The Signal And The Noise
Posted on November 16, 2020
November 9th marked the 5th year of my father’s passing. I don’t know if it’s a blessing things have been so absolutely ridiculous at the hospital that I glossed over it until today, or if I feel guilty about it. Regardless, I didn’t want it to go unmarked. It would perhaps have been impossible to let it go the days that I did if Mom was still here. I’d have gone to her house after work, we’d have made dinner or gotten carry-out, shared a few laughs with Grandma, maybe watched a movie together, and then I’d have come home. It doesn’t sound like a particularly extraordinary event, but it’s how we’d have dealt with it.
Sadly, Mom and Grandma aren’t here anymore either. But, I still remember Dad and his passing. I will always remember.
Mom and I had taken Dad in to see my doctor a week to the day before he passed. The Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point where Dad had such trouble eating that he’d choke on a simple sip of water or bite of food. We thickened his food, we tried to make sure he stayed hydrated, only we failed to recognize things were coming to the disease’s end. Maybe we should have known this. Maybe we didn’t want to lose that one last little bit of help. My doctor told us Dad was ready for Hospice care. This bowled Mom and I over. We honestly thought we were still a year away from that. The length of Alzheimer’s from diagnosis until the end we’d been told was a decade. Yes, sometimes it went longer or shorter, but the average was a decade. Dad was only 7 years in.
We returned home with Dad, Mom and I had a short discussion, and she called Hospice. Two people came out two days later, interviewed us, and assessed Dad. The State has very specific criteria when assessing folks, and they weren’t sure Dad qualified. It wasn’t because of his physical state, but rather because of their finances. Still, they said they’d make a case for him and, sure enough, by Friday, they had. Successfully, at that. I’d also gone with Ralph and, just in case, set up something with the local funeral home. Dad lived his entire life from childhood until adult in Fraser, so we knew that’s who he’d want handling things after his passing.
Hospice delivered a hospital bed to us on Sunday. The delivery man set it up in our living room, which Mom and I felt would be the easiest place to care for Dad. Dad was still able to walk a bit ,though by now he was sleeping the majority of the day and night. Mom very much wanted to keep getting him up for meals and something to drink, and it was extraordinarily difficult for me to suggest she take a step back to let things go where he wanted them to. He was ready. He was ready to take that next step elsewhere, and as horrible the thought to let him go, it was our role to help him transition and get there.
Sunday night found Mom and I talking about how we’d proceed. We both felt it would take Dad a week before his passing as his body and journey here wound down. Mom agreed to take the first night shift, then I would the next night. This would give me time to go home, get some laundry done, and prepare for the week to come. Just in case, though, I set clothes out, ready for me to jump into if I received a call from Mom. No, I didn’t expect, to, but I wanted to be ready.
I finished laundry, checked e-mail, and went to bed.
The call came around 1:30 in the morning. I knew he was gone the moment the phone rang. I just knew. Nobody else would call me that late. So, I knew.
Mom was panicked. “I think he’s gone.”
I jumped into my clothes, kept Mom on the phone so she didn’t feel alone, and then transferred her to the cell phone so I could talk to her on my way. I needed her to know I was rushing, and she wouldn’t be by herself for long.
Mom told me she’d fallen asleep in the chair next to the bed, the bed Dad actually helped us get him to. He’d been awake and as alert as he could have been earlier that day. Mom told me she’d heard a *thump*, and when she opened her eyes, saw that Dad had tried to stand up and fallen, partially on the bed and with his legs on the floor. He’d passed. She got his legs back up onto the bed, said his name several times, and realized he was gone. That’s when she called me.
What do I think? I believe someone came to take Dad home. He was still caught between here and there, so the part of him still with us tried to stand and join whoever it was. It may have been his own mother. It may have even been his aunt, or even a friend. Whoever it was is someone he trusted, someone he used the last of his strength to go to, and passed in doing so. He left behind the physical and went with them.
I arrived at the house, checked Dad with a pulse oximeter, then called Hospice. The nurse came out, verified what we knew, and called the funeral home. They came out, took Dad away, then Mom and I sat down, stunned. At no point did we think it would happen so quickly. Seven years isn’t quick, but we thought it would continue on for a while yet. We were both glad, deep down, that it didn’t. Dad had just enough of himself left that I think he made the decision to end things when he did, both for himself and for me and Mom. And, for that, I am grateful.
So many of us make jokes about life, even bad jokes, yet when it comes down to it, we often fight to live just a little bit longer. Just that extra moment or two. We cling to it. And then there are times when we can let go because, somewhere, we know what’s next, and that it’s going to be okay. It’s a tug of war, though, when we get lost between the signal and the noise.
Dad is gone. Mom is gone. Grandma is gone. The signals I have are weaker, and the noise all the more because of their loss. So, I do what I can to remember them. Their birthdays. Their goodness. Their meaning to me. And their loss to this place.
I will remember.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.