On Death and Dying
By Robert Ross



On Death and Dying . . . is the title taken from a book by Elizabeth Kubler Ross . . . stages of accepting a loved one’s death. Stages — denial — anger . . . stages  neatly packaged into a book. Upon hearing of her own impending death, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, according to an article I had read, went into a stage called resentment and was unapproachable; no acceptance of her own written words, no loving hospice counselors, no family members trying to determine where they were on the stage’s scale. Resentment . . . unapproachable . . . were the key operative words.

When death approaches, when the eagle circles, when the angels begin to make their presence known, and it is someone you love, there are no books, no classes, nothing that can prepare you for the roller coaster ride you may find yourself on.

The Ride
My father, who lives alone part of the week, found himself on the bathroom floor unable to move, unable to call for help, at 3:00 a.m. In the process of falling, he had bruised his ribs. In the following days he thought he could tough it out and all would heal. A week later he was in the hospital,  in what appeared to be a fight for his life. I was in the hospital with him.

The roller coaster had left the staging platform — I was now about to be taken on a ride that no words, no book can adequately describe or sufficiently prepare one for.

Upon my father’s release from the hospital four days later, he was given a walker and a mobile oxygen apparatus. I was given paper and more paper and instructions which were at times contradictory. This major HMO had sent us on our way to grapple with a myriad of issues, on our own.

The following morning at about  6:00 a.m., I was lying in bed, listening to what sounded like construction noises in the neighborhood. At 6:30 I got up to check on my father. He was on the floor of the bathroom pounding on the cabinet trying to get my attention. This was one of many upsetting and frightening episodes I would experience.

In the coming days, the metaphorical coaster ride would be, at times, tossing me and family members about rather violently.

The Phone
The phone would now be the closest thing to a seat belt, to keep me and family members in their seats on this ride. The phone would ring from 8:00 a.m. to nine p.m. There were well wishers, other family members checking in, and return calls from our HMO. It was clear from the beginning that no medical person would be available to answer questions on the phone. Instead, after choosing which language I preferred to communicate in, I would leave messages in voice mails, to be returned by an assistant to a Doctor or nurse at a time of their choosing.

There were times when I would be on the phone and observe other family members with their backs toward me on their cell phones. Of course, as fate would have it, it was just when everyone was on the phone that my father would need to go to the bathroom and the door bell would ring.

For about five days I kept the cordless phone in my pocket. It rang and rang and rang. And my response to callers became shorter and shorter and shorter. After all, there were other calls coming in.

Family Members
There are endless books on forgiveness. And forgiveness is a common theme at religious gatherings. That’s all fine and good, kind of like Kubler Ross’ book on Death and Dying. But there is the process of watching someone deteriorate before your eyes. And during those times, all bets are off. Anger surfaces, resentment surfaces, love surfaces, every emotion you thought you had a grip on may come up, times ten in intensity.

So there’s this in-law who came to visit during my father’s first week home from the hospital. His intentions were self serving beyond anything I had witnessed in my life. He had come for a “vacation” regardless of my father’s condition, and was determined to have it. Within the first hour of his arrival, I was verbally slapped in the face by his pronouncements of what “should have” been done.

The books on forgiveness no longer have meaning. At this writing, I vow to never speak to this person again. Perhaps time will heal. But for now, I’m on the roller coaster.

Showers and Sleep
I’m at my home in San Diego and my sister and a home health aide are watching over my father at his home in the San Fernando Valley. I had a shower and slept through the night. It was the first decent sleep I have had in two weeks.

My sister called this morning and said my father had a good night. She also said she smelled bad — hadn’t had a shower in a couple of days. She’s on the roller coaster now. I needed a break, but I’ll be back on soon.

The Angels
I know the angels are gathering — my father is eighty-eight years old. He has congestive heart failure. I know that his time is coming. And I know there are no books that will help me through this. There is one way through this process and that is to engage it, up close and personal . . . see where it goes. If a relationship is destroyed, so be it. On the other side of the coin is the love and compassion I feel towards my father. It’s been intensified — times ten.

Things will all work out. A few day’s rest, a shower or two, and I’ll drive back to the Valley, jump back on, see where it goes.

Robert Ross can be reached at 
Copyright  2004  by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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