“Your father is not responding to his antibiotics for his chest infection, his infected bed sores are through to the bone and we feel it would be in his best interest if we withdrew treatment.”
The consultant’s words hung in the air between us for what seemed like an age. How did I feel at that moment? To be truthful, I felt joyful.
My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia two years ago and there followed a swift progression. A year later he moved to a care home close to my house where the stress of living on his own and not coping simply melted from his face as he willingly gave himself over to be cared for.
To be honest I think there were signs of the illness up to twenty years ago when Dad would switch off from the conversation around him then return. It was as if he stepped out of himself momentarily only to be jolted back in when someone caught his attention or asked him a question. Seventeen years ago Mum died and Dad’s own commitment to life took a tumble and never recovered. Over the past two years Dad’s condition had deteriorated although some days were better than others. It seemed Dad had given up on himself and on life.
There was a touch of déjà vu about our current situation. Several months earlier Dad had been in hospital with pneumonia and had rallied on his own after treatment had been withdrawn. Once he was out of hospital and back home, I asked him looking back now, how he felt about death and dying and he answered, “I felt I couldn’t leave because I would be letting you down.”
Sitting by my Dad’s bedside once more I was moved by how peaceful he looked. He still knew who I was and we still had brief moments of conversation where he could listen and respond.
I explained what the consultant had shared with me - the withdrawal of treatment and the likelihood that he would pass over as a result and asked how he felt. He nodded as I spoke and then took my hand and said, “I am ready”.
I felt a beautiful connection with Dad and that unmistakable feeling of joy again, this time through our connection, through the understanding there was nothing between us in that moment but love.
The room was very still and I could feel we were held in God’s love. This feeling stayed in the room for the following three days until Dad’s passing.
I have found that something quite strange happens with time when someone you love is dying. It is as if time stands still in the room with you whilst outside the room the clock still ticks.
It had happened when my mother was dying and the familiar feeling returned now with my dad.
The feeling of love and stillness within the hospital room did not go amiss. Nursing staff popped in regularly to check not just how Dad was but also to check how my partner and I were. They commented on how amazing the room felt and how contented Dad seemed. Over the three days we noticed staff popping in more regularly asking if they could come and sit with us because it felt so lovely in the room. They would stay and chat about their lives and relationships and it felt beautiful to be sharing this space with them and Dad.
I remember at one point there was a disturbance outside the room caused by a patient who was distressed and was striking out at staff with her walking stick. The noise was very loud yet the stillness in our room remained and the contentment on my Dad’s face did not change.
I cannot recall clearly but I think that during the final two days of Dad’s life he did not speak. His breathing changed and became more laboured but with the support of medication he remained settled.
I held his hand and felt how surrendered each of his fingers were, how gentle they were and how they reflected how surrendered his whole body was. There was no fear to be felt in anyone and the room held only stillness and love.
My brother had come from overseas to be with Dad and was with him when he passed over very gently and with grace. I cannot remember the last thing I said to Dad or how he looked, nor did that matter as each of the moments I had spent with him in those final few days had equal importance.
My Dad’s passing had been a joy-filled celebration of a gentle life lived by a truly gentle man.
Jane T., UK