Too late

Last month, right after J and I put Toivo to sleep, I flew to Columbus, Ohio to visit my family, as I do every summer. This year’s visit was bittersweet, however, since my Dad is slowly dying there.

Blue and reaching

During my visit, my Dad was in the hospital, again. My Dad has battled many medical ailments over the years–I am being purposefully vague, as my family never asked to have a writer in it–and this year alone, my Dad has been rushed to the hospital a half dozen times. During this most recent hospitalization, we had no illusions: all of us (my Dad included) know there is no getting better this time. During my visit, my family and I discussed Dad’s end-of-life wishes, and he made it clear to both us and his doctors that he is ready to die.

Butterfly room

When I visited my Dad in the hospital the morning before I flew back to New England, I knew I was probably saying my final goodbyes, and as far as final visits go, mine was a good one, with nothing I wanted to say left unsaid. Since I returned from Ohio, my Dad has moved from the hospital into a nursing home for hospice care, and now we wait for his body to shut down.

Cascade

Now that I’m hundreds of miles away from my Dad, I’m finding that this waiting for him to pass is worse than actually saying goodbye to him in person. It’s not the dying that’s difficult, but the waiting to die.

While I was in Ohio, I emailed J to update him on my Dad’s prognosis. Since we had just put Toivo down, it was impossible not to compare her end-of-life, with both of us there to comfort her, with my Dad’s impending passing. I told J that if my Dad were a dog, we could choose when to say goodbye rather than waiting for nature to take its course, and J replied that when a pet is dying, you have the power to control the narrative because you are able to decide when and how the story ends.

Goldfish

I have never (yet) lost a parent, but I’ve lost many dogs and cats over the years, and in every case, my grief has been mixed with relief. When you decide to euthanize a pet, you know you are choosing the most merciful option. You might wish for more time, but your gut knows that more time is not the same as good time. When you euthanize a pet, you are relieved to be done with the futile fight to keep a creature alive who is ready to be Gone. After every pet’s death, I have wanted to embrace the vet who administered the fateful injection. After suffering in the limbo of anticipatory grief, it is a relief to begin the honest work of actually grieving.

Blue and branching

If human euthanasia were legal, my family and I could have arranged a storybook passing while I was in Ohio, with all of us gathered at my Dad’s bedside during his final moments. Instead, I am 700 miles away, waiting for a phone call saying my Dad is gone. It’s not the way I’d want to go; it’s not the way I’d want anyone to go. I have chosen time and again to be present when one of our pets is put to sleep because I don’t think any creature should have to die alone…and this is a courtesy I can’t extend to my own father. My father’s impending death is a narrative I am powerless to control.

Today’s photos come from the Franklin Park Conservatory, where my sisters and I went walking one day while I was in Columbus.