They need to tell you about this kind of day in advance

My father is in a coma and I spent the day glued to his bedside in a reclining chair with a string of Christmas lights on over his bed.  He loves Christmas lights.  The nursing supervisor, who is very nice, brought in a platter of sandwiches, chips and sodas in the wee hours of the morning for “the family,” figuring that there would be a group vigil.  Well, there was just me, eating a ham salad sandwich and a bag of potato chips every few hours around the clock and then picking at the regular meals that were brought in for him.  When you are a captive audience needing to remain awake in relative darkness you have few options other than eating and drinking coffee at regular intervals.  Why, oh why, was this not turkey breast day?  Or salami day?  Why did I have to hit ham salad day?  I didn’t know anyone still ate ham salad.  I’m telling you you have not fully experienced all that life has to offer until you spend 36 hours in a tiny room with your dying father under Christmas lights, listening to Michael Jackson belt out “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” while eating questionable, and then later semi-rancid, sandwiches and drinking coffee out of a spill-proof cup.  Then there was the heat.  That room was a good 85 degrees F. and I was in a sweat suit.  The same sweat suit I had on when I jumped out of bed at midnight the night before, I might add.  I had the forethought to pack extra underwear and socks, so I went into my Dad’s little bathroom — where I could still keep half an eye on him — for a sponge bath and to hand wash unmentionables in the sink in case I needed them down the road.  I hung them up on the 35 handrails in there and all was bone dry in four hours, which gives you an idea of the heat situation.  Every two hours a nurse came in to give my dad his pain meds.  Every four hours a team of nurses came in to change his position and to make sure I was doing alright.  After about 35 hours I was getting to the point of seriously needing sleep, but I had to remain awake to keep a lookout for signs of pain or discomfort, and I wanted to be alert when he died.  I remember glancing at the clock and noticing the time was 12:25 a.m. (now 11/18/06) and then putting my head back in the recliner to rest my eyes for a moment.  Bad idea.  The next thing I knew I was jolted awake as if a gong went off in my head, and shot a glance at the clock – 12:45 a.m.  In the fraction of a second it took me to turn my head I realized the raspy sound of my father’s labored breathing was gone, and knew that what must have woken me up was that sound stopping all of a sudden.  I did not want to look at his face because I knew he was gone.  I just sat there.  I didn’t know how to feel, and remember wondering if he was floating around the room.  He and I had spoken many times about what might happen after death, whether communication with the living was even possible, but no matter how often we spoke about all of that it didn’t prepare me for that split second when I knew he was dead.  I had been talking with him off and on about all kinds of nonsense.  Even though he was in a coma, he was still in his body and I knew where to direct my energy.  When I moved closer to him to say a final good-bye, I was not at ease because I didn’t know where he was contained — if he was contained at all.  His body was so still and somewhat scary to me, though I don’t know why it should have been.  I suppose I felt that my thoughts were no longer my own and that everything in my mind would be accessible.  I sat there for some time, then said I was sorry I fell asleep and eventually made my way to the nursing station.

My father, Frank Valencia, and I about 1964/1965

My father, Frank Valencia, and I about 1964/1965

Frank Valencia on 10/5/06

Frank Valencia on 10/28/06

Frank and Renate Valencia on 11/6/06

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