, oh, fuck, I missed the timing of his pain meds. My son was attempting to take his father's pulse and he calmly said, "I think Dad died."
My son-in-law and two of the three grandsons had just arrived. He came back and said yes, hugging me with tears in his eyes. He's seen death before. I called the Hospice nurse back and said he just passed. She seemed oddly surprised, but said she'd be here in 10 minutes. She very efficiently checked him, and with a catch in her voice, pronounced the time of death at 4:53pm February 3, 2016.
The eldest grandson came directly from an afternoon college class, striding past all of us standing clumped in the kitchen, and headed to the former dining room. After that, the youngest made some excuse to look for one of the cats "under Grandpa's bed", then after pretzels and potato chips, the middle one slipped quietly into the room.
I may not have recorded this exactly in linear order, but there was a point at which it all became surreal. Dealing with his two sisters by phone went alright, but his two daughters was beyond the pale, and may God forgive them until I can. Maybe in the future I will write about all of the ridiculous red tape, but for now, I'm going to put another log in the wood stove. Thank you all for listening by reading what I've been writing since his diagnosis of Alzheimer's.
Paul Carl Becker II (4/5/1939-2/3/2016). There are no goodbyes. I miss him already. I feel him everywhere.