Monday, June 6th 12:45 AM

John Joseph Bilbrough, my father, grandfather to my three beautiful little girls, devoted husband, loving brother, took his final breath at 12:45 this morning.  My stepmom, Ann, was with him when he took that last breath, and I was notified shortly after the nurse in hospice pronounced him dead.  I arrived at the hospice at 1:20 and was escorted to the floor by the hospital security guard.  I went into his room, and Ann was sitting at his bedside, her sister in the chair next to her.  They both got up, Ann hugged me for a few minutes, and then she told me to go sit by my dad.  He was just as I had left him the evening before – the same position in bed, his mouth hung open as if he was still breathing in air through the gurgle in his throat.  I touched his cheek, which was cold for the first time since he went to hospice.  His hands and arms were still warm under the sheets. 

They allowed us to stay with him as long as we wanted.  It never seems long enough to say goodbye.  We sat with him an hour or so, and then we had the nurse phone the funeral director.  They came about an hour later and after a brief introduction and a few questions, he left us alone to say our final goodbyes.  Ann went first, and when it was my turn, I hugged him, feeling how thin and frail he had become in just this past week.  The hospice nurses came to the hallway and hugged us and told us how sorry they were.  They took us to the elevator and offered assistance with whatever they could.  Hospice is a wonderful thing.

I am so grateful that his suffering has ended, although I cannot accept that it was really his time.  I think he could have given us a little longer, and even he admitted to Ann one evening this week that maybe he made the wrong decision.  When he lasted longer than he thought he might, he became very discouraged.  It was hard for him to continue suffering when he had made up his mind for it to be over.

We will spend some time later this morning planning the funeral to his specifications.  I am glad he got to plan things the way he wanted them, and I am more glad that we are able to carry them out for him. 

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You've come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore
  
Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping
  
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
  
And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass
  
Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say:  «We have come now to the end »
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
  
And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping
  
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
  
And all will turn 
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass 
Into the West

Sunday, June 5th There Is Still Humor

My dad is a funny guy in an odd sort of way.  He has a huge stockpile of jokes – all of them old, most of them told time and again – but that’s not what makes him funny.  Funny are the comments like “I was born on a Friday.  I know because we had fish for dinner.”   He could always suck you in with a story about a guy he worked with, a relative, or a friend, but the story always ended in some sort of way that made you leave knowing it couldn’t be true, but wondering if it was. 

Yesterday, when Ann was struggling to get him to eat dinner, which was a bigger fight than getting him to eat lunch, he looked at her and said to her in absolute frustration, “Your as bad as Ann!”   In the moment, how sad was it that he didn’t know his wife of 12 years?   But 24 hours later, it was something my dad might have said anyway.  This morning, like every morning, Ann said to my father, “I love you.”   Every morning, he has responded, “I love you too.”   This morning, he didn’t respond.  She said, “Don’t you love me back?”   My dad finally responded, “No, I love you front.”   That was a little bit of him still coming through.

My dad stopped talking shortly after that.  He has uttered no other words this entire day, and he has stopped eating.  By the time I left tonight, the word “coma” was being bandied about, but only by those of us at his bedside.  When dinner came and Ann tried to rouse him, she got no response at all.  He didn’t grunt, he didn’t get “bitchy”, he just didn’t do anything.  Ann, who has been so persistent at making him eat, resigned herself to the fact that he has officially stopped eating.  The nurse came in, she moved his position, put on the nebulizer mask for a breathing treatment, cleaned him up a bit, and he didn’t wake for any of that.  No reaction or response whatsoever.  And he has had no medication today at all.  I think Ann was going to ask the nurse later tonight how we would know if he was in a coma, but as of the time I left, she simply said, “I don’t think he’s going to wake up for us again.”  

His breathing was difficult to listen to.  The doctor today said his lungs are surprisingly clear, but there is such an accumulation of fluid in his throat that when he breathes in, it sounds as if he is under water.  And he would breathe in two or three times, then not at all for 30 or 45 seconds.  I started to hold my breath with him, and sometimes, it was hard for me to hold as long as he was holding.  I waited for there not to be any new breath in.  Then there would be one.  Or two.  Or three in a row.  I left before there wasn’t a next breath.  I don’t know if I want to be there when the last breath is taken.  I want there to still be something to laugh about.  That’s how my dad would want things.