Dad enjoying his martini at my sister’s wedding in 2002…it was a great day~our immediate family was together a couple of days before Christmas; the first time in eighteen years.
We all arrived back at the Kindred Hospital in Scottsdale around 3:30. Mr. Sensible and Cheech had arrived earlier in the afternoon with lunch for everybody. Chong and Louise had been there since early morning. While I was gone, the three boys hit up a local watering hole while Louise sat with Dad. I returned with my sister-in-law following my “spruce up” and our oldest sister finished her errands and returned as well.
#1 told those of us gathered in the hallway that our Aunt was on her way. Aunt Donna is Dad’s only sister. Since our grandparents died in 1996, they are all that is left of their family. Aunt Donna lives in Phoenix as well; not too far from Dad. Sometime after four that afternoon, the elevator doors opened, and out she walked.
Being there could not have been easy for her as she, too, has her own health issues. Her hair had recently grown back from her rounds of chemo. Seeing Dad like this had to have some kind of effect on her. There was a lot of catching up in the hallway. I hadn’t seen my aunt since the last time I visited Phoenix, a little over two years prior. Some of the kids had not seen her since Grandad’s funeral, which was about fourteen years ago.
Talk turned to “Dad’s wishes”. Should we cremate him or bury him. Would we use the same Funeral Home as we did for Gram and Grandad. Any ideas regarding clothing choice for the casket. It all became a bit much for me.
I simply slipped away from the conversation. I went in room 239 and took a seat. About ten minutes later, a nurse came in to administer the drugs for the hour. Earlier that afternoon, Dad was put on a morphine drip. The pain was no longer manageable by the liquid morphine administered under his tongue.
Right on the nurse’s heels was Mrs. Fullcharge. She suggested a morphine/adavan combo again. She mentioned it seemed to take the edge off and asked her if that would be okay; as if the nurse was dumb enough to dare disagree with her, please. Before she took the chair by the window directly across from me, she rearranged Dad’s blankets. As Fullcharge sat down, she looked at me, tilted her head and smiled. Then she gently asked if “I was offended by the conversation in the hallway.”
“Absolutely not”, I immediately answered before I continued, “I just don’t choose to make decisions about what to do when he’s gone when he’s still alive and laying in here alone. There will be plenty of time to do that later…for now, I’m just going to enjoy him.” She asked if I minded if she sat with us. Not at all, and with that invitation went my big plan to spill my guts about the Fullcharge’s new neighbors.
Out in the hallway, Aunt Donna was sharing a story of her own. She was telling the kids about what she and Dad did when Grandad was sick. Apparently they knew time was running out, so the brought some gin into the room and rubbed a bit on his bottom lip. After six weeks in a coma, Grandad licked his bottom lip. It comforted them now, even years later, to make his last hours happy…even if it only involved a bit of a martini.
Cheech and Mr. and Mrs. Sensible immediately left to find the nearest liquor store while the rest of us talked about ordering something for dinner. Pizza seemed to be the general concensus. Once the liquor store run was complete, Fullcharge, Cheech, Mr. Sensible, his wife and I headed to the pizza joint down the street to pick up supper. We grabbed a table by the bar for a quick drink while we ordered a couple of pies and waited for them to be ready.
The first round turned into a second. I think the pizzas came out after the third round was delivered. We were having a ball. Just sitting there telling stories, reminiscing, and enjoying each other’s company. I learned a lot at that pizza place that night; some scandal, how naive many of my siblings were, and the fact it took exactly one and a half glasses of a fancy chardonay to officially lighten up one Mrs. Fullcharge. Mr. Sensible was excited to get back and perform his bartending skills in room 239. He shared the secret why he had become Dad’s favorite bartender.
Apparently, when he was younger, he would make Dad his martini. While it was acceptable, it was never dry enough for Dad One night, Mr. Sensible was watching his favorite night-time soap opera (don’t all eleven year olds have a favorite night-time soap) Dynasty. Joan Collins character was making herself a martini. After she poured the gin in the shaker, she dipped that long part of the bar spoon into the vermouth bottle, then dipped it in the shaker and stirred. And, voila, the perfect amount of vermouth. If it was good enough for Alexis, Sensible reasoned, it had to be good enough for Dad. He tried his trick at the next event and it was a hit. From that day forward, he was appointed Dad’s bartender.
We left a bit later–three-sheets-to-the-wind with two cold pizzas and headed back to the hospital. We continued our party in the cafeteria that was located on the first floor. Louise and Chong joined us while Aunt Donna stayed with Dad. Louise and Chong told us they had a great time in Dad’s room with Donna doing the same thing we were doing at the bar. Telling stories, reminiscing, and enjoying each other’s company. After we finished the pizza we headed back upstairs. Our liquor buzz was quickly fading, and we knew we had an open bar up in room 239.
In the dark room, Dad appeared to be resting comfortably while the Christmas carols continued to play from the stereo next to his bed. The stories and alcohol-induced happy voices seemed to please him. Christmas had come early for us and we were having a party. We were together again and no matter what the date or what that god-damn white-board said, the goal for today was to celebrate Christmas one last time with Dad. While there were no gifts in pretty packages, we had each other and that was the best present of all. Looking back, I wish we would have hijacked the Christmas Tree out of the lobby. No one was on duty~it probably wouldn’t have been missed.
As my brother, Mr. Sensible, filled styrofoam cups with crushed ice from the hospital vending room, I filled them with gin. He stopped me after the fourth cup was poured. “Oh, no, no, no, ” he said, “the Beefeater is for Dad…I’ve got absolute for us”. We strained the gin out of the three cups into one and tossed the ice. Then started again. He mixed us each a absolute and lemonade (fyi…ice chips the hospitals provide are definitely the secret to this delicious drink) and passed them out. Then he got Dad’s drink ready.
We all toasted each other as he got the straw plunger prepared for Dad’s martini. He put it on his lips, but got no response. Dad was sleeping; and Mr. Sensible was absolutely crushed. The threw the straw to the floor, grabbed his drink and headed to the hallway. We all continued the party in the room and hallway. The night was absolutely delightful. We promised each other to do this every year. Not necessarily at Christmas, but definitely get together once a year and enjoy each other’s company.
Sometime after eleven, Ingrid the night nurse came in to check vitals. Everyone else was getting ready to head home. Louise and I were going to stay with Dad. Chong was happy to be going home alone. Sensible, his wife, and Cheech were headed to the Sensible’s house. Evenyone knew bad news could come tonight; all asked to be called after. They were perfectly okay with their decision. Mrs. Fullcharge asked for us to call as the time got closer. Ingrid promised to alert us as to when to call her.
I never got a chance to tell my Dad any stories that night. I made up the hide-a-bed around midnight. When I checked on Dad he was thirsty. There was a cup of ice water next to his bed, so I used my “plunging skills” I’d been taught earlier by Fullcharge to get him a drink. I gave him two big strawfuls. He banged his hand on the mattress and mouthed the word more…more. I plunged another two strawfuls. He mouthed more again. Ah, shit~I thought I paid attention to this morning’s plunging tutorial. I plunged another strawful and put it in my own mouth–just to make sure I was doing it right. Holy Crap~the cup wasn’t filled with ice water~it was a flipping martini. And, he was loving it.
Louise was laughing…don’t worry, she said, it’s not like you’re going to hurt him. She took to her fancy phone and texted Mr. Sensible to give him the good news. I felt bad somehow. It should have been the official bartneder that fed him that martini. Now I was frustrated~I nodded off soon after the next vital check.
Louise nudged me awake sometime after four. Ingrid said the time was close and we should start making calls to get everyone who wanted to be there assembled. Fullcharge had already been called and was on her way. I suggested calling the rest of the kids although they had said last night they didn’t want to know until it was over. I thought it was a good idea to call anyway and give them the option. I’d hate to not make the call and then find out not being here was something they would regret. Louise made the calls.
At about 7:30 the Doc from hospice came. She asked Louise, Fullcharge and I if we would like her to prescribe a “bit more morphine” to help him along. His breathing was shallow, his legs were black, his skin was getting cool and clammy. He was shutting down. We all said yes in unison. Ingrid returned about ten minutes later and administered the morphine. Shift change was in about ten minutes; she said she’d be back to take vitals before she left for the day.
Fullcharge stood up and asked if we minded if she take his oxygen off. It really irritated his nose. Louise and I had no problem with that. Once she disconnected the tubes in his nose, he relaxed a bit. Ingrid came in to check his blood pressure and as she attached that little clip to his finger, she paused. As she turned around to look at us she didn’t need to say a thing. Her expression said it all. Dad died about 8:00 that Sunday morning…right at shift change. As I looked at the clock through my tears, I realized it was shift change and that realization made me smile a little bit. As O Holy Night played on the stereo, Ingrid made us stand up and gather around. “He can still hear you, girls. You talk to your Dad…talk to him as he lets go.”
I don’t remember what the other girls said to him. I simply told him that “enough was enough, he’d fought long enough we were fine, and he could let go. Say hi to Gram and Grandad for me. I Love You, Dad, Goodbye.”
We’d arrived exactly thirty-six hours before he died. I’ll be forever grateful for getting there in time. Although he wasn’t the same man I remembered, I was able to be with him in the end. I had no regrets.
The nurses came in to prep him for the mortuary arrival. Each nurse hugged us and told us what an inspiration our family was. Most of their patients were simply dropped off; family never came to visit. Ingrid assured us she knew our father was loved. That he was.