My Father’s Final Journey
In 2002 my father required triple bypass surgery. My father had severe heart disease and his heart muscle was extremely weak. My father’s surgeon was extraordinary! In fact, my father and President Clinton had the same surgeon. My father’s surgery was a success. All his doctors called my dad the miracle man. My father’s doctors thought his life expectancy would be five years. My father’s team of doctors were so wrong. The doctor’s had no idea the will, fight, and determination my father had to fight for his life.
In 2011 my father was diagnosed with metastasize prostate cancer which metastasized to his bone. My father told his family the doctor said his life expectancy was two years. Again, my father beat the odds. For years I have been in denial about my father’s health and decline. In fact, I am just realizing it now how sick my father was all these years. He always seemed to beat the odds and I too like his doctors believed he was a miracle man.
In early September of 2016, I went to Florida to visit my parents. I was so excited to spend a week at their home enjoying our time together. My parents and I had fun trying new restaurants, we enjoyed going to the movies, playing cards, and most of all we enjoyed talking with each other for hours about anything and everything.
This time when I arrived my father was not feeling well. In general, my father had a lack of energy, it was difficult for him to freely move his body, additionally, and he was suffering from severe back pain. I believe my father might have suspected his cancer was progressing by the amount of pain he had in his back. My father did not want to take any additional test for his prostate cancer since he was told that his Zytigra medication was his last hope.
I asked my father on several occasions to let me take him to the hospital but he refused. I didn’t stop, I begged and pleaded with my father to let me take him to the hospital. As usual, my dad refused and said, “Let me see if I am feeling better in a few days.” My father was a tough, stubborn, and strong man. I think that is why he beat the odds and was known as the miracle man.
I asked my father to go with me to pick out a computer I was buying him for his 81st birthday. When my father said he did not want to go, I knew something was wrong. He loved computers. He was one of the first people I knew who bought a PC to surf the internet. My dad was always ahead of the times, he was a true visionary. When the internet first launched my dad predicted the internet would be huge and technology advancements would change how the world would conduct business.
I went to Best Buy alone to buy my father an all-in-one computer for his birthday. The experience was not the same without my father. We would have had fun learning about new technology and selecting his birthday gift.
I brought the computer back to my parent’s home and set it up in my father’s man cave, his den. He was so happy and thankful to have a new computer with all the bells and whistles. Still, my dad was not himself, he hardly surfed the internet or played internet games. I was sick with worry.
The next day, I finally convinced my father to spend some time together, we went to his favorite Jewish Deli in Delray Beach, Florida. On the drive to the deli, my father hardly spoke. This was highly unusual. My father was never lost for words. We always enjoyed interesting conversations and could talk about anything. When my father finally did speak, he said “I wrote my own Eulogy and I want you to promise me that one of my children or all of my children read it when it is time.” My father told me he did not want a Rabbi who was a stranger to talk about him and his life. My father tried to comfort me and said, “Now I expect to be around for quite some time.”
I showed little emotion while my father was talking about his Eulogy I did not want to show my father how deeply heartbroken I was at the thought of his passing. It was something I thought about often and was stricken with anticipatory grief for many years.
My father and I were very close, I truly cared for him. He never judged me. I thought that was amazing especially since I am gay (I don’t like the word lesbian). I am in a 15 year relationship with a woman. My father loved my partner and treated her like a daughter. Truth is, I am very lucky, both my parents accept my relationship and treat my partner like a third daughter. My partner treated my parents very well and had a great relationship with my mom and dad.
By mid-September my father was declining and finally went to the hospital. I asked him why he did not let me take him to the hospital when I was there early September. My father responded, “I did not want to ruin your vacation.” I told him I have been worried and that I wish he would have let me take him to the hospital.
My father was told by the hospital doctor he had a super weak heart and there was nothing they could do for him. My father’s cardiologist disagreed with the hospital doctor prognosis. My father’s cardiologist administered medication to improve his heart pumping function and maintain his blood pressure. My father was in the hospital for a week and then off to rehab. He did well in rehab, told his family he felt better and stronger than he has in a long time. My father was in rehab for a month. He came home stronger and maintained his condition for several months.
His health started to decline in January 2016. By February he lost interest in his daily activities, food, and even talking to his family. It was clear something was wrong. I chose to deny it, instead I thought my father may have the flu.
In February my father took himself to Delray Hospital where they told him his vitals and blood work were fine, but his potassium level was low. The doctor gave him a few potassium pills and sent him home. I felt relieved that my father did not have signs of advanced prostate cancer or CHF. He only had a low potassium level.
However, weeks after that visit to the hospital my father was just not himself. I called my father every morning, my father always told me how much he liked our morning calls. Yet, when I called my father he would say I just don’t have the energy to talk, I am giving your mother the phone. That is when I knew, something was just not right. My mother told me don’t feel badly, “your father is not talking to anyone that calls.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is now clear to me that my father was slowly detaching from the living world and preparing to transition.
In March my father complained that after getting up in the morning, brushing his teeth and eating breakfast he had no energy for the rest of the day. He complained about this for weeks. He went back to the hospital in March. Again, the hospital staff doctor told my father there is nothing they can do for him. Again, my father’s cardiologist disagreed and gave my father intervenes medication to help improve his heart pumping function. This time the medication did not work.
At this point, my father asked my brother to come and visit him in the hospital.
My brother lives in CA, I do not recall my father ever asking my brother to visit him in the hospital. At that point, the family should have known something was seriously wrong. It appeared that my father had unfinished business with my brother and wanted to talk with him in the event he never made it home from the hospital.
My father was in the hospital for a week, when it was time for my father to be discharged the hospice staff greeted my family and explained my father was a candidate for hospice. Hospice explained my father would be in his own home with hospice care. We all freaked out! We did not want to believe my father was at the end of his life and no medical treatment could help him.
When hospice told my father he had to sign a DNT Order he freaked out! After much deliberation, my father reluctantly signed it. The hospice staff explained my father could terminate hospice care if his health improved, his diagnoses changed, or for any other reason. I was still in denial thinking my father would bounce back like he always did.
My father returned home mid-March under hospice care. The first week my father returned home my sister flew from NJ to Florida to help my mother care for my father. I called my parents several times a day to see how my father was doing. My sister said he is not getting better, “dad is bed ridden, barely eating, and sleeping much of the time.
My sister informed she has to fly back to NJ next week to tend to her business. My sister is self-employed, divorced, and is the sole provider. My sister told me I have to care for my parents since she has to return to home. On Sunday night I called my father to tell him I will be there on Monday. My mother answered the phone and said my father did not want to talk, in the background I heard my father speaking loudly, “I am dying”. My heart was breaking but still in denial.
I arrived at my parents’ home on Monday morning. When I opened my parent’s front door I saw my father’s aid pushing my father in a wheel chair. My father looked up and saw me, he gave me a big smile. I was so glad to see him, I gave him a big smile back and gave him a kiss on his cheek. I took his smile as a sign he was getting better. I was grasping for any sign that my father was not facing the end of his life.
The truth is, I never saw my father in that condition. He could not take care of himself, he barely could eat, and he was bed ridden. I could see my father was shutting himself off from the living world. I no longer was in denial. At night, I would go into the guest bedroom and cry myself to sleep. I prayed to G-d for a miracle.
The following day, my father asked me to get a copy of his Eulogy which was in his desk draw in his den. With tears in my eyes I left my father’s bedside to get his Eulogy. I opened the desk draw and found and envelope that read, “Do not open until?” I opened the envelope and found a 10 page Eulogy my father wrote. I wiped the tears from my eyes and returned to my father’s bedside with his Eulogy. My father asked me to put a copy of his Eulogy in his nightstand draw and to promise him that the Eulogy would be read by one or all of his children and his granddaughter if she wanted to read a portion of it. My father told me he held me accountable to make this happen. I promised him I will make it happen and that his wishes will be carried out. My father quietly thanked me.
I just could not believe this tall, and strong man could not care for himself. It made no sense, my father did not even look sick. He lost a little weight but nothing drastic. My father still looked handsome. My father had all his wits, he was intelligent, sharp, and quick witted, and charming. I could not believe my father was bed ridden yet he was alert. My father even watched all the political news, and political debates while cheering on Donald Trump for President. All I can say, my father and I did not agree on everything.
My brother arrived later that week. At that point, my father was sleeping most of the time, barely eating, developed a cough, and his urine was dark tea color. At the time, I did not realize these were all signs of approaching death. Once my father passed, I read much information from hospice on the death and dying process. I learned my father’s symptoms were all part of him approaching death. I question, why his doctor didn’t inform his family or why the hospice staff didn’t inform the family what to expect. I feel so stupid and uninformed. Most of all, if I would have known he was approaching death I could have been better prepared to care for him spiritual and mentally. Instead, I was asking him if he felt better than when he was in the hospital and can he push himself a little harder to get better. I did get to tell my father he meant the world to me, he responding by saying, “and you to me” and that took all his strength.
On Saturday, March 19, 2016 my brother had to call 911 to the house. My father was in a coma like state. His sugar levels were dangerously low. The paramedics gave my father insulin and took my father by ambulance to the hospital. My brother did not leave my father’s side, he drove to the hospital in the ambulance with my father.
My father was admitted to the hospice unit in the Delray hospital. First thing on Sunday morning, March 20, 2016 my brother, mother, and I went to visit my father. He had an amazing rebound. When we walked into his hospital room he said this is the nicest room I ever had, “large with a master bathroom suit, unfortunately I can’t use it”. My father always maintained his good sense of humor. My father was up and talking and even asked for something to eat. His grandson came to visit. My father spoke with us for hours. He talked about how much he loved golf, enjoyed being a pilot, and how much he loved his family. He spoke about how proud he was of us and how he thought his family were kind-hearted good people. Later that night, we kissed him goodbye and said we will see you tomorrow.
On Monday, March 21st, the hospice staff was administering pain medication to keep my father comfortable. My father was not doing as well as he was the day before. He was less talkative and did not have much of an appetite but he did manage to eat two jelly donuts. He loved jelly donuts, and chocolate. My father was the ultimate junk food junkie. Surprisingly, he was average build-not overweight.
While we were visiting my father he told me he saw bright beautiful purple balls, and asked if I see the same things he sees. I said no, instead I should have asked dad what do you see? I was in a fog, I could not believe my father was in hospice and the end of life was near. My father told us he did not want to fight any longer and if he did he didn’t think it would make a difference. Clearly, my father was aware that he was facing the end of his life, he was calm and accepting. He told me some time ago that he was not afraid of death. Unlike myself who is terrified of death and losing loved ones. His calm demeanor was comforting to the family.
On Tuesday, March 22nd, no one was able to visit with my father. My brother and I had to fly back home and my mother was home waiting for my father Zytigra (cancer medication) delivery which she had to sign for. I felt so badly that my father had no visitors. That day, my sister kept on calling his room but my father did not answer. Finally, that evening my sister spoke to my father, she said he did not sound like himself. He was slightly agitated and seem confused.
On Wednesday, March 23, 2016 my mother sensed something was wrong because my father did not phone her in the morning. Every time my father was in the hospital or rehab he called my mother every morning. I was so nervous I could not call the hospital. My partner called the hospital to talk to the nurses to see how my father was doing. The nurse informed my partner that my father was rapidly declining. My partner called my brother to advice of my father’s rapid decline. My brother called my mother and sent an Uber car to pick her up and rush to the hospital to get to my father before it was too late.
My sister and her son arrived at the hospital 11:30 am. I called my sister to see how my father was doing. My sister told me by the time she arrived my father’s eyes were closed, he was unresponsive, and appeared to be in a coma. I have heard hearing is the last thing to fail before death. Thus, I asked my sister to read the letter I wrote to my father which I placed on his hospital tray. My sister read the letter she wrote to my father and the letter I wrote to my father. I believe my father heard all the wonderful things we had to say about him. We told him in our letters how he was our rock, how understanding, kind, intelligent and a loving he was to his entire family. My sister just finished reading our letters when my father passed on March 23, 2016 at 12:10 pm. The family was informed the cause of my father’s death was severe heart disease.
My sister later told me about a minute after she finished reading both of our letters my father stopped breathing and peacefully passed away. My father’s eyes were closed, he stopped breathing, and he just quietly transitioned.
My mother arrived at the hospital shortly after my father passed. My mother, sister, and nephew sat and held my father’s hands and visited with him for hours. I believe they helped my father transition peacefully. I wish I would have been there to say my final goodbye. I wish I was there to tell my father how much I loved him and respected him. I will never get over how badly I feel about not being with my father when he passed.
To this day, I question was it heart disease or prostate cancer that took my father’s life. My father PSA levels were rising but did not have extensive test to see if the prostate cancer spread. I suppose it doesn’t matter which disease took my father’s life. I remember in my father’s Eulogy he was routing that Heart Disease took his life not prostate cancer. Since my father’s death was quick and peaceful I believe it was heart failure that took his life not cancer. My father was brave, he took all is illnesses gracefully and seldom complained. The only complaint he had towards the end of his life was the pain he was experiencing and lack of energy.
My father’s wife, children, grandchildren, and other family members arrived on March 24, 2016 to view his body at the chapel and say goodbye. We all stood around my father’s body, touched him, kissed him, and said our goodbyes. The family walked out of the chapel holding each other and crying. My brother went back to visit my father to say his private farewell. This day seemed surreal. I felt like I was having a nightmare and just wanted to wake up. It was a nightmare but not the kind you have when you are sleeping, I was wide awake and it was all too real, shocking, and heartbreaking.
My father’s wishes did come true. On the eve on March 24, 2016 a funeral service was held at my parent’s house, the service began with the Rabbi reading a prayer for my father, Bill Frank. His three children and granddaughter read the ten page Eulogy my father wrote for his own funeral service. The Rabbi was astonished that my father wrote his own Eulogy. The Rabbi told us within his 25 years practicing he has never come across anyone who wrote their own Eulogy. My father was amazing and his Eulogy was amazing. We all cried and laughed. My father’s Eulogy was so heart felt. His sense of humor and sharp wit came across the written pages. My father was a true family man. He lived for his wife of 60 years, and his children.
I will never forget that in his Eulogy he talked about life from the time he was born in Brooklyn NY. My father spoke of his bar mitzvah, his love of playing on the basketball team, and baseball team while in high school, going into the army, meeting the love of his life, getting married, having children, having grandchildren. He talked about his passion for golf and being a pilot who flew private plans.
In my father’s Eulogy he told us of a great story, He was drafted by the NY Yankees to play on their minor league team. The Yankees told my father if he was a star player in their minor league he could play for their major league. My father decided not to play for the minor leagues since the money was not great and there was no guarantee he would get to play in the Yankees major league. At that time, my father had a wife and a new born, he was more concerned about getting a job and supporting his family. He opted not to sign the contract. My father always put family first.
My father spoke about his great 80th birthday celebration. My brother treated the entire family to a weekend at the Breakers in Florida. My father spoke how generous my brother was to give him such a wonderful gift. He spoke of all the family festivities we shared at the Breakers. He spoke about how he cried when the celebration was over because he did not know when the whole family would be together again. Just like my father, a sentimental family man. That was just one of the many things I love about my father.
In my father’ Eulogy he told us he was not afraid of death, it is just another dimension for him to experience. He told us he was happy to be pain free. My father spoke about his biggest accomplishments in life was being called husband, dad, grandpa, cousins, brother, and friend. My father said, “With a blink of an eye life was over.” My father told us to enjoy our lives and to celebrate his life.
I know my father would have been so happy that his wishes were carried out. My father’s farewell service was held in his home. His entire family were all together and comforting one another. The Rabbi’s prayer was beautiful. His children and granddaughter read the Eulogy he wrote.
My father also instructed his family he wanted to be cremated. My father did not want his family to travel to his burial site, just like my father, always concerned about what is best for his family. My father did get everything he wished for, my dad held me accountable for making it happen and I did!
After my father’s funeral service my sister and I stayed with my mother for a week. We helped take care of some things and kept each other company. While staying at my parent’s house I found letters on my father’s computer and in his desk draw that he wrote to his wife, daughters, son, and grandchildren. This was the greatest gift my father could have left his family. I gave each person the letter my father wrote for them. Although, I wanted to read the letters before turning them over to their rightful owner I did not. I read my letter privately and wept as my father told me how proud he was of me and what a beautiful women I turned out to be. He told me how thankful he was for all the things I did for him. He also told me how comforting it was for him to know his family was always there for him during his long illness.
When I returned home I placed the Eulogy and the letter he wrote to me in my safe deposit box. I placed my father’s sterling silver heart shaped urn on my night stand. It is almost three months since my father passed. I look at his pictures each day and touch his urn each day. I also write to my dad in my journal when I want to share something that happened in my life, or if I just want him to know how much I miss and love him. As you can see, this is not easy for me. He will be forever in my heart!
Weeks after my father’s death, I went to visit my mother in Florida. It was very difficult, my mother is deeply grieving and is just not herself. She did share with me the letter my father wrote to her. It was beautiful. He talked about how he would be leaving her soon but wanted her to know how much he loved her. He spoke in great detail about all the things he loved about her and how she took his breath away. He told my mother he hopes she has a long and healthy life and that he would wait for her forever! Wow, I thought this was such a romantic letter. My mother could not get over what a beautiful letter my father wrote to her.
My mother is quite different than my father. My father was outwardly emotional and understanding, while my mother keeps all her emotions locked up inside. Surprisingly, my mother shared her letter with me. My mother keeps her letter in her nightstand. My other cherishes her letter!
My mother has my father’s urn in her bedroom, my brother, my sister and I have our urns with us in our homes. My brother also has a small urn that he will spread in the places my father loved such as; golf courses, the Hamptons, and maybe on the beach at the Breakers. My father will be happy to have a part of him in each of these places he loved so much.
I cannot help but wonder if my father’s doctors told him he was in Stage 4 CHF and he is facing end of life CHF which he never shared with his family. Why else would my father write his own Eulogy in September? Why else would my father write letters to his family informing us he would be leaving us soon? He was either notified by his doctors or had an inner sense that the end of his life was near.
When it came to my father I had anticipatory grief. I was always thinking about when he would die and how he would die. I was always afraid he was dying and that when he died a part of me would die. I also worried every time he went to a doctor’s visit that they were going to give him a death sentence. I am sorry I wasted good energy on worrying about the day my father would die. I should have spent time just enjoying the time G-d gave me with him. I wasted precious time that could have spent with my father and enjoying my life. I am truly grief stricken and miss my father more than words can ever say. It is true, when my father died a part of me died.
I have to say that my anticipatory grief did not help me prepare for my father’s death. It did not ease the pain of grieving my loss. My general being is sad most of the time. I miss talking with my father daily, I miss his advice, I miss his kindness, I miss his intelligence, I miss his understanding, I miss his unconditional love, and I miss mostly everything about my father. Of course, my father was not perfect… but I loved him unconditionally just like he loved me and the rest of his family.
On the day I lost my father, I lost a loving dad, a friend, and a mentor who I looked up to. I miss you dad, more than he could image. My dad is forever in my heart and in my thoughts! I am so thankful I had such a loving father. I will enjoy great memories!
I am pleased to know my dad is out of pain, and that he is no longer suffering. I can only pray there is an after-life, and my dad is at peace and that he finds his happy place in the Garden of Eden (Heaven). I pray we are reunited when I reach my final journey.