Tuesday, May 17, 2022

End of the road, beginning of a new journey

My father died while I was driving 70 mph on I-40 in traffic conditions that left no room for feelings, so I comforted myself with the thought that at least I was trying to reach him in time. In a grueling and occasionally joyful journey full of misunderstandings and missed connections, we never stopped trying to reach each other.

That attempt has been complicated by distance, Dad's health problems, and technical difficulties. Our recent phone calls have mostly consisted of me yelling inane pleasantries down the phone line and him responding, "What was that? I can't hear you." Nevertheless communication did occasionally occur; for instance a few weeks ago I realized that things had gotten serious when Dad admitted that he'd been watching college softball coverage because he could no longer find the golf channel. You might as well take away his oxygen!

Low oxygen levels caused other problems in bridging the gap, making it difficult for Dad to come up with common words, including, sometimes, oxygen. We were talking on the phone a few weeks ago when Dad tried to tell me something about "that thing I take," and I offered several possible words for thing: Medication? Physical therapy? Vitamins? "No," he said in some distress, "The thing I breathe." Oxygen. So necessary, in so many ways.

But congestive heart failure creates supply-chain issues re: oxygen, especially when lung cancer is busy tearing up all the roads and bridges. We all saw the decline coming, and I'd planned to drive down to North Carolina today for what would surely be our final visit. Then last week pneumonia sent Dad to the hospital, erecting further barriers to communication. 

On Sunday afternoon, my brother put his cell phone on speaker so Dad and I could talk. I know he heard me when I told him about our granddaughter's upcoming birthday party, because he responded, very clearly, "I'll be sure to be there." Those were the last coherent words I heard from him, and what a nice thought! Even as lack of oxygen was taking him farther and farther from us, he kept promising further connection.

I spoke to him again yesterday but heard no clear reply, but by then I'd already packed up and hit the road a day early. The doctors said multiple organ failure and palliative care and just a matter of time, but I heard an urgent call to get there before it was too late. Perfect weather, minimal traffic, very little road construction--ideal conditions for a road trip, which I made in record time. Nevertheless I was over an hour from Raleigh when my brother called to say it was too late. 

What could I do? I kept on driving. I'll be sure to be there, he'd told me, always hopeful that we could find a way to meet and hug and communicate, even when the words wouldn't come. And now there's nothing left to say.

Francis Zelesky, 1933-2022


nicoleandmaggie said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

LJL said...

I'm so sorry. Sending prayers of love and comfort.

Bardiac said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you.

reflectiveprof said...

My sympathies, Bev. What a beautiful post.

Bev said...

Thanks, all. We've been keeping busy cleaning out Dad's rooms and dealing with his affairs, and we keep hearing stories from people who appreciated Dad. It has been a very therapeutic time.