Death of a Father
It’s snowed on Dad’s last day. It felt fitting but really, any weather would have felt right. Snow is for sadness and endings, sun is for the lost days of happiness, rain is for weeping. Melancholy can turn even the brightest day into an appropriate dreariness.
While death is never easy, not for the survivors, not for the dying, death can at least be merciful. Dad’s decline started two weeks ago on admittance when the stress something caused a series of mini strokes in his frontal lobes. he grew agitated and had to be forcibly admitted when he tried to leave despite erratic behavior and jumbled speech.
It was clear early that something more was amiss from the initial testing. Dad had been complaining of shortness of breath for the last few months as well as increasing lower back pain, the latter growing so much that he’d been working from home.
What we soon discovered was a series of large masses in both lungs, numerous inches in diameter, that had infiltrated the lymph nodes and spread. The masses were in his ribs, clavicles, each vertebra from the 12th thoracic down, both femurs, and his left humerus. It was late stage 4 pulmonary adenocarcinoma.
The details of the subsequent days are inconsequential - we made plans, cancer changed them. Dad declined far more rapidly than expected - prognosis moving from weeks to months to minutes to hours in less than a week.
On his last day, Kristin, Alyska, Iris, and I sat vigil with him. We talked and joked and cried in seemingly endless cycle as we listened to his breathing. His feet and hands grew cool as his body withdrew into itself. His breath became more staccato with ever growing length between. And with one final and relieving sigh, Dad expired at 3:46pm surrounded by a strong and caring family stilling holding tight to him.
What matters most is that despite his time being cut short, we were there with him on this final journey. Death is hard but it is a certainty that we all will face. It is our duty as sons and daughters, siblings and parents, to walk along side those we love as far as they can go. When we reach the end it can be a companionate experience for the living and the dying together.
I will miss my father. But I am grateful for all of the things that happened these last two weeks, good and bad, because I was here for all of it with him.
William Bruce Ringland 5/29/46 to 2/24/16
Survived by a son, daughter, brother, sister and one really heavy taxidermic northern pike.