I sat with my father on a cool early summer afternoon. I forget what we were chatting about specifically, though probably it was something financial. That was his expertise.
The conversation drifted, and we sat silently for a moment.
“I’m ready, you know.”
He had a second knee surgery about four months prior. He had an operation to remove a blockage from his neck a year before that. He had an irregular heartbeat and mini strokes. Trans-ischemic attacks, they call them.
“There’s nothing more I can offer this world. I have faith that I’ll be taken care of.”
His openness caught me by surprise. But I realized fairly quickly that he was letting me know that he was comfortable with his ultimate demise. I think he wanted me to feel more comfortable when the time came.
Less than a year later, I received a phone call from my father. “I can’t get on the stupid computer!”
I packed up what I was doing and drove the five miles to my parents’ condominium.
In his prime, my father commuted 45 minutes to work each day in New York City from his home in Thornwood in Westchester County. Now, with a bad back and knees, he and my mother were settled into condominium living. The computer had extended my father’s life, allowing him to manage stocks. But today he could not remember how to click the start button.
When I got him signed into his accounts and numbers filled the screen, his eyes blinked. He cursed. I realized he was unable to process the data. His mind, which had carried him through his 88 years, was failing. I sent a note to my sisters.
Soon after, he was admitted to the hospital with circulatory problems. Although his illness was not considered serious, I knew from my medical training that any hospitalization in a person seven years beyond their 81-year life expectancy had the potential to be complicated.
My father’s wishes were appropriately dictated on paper. I visited him daily. I had not been completely comfortable with his decisions when he spoke to me about them, but now as he was beginning to suffer, I understood. I felt empowered to let his suffering end.
Any journey is easier when we have directions. My father not only gave me the directions, he gave me the strength through his faith to be able to follow those directions.
Give your loved ones directions to follow. Complete a health care proxy. Help them be able to help you when your time comes.
Find health care proxy forms at upstate.edu/bioethics/consult/hcp.php.
This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.