HOW OUR BLOG BEGAN, in AUGUST 2010: As many of you know, Phil has been struggling with a very complex series of neurological issues for about 5 years. This past spring, the issues became especially intense as a result of an unexpected cognitive decline and a fall on May 15th that resulted in a head injury and further decline. And then, on July 16th things catapulted to unbelievable, as Phil suffered from a severe "electrical storm" in his brain that essentially created a status of brain death for two full days. Inexplicably, the very morning that neurologists and other medical team members were planning removal of life support, Phil began breathing on his own and his brain waves returned to a stable, while still abnormal, level. Since then, each day has been a unique journey. And while he and his body continue to demonstrate a will and capacity to live, he continues to have severe deficits and it is quite uncertain as to the path he will take. As loved ones close in can attest to, it has been tricky to keep up emotionally with all of his changes, and provide the needed support. We can only imagine the hard work Phil has gone through as his brain has taken him through such roller coaster experiences. It is our goal here to keep family and close friends apprised of Phil's ongoing story, and to build connections that honor him.

AND THEN, SEPTEMBER 11, 2010....Dad's remarkable journey alongside us culminated in a gentle, generous death.

And so, my goal here now as his daughter is simply this: to record snippets...pieces of his life that my memory offers back to me, pieces of myself as I learn to live without a dad. I hope all who meander by find life, and hope, and peace.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

life on the other side of the hall

Today was more great time with Dad, some fun Arcadia work while at the Ryan House, and a visit to a mortuary.  Strange, but so right and good, to mix the three together into one.

I find two things surprising as the day comes to a close:

1) the things you think will get you, don't even phase you...and the things you thought you had nailed down end up sweeping you away. 

2) the inpatient hospice world is actually a tight knit community, where bonds are developed and released quickly.  death becomes normalized, expected actually;  countless pleasantries and warm connection mix together with poignant points of sadness.

Example for #1
I have always dreaded the casket picking process, even before I knew Dad would be the first loved one in our immediate family to pass.  I pictured myself in the midst of a sea of metal boxes, dead people in the basement below driving me to morbid distraction while high-pressure salespeople hover nearby.  No image could be less accurate than what I experienced today.  Mom, Tim and I walked into the casket room at Hansen Mortuary, a family-owned community mainstay since 1947.  Brenda walked us into a well lit room, with, yes, many selections in view.  But her clear and simple introduction to the process provided immediate focus:
The prices for caskets vary based upon the level of craftsmenship that goes into them, as well as the materials used.  Take a look around, and I'll come back in a few moments to see what questions you have. 
And then she was gone, and the basement's activities did not create the dreaded distraction.  Despite the many selections, Tim (who almost never speaks first!) immediately stated his impression that wood would be so fitting for Dad, given his woodworking passion and mom's love of antiques.  Mom and I both quickly agreed.  Looking only at wood took us to just one wall of choices.  And from there, it was even easier.  One casket clearly stood out as the one for Dad.  When Brenda came back in, she pointed out another similar, but less expensive option.  End of tour, on to the next step in the overall mortuary process.  The entire experience was quite enjoyable I would have to say, all things considered.  We will see if our other mortuary option creates a similar response in me.  Will be able to let you know tomorrow.

And the thing that swept me away?  Our drive-through tour of the Arizona Veteran Cemetary.  We weren't even planning a visit, necessarily, until Brenda brightly (but specifically) advised it.   Apparently, being buried in the desert doesn't morph well into my sense of place.  Ask Tim and mom, the comments from the "peanut gallery" (i.e., the back seat of our Honda) quickly escalated and, were it not for the tinge of panic around the edges, would have made for excellent stand-up comedy.

OK, and I quickly move on to OBSERVATION #2:
I've met a sweet young teenager, Jayden, at the Ryan House who is there with her large family to help her Grandfather pass.  I've kept my eye on her, making a point to say hey and offer whatever normalizing positivity I have to give in that moment.  I must say it's been nice to see her gentle innocence absorbing the experience.  The other night I'd told her to come by our room anytime to say hi.  Well tonight, she seemed a smidge bored so I asked if she'd met my dad yet.  She said no, so I invited her to our room, #204.  A brief flicker of hesitation, then the bravery sets in and she agrees.  I introduce her first to Tim, to give her a moment to adjust to our unique situation.  Then, I move on to Dad and he smiles and whispers something we can't hear.  IMMEDIATELY she looks at me and says pointedly, "This is so nice.  My grandpa is completely unresponsive."  And all of a sudden I see my situation differently than I normally do.  Me, aware enough in advance of death and dying to not have to suddenly learn big words like "unresponsive."  And Dad, who still has a delightful bit of himself to share, even with strangers.  All of a sudden, my dying Dad seems so very alive.

And then, we move out to the hall and I chat further with her and her great aunt, who has just joined us.  Jayden is facing us, away from the back exit; her great aunt and I are side by side.  What Jayden doesn't see as we exchange pleasantries is the reason for which we are all here, ultimately.  An empty gurney, covered with regal red material, is wheeled into the room next to dad and the door closes.  Having seen this once already, I know that in several moments, the gurney will enter the hall with a loved one's body upon it, and the grieving family will follow close behind.  I am distracted to know how to help Jayden should she turn around, but as the scene unfolds I realize that it's her great aunt's job to help her through this, and my job to use this visual to help me further prepare for Dad's passing.  Having muscled my way through my first death on Friday night, I am pleased to discover that my visceral responses are so much less pronounced.  I smile inside, pleased at my progress.  But then all of a sudden, I am tearing up as the quiet, desperate mourning of the loved ones fills the hall.  Sensing the nearness of it all, it seems we each catch our breath and hold it in, for just a sudden moment or two.  Then just as quickly, we move back into the safety of our pleasantries once again.  Three strangers together, yet alone.

If I had to quantify the hospice community, I would say the common condition creates a very reserved, yet freely given type of support.  

Oh -- and Jayden?  Well, apparently she is already a pro.  Their hall has had 5 deaths since her grandpa arrived on Thursday.

So, you faithful readers, I have to ask you for your thoughts on the matter.  Your insights mean a lot!

How do we as humans adapt to such extremes?
Would hospice help your soul feel strong?

Well, that's it for now. Other than to tell you that Dad had a strong day in terms of his vitals.  He did choke a bit as he enjoyed his thickened food.  And his voice seems weaker today.  But still, I see so much of my dad.  Especially when I think of what Jayden is facing down the hall, and around to the right.

much love to all,


  1. Wow, that is a very powerful contrast (Jayden's comments about Dad) ... seeing Dad's condition through another's eyes can change how we view it ourselves.

  2. true, true. that's a perfect way to describe it. last night she told me the nurses thought that it would be her grandpa's last night. i think it's wild that a natural death can have such a predictable path.