Hospice helps make Dad's final ride a smooth one
We soaked up everything they had to offer when my dad, Bill Brayton, decided he'd had enough of living.
Dad, 93, quit eating, aiming to go out on his own terms.
When his doctor said it was time for hospice, we had a hard time swallowing the message.
Mom made the phone call.
Members of a north hospice team became our nannies. Family members were like children needing hands to hold.
Mom, Yvonne Brayton, welcomed hospice visits at their suite at Josephine Sunset Home in Stanwood. Team members came weekly, then daily, with broad shoulders, patient ears, informative pamphlets and hugs.
I slept on the floor of their room for five nights before Dad died. Mom was an adorable 90-year-old nurse. She fetched glasses of water for her barely communicative partner of 71 years. She offered him hearing aids when he pointed to the sides of his head.
Dad's walker was next to the bed to keep him cooped like the bars of a crib. We heard Dad reach spindly arms out from the covers to rattle walker handles, every few hours round-the-clock, meaning he wanted to dangle his legs off the side of the mattress.
He was not going quietly into the night.
After three days of responding to the banging of the walker, we got a bit loopy. We let the World War II veteran, a butcher by trade, pull himself pridefully upright on his own.
He insisted on getting the juice straw to his own mouth. He wanted to pick off a bandage on top of his hand.
Mother said, "Leave that bandage alone, Bill." Dad kept trying to peel it off, and I told Mom to let him do as he pleased.
At that point, it was just a bandage.
"Let's put 50 on his chest and let him pick them all off," Mom said. "He'd be happy as a clam."
Residents and friends dropped by as the somber watch continued. I grew weary of mentions of the circle of life. Think of the good times, folks counseled.
"Hey, Mom," I said. "Let's remember the bad times, too. Maybe you should think about times Dad got crabby, when you couldn't stand being in the same room, when he hogged the covers."
One can laugh during the process of dying.
I never knew that.
My older sister, Vicki, came from Ellensburg with her sleeping bag for the last three days. Mom and I were thrilled when the cavalry arrived to support, share fresh memories and offer comfort to Dad.
It was surreal. There we were, eating Subway sandwiches, watching the Oscars, while Dad lay nearly comatose in the queen-size bed.
I spent time in the hallways at Josephine, with my new best friends, who were all at least 87 years old.
Mostly widows, they knew what Mom was going through. There were gentle touches, whispering and delivered cookies.
I got a peek at what assisted living was all about.
Not so scary, really.
In quiet times, Mom, Vicki and I referred to a pamphlet from hospice, sharing what the road to death may look like the last days, hours and minutes.
We memorized the words, taking solace in knowing what was coming. At the end, we could expect him to breathe like a fish, take two cleansing breaths and die.
For 36 hours, we listened to Dad's gentle gurgles and coughs. We put hands on his belly to feel his heart thump thump in the slow race he was losing.
We believe Dad waited for his 93rd birthday.
About 2:30 p.m. Feb. 25, Dad took charge of his blankets. Mom covered him to his neck but Dad resisted, shoving the bedspread back down to his waist. He wanted control of something.
At 2:45 p.m., Vicki gasped, "He's doing the fish."
Sure enough, absurd as it sounds, Dad was puffing his cheeks in and out like a salmon on the deck of a ship.
After the last breath, we desperately searched for a pulse, knowing the goofball was pulling our legs.
But, no, he was gone.
As a reporter, it seemed important to jot down the time of death on a hospice tablet. I clutched a pencil, as I had for decades at The Herald, knowing things of note are put to paper.
In an homage to seeing way too many movies, I closed Dad's eyelids. We dialed hospice. They handled everything.
As word spread on the gossip chain, staff and residents came to express condolences. The Josephine family are there for one another. A gentleman paid his respects and offered to deliver four folding chairs from his room for those arriving. A woman offered to play Bach on a piano for the memorial.
We cut swatches of Dad's frosting-white hair to save. He was taken from the room on a gurney, covered in a modest purple shroud.
We walked with Dad to the unmarked crematory van.
Some 50 years ago, off the shores of Camano Island, I drove the boat while Dad fished. It was our special time to be together.
He owned Aurora Cold Storage in Shoreline and worked six days a week. Sunday was his day to drop a line in the water near our family cabin.
I know he appreciated that he didn't have to reel and steer at the same time.
I loved that Dad allowed me on the ride.
About the writer
Kristi O'Harran is a former Herald columnist. Her email in Mill Creek is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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