I’m up early to write from a different chair. It’s been a big week on the metaphorical mountain and I know forming and sharing the words will help me reflect and process the deeper meaning of it all.
People had said I would know when it was time to come. I was checking in several times a day with Edmonton, watching airfares, trying to train, and seeing how Marian was doing. Dad moved onto the palliative care unit at the Grey Nuns Hospital on Sunday. Mom used to be the night supervisor there for 20 years and though it meant a longer drive to get there, she knew Dad would receive the best care.
And then as people said I would, I knew it was time. We got seats on a most windy Wednesday morning and flew out. Shawn picked us up at the airport and we went right to the hospital. When we walked into his room, Dad woke and was able to greet us. He was finally comfortable when lying still and would rouse when called to but was sleeping the rest of the time.
Soon after we arrived, a succession of visitors arrived and we spent much of the afternoon telling stories of Dad’s life and the ways he impacted ours. There was many stories of hunting, skiing, and times at the cabin. One of Dad’s favourite things was napping on the couch at the lake and I imagined him laying on “his” couch napping as we spun yarn after yarn. Later in the afternoon, Rayne came to visit and helped the nurse give her grandfather his medication and got a chance to ask lots of questions about Opa’s care.
Wednesday was hard but I took solace in being surrounded by caring friends and family and in the fact that laughter was being doled out in about the same ratio as tears. We were celebrating my Dad, and since he loved to laugh, naturally many of the stories made us chuckle. We met with Dad’s doctors and though they couldn’t give us a timeline, they hinted at a few weeks. Having started our day in Newfoundland at 3:30 a.m., we fell into bed exhausted that evening.
The next morning we headed back to the hospital. As soon as I walked into the room, I knew things had changed dramatically. In taking one look at my Dad, I knew it wouldn’t be weeks, I knew it would be days, if that. Dread was the first emotion to arise followed quickly by huge waves of grief. Seeing the nurse do care and the intense pain that any movement caused Dad, a tiny sense of relief that his suffering might soon be over began to enter my body.
I had brought my Olympic Torch to show my Dad. In the elevator, some one had asked me if the box contained chocolates. I said, “No, it has an Olympic Torch.” I took it out of the box and once again witnessed its magic as people began to hold it and pass it around. I showed it to Dad as soon as I arrived and there was a brief flicker of recognition in his eyes. I placed it on the windowsill and we enjoyed watching nurses, doctors, and visitors as they picked it up and hold the torch. As I carried it on Mom and Dad’s anniversary, it felt like a tribute to have the torch there.
Dad’s main doctor, Dr. Amigo, paid a special visit so I could show him the torch. He carried it out onto the unit and joked that his ego was getting bigger by the second. He was originally from Argentina so we shared our love of Dulce de Leche and I showed him pictures of climbing Aconcagua on my laptop. I appreciated Dr. Amigo taking time to be with us with such kindness and grace–not only was he looking after Dad, he was looking after us. It seemed he had “right livelihood” being perfectly suited in skill and temperament to the work he does and I loved his name. Amigo means friend in Spanish and he was indeed, a doctor friend.
As the day progressed, Dad could no longer respond or wake up. He slipped deeper and deeper into unconsciousness. In July, I carried a string of prayer flags to the summit of Mount Elbrus for both my Dad and Moh Hardin, my Buddhist teacher. In celebration of this, I hung a string of prayer flags over Dad’s bed and took comfort in seeing their familiar colours and having them remind me of Buddhist teachings. They also provided another point of conversation and it turned out that one of Dad’s nurses had worked in Tibet. Small world.
The hospital gift shop had “puffed wheat squares.” These chocolate confections are one of my favourite treats as well as Dad’s. I bought some and brought them up to the room. I wished that just one more time Dad and I could compete for the last bite. It wasn’t uncommon for Mom to have to make one tray for my Dad and one for me. I was comfortable talking to my Dad even though he couldn’t respond. I offered him some puff wheat squares and told him that I would keep eating them and would miss sharing them with him.
We spent the day in prayer punctuated by stories. Again, when visitors would come, we shared memories of Dad and used laughter to temper our grief. It was harder to leave the hospital that night and I contemplated staying over. We asked the nurses to call us if anything changed and we’d be back as quick as we could.
The call came the next morning. We all headed quickly to the hospital. It was snowing heavily. Mom, Marian and I arrived first. Seeing Dad, we knew it wouldn’t be long. When Mike and Shawn arrived, both Mike and I had had the same thought. Dad loved to ski and this was a perfect day to go. Each time I looked out the window, I imagined Dad standing at the top of his favourite run in Banff just waiting for enough perfect powder to fall to begin his run.
We all sat round him. He was no longer in any pain and for the first time in days, we could touch him (previously the lightest touch was agony for him). Again, we told stories and memories and laughter was once again mixed with the tears. I had promised Rayne I would take a picture of something on the unit but had forgotten the camera in the car. I didn’t want to leave but knew I didn’t want to miss getting the picture for Rayne so I let Dad know I was stepping out and quickly went to the car. I stopped in the gift shop for more puffed wheat squares.
I got back to Dad’s room and took the picture Rayne wanted. A sense came over me and I turned, put the camera down, and saw down beside my Dad. I offered the puffed wheat squares round and most indulged–Dad loved them. We surrounded Dad with love and care and he passed gently at 12:34. Those that know me know that my watch beeps everyday at 12:34. It is my favourite time of day…1, 2, 3, 4! I just get a kick out of it and don’t want to miss it so I set an alarm. It was just like my Dad to pick such a moment to go. I know that each day when the alarm beeps, not only will I chuckle with my favourite time of day, I’ll think of my Dad and everything he means to me.
Once the first round of tears had fallen, we took out a small bottle of whiskey that Dad hadn’t gotten to drink and passed it around. We told Dad that we must really love him to drink the rye straight up without mix. Dr. Amigo came in and offered words of comfort that though Dad went quicker than anyone expected, he was now finally free of pain. With his words, came a huge sense of relief for me that has carried me through the first few days since Dad’s death. Near the end, he hurt so much that I could hardly stand it and I am so grateful that he suffering is over. I knew I would miss him so much but I wanted him pain free even more.
We each took time to say our good-byes. I took the prayer flags down knowing that they would come with me to Everest and hang in my tent as both a reminder of my Dad and a reminder of his strength that I can draw upon whenever needed. We packed the rest of Dad’s belongings and I drove us home through the storm. The rest of that day was a fog of funeral arrangements, logistics, and alternating relief and disbelief.
We all dreaded telling Oma, my Dad’s mother for we know she’d loved him so deeply for all of his 67 years. She’d had a dream earlier in the day that Dad had died and sobbed uncontrollably for the first while. We then got out her brandy and toasted Dad once again. With glasses in hand, the stories began again and Oma had us nearly peeing our pants with her antics. I appreciated the laughter as it helps balance out the deep sadness.
Since most of you live away from Edmonton and won’t be able to see Dad’s Obituary, I’ve pasted it here.
Heinz Loeffler, aged 67 years, passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on December 4, 2009. He is survived by his loving wife, Denise, his mother, Frida and two children, TA (Marian), and Mike (Shawn). Heinz also leaves to mourn two grandchildren, Rayne and Xander and numerous other relatives and close friends. He was predeceased by his father, Alois and Uncle Joe and Auntie Hilde. A prayer service will be held on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. at the Chapel of Howard & McBride Westlawn, 16310 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton with a Funeral Mass on Thursday, December 10 at 11:00 a.m. at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 18407-60 Ave, Edmonton. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Prostate Cancer Canada, (145 Front Street East, Suite 306 Toronto Ontario M5A 1E3 http://www.prostatecancer.ca) or the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, Palliative Care Unit 43. Heinz’s family thanks you for your care and support during this difficult time.
Thank you for all of your kind words, thoughts, and prayers as they bring great comfort to my family and me. Take good care,