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Day 5

His hands are turning blue. I want to cut his fingernails, but he is very peaceful this morning and I know how he hates being riddled with. I put in earphones and we listen to Glenn Miller and his orchestra. His favourite music. Sunday evenings at home he would play this. I had no appreciation for it as a child, yet it is imprinted in my childhood memories. I learned to love it as much as he does over the years. He always got into trouble for listening to it too loud to my mother’s liking. Whenever “In the mood” played at a party, the two of them would “bob” like teenagers. That is one of my best and most beautiful memories of my parents – dancing together, laughing, both moving with amazing musicality and rhythm. Even in later years when my Mom’s arthritis inhibited her movement, they loved to still try and dance. My Dad’s love of music, especially Big Band Jazz, became our love for music. I was forced to take piano lessons from the age of 7. Thanks to horrible music teachers I hated every lesson. I learned to play a jazzy tune called “Yellow Jonquils”, about the only thing I could play decently. He loved that song. Whenever we were near a piano he would ask me to play “his song”. Music is the one thing we have in common. There are not many others. I was not an easy son, he was not an easy father. Only now that we are both older I know it is because we are so similar. “Stroom-op” is perhaps the best (kindest) description of our personalities. Aka “bedonnerd”. We actually communicate best with animals.

I hope that all the animals he loved so much over the years are waiting to guide his Soul. Buks, the wirehair terrier that he bought for R50.00 from a homeless man. They were inseparable. Buks had a box on the back of the red Vespa. On the golf course, in town, at work, Buks came back covered in grease and smelling like a garage dog. Like my Dad, Buks would not suffer fools gladly. We all have the scars to show for Buks’s intolerance and short temper. Daisy the black Maltese. Gentle Soul. Jessye, my Jack Russel became his dog. Tippie the Wachtmeister cat. And then the latest adopted Sushi, the ginger cat. Sturdy, sullen, bedonnerd, full of fight. Just like Dad. He loved teasing Sushi, and again has many scars of claws and teeth. Sushi died a few months ago, being mourned to this day. And then his latest Sally. Little Maltese mongrel that adores him as much as he adores her. When in 2010 he had a back operation, we decided to get him another pet. He protested, saying he doesn’t want another pet, as it is always his job to have them put down when the time comes.

And now his time has come. I do remember the silence in our house when a pet had to be put down. The bedding disappeared quietly. The long evenings with no teasing the dog or the cat, taking them for walks or fussing over feeding rituals. We are together now in this silence. There is little to say. We all know that we knew exactly every time a pet was ready to go. We released it. With love and grace. We mourned. The finality hung like a dark fog in the house. We laughed at the wonderful times we shared. We cried over the silence and longing. I do remember the day our 17-year-old Oortjies was put to sleep, our first cat. A pale ginger, he was there from before the time I was born. I was 15 when he had to be put down. My world was shattered. At that time I loved him more than I loved anyone else in my family! He knew my secrets, he slept with me every night, he comforted me, was my best friend for 15 years. If I had to choose between him and my sister…. Ok, ok, I grew up and learned to love my sister a lot.

I was under the impression that we have moved beyond the controversy of advanced directives, that we live in a world where Life is respected enough that we can have open discussions about death. I was wrong. And I HATE being wrong. (Ok, I know you are all applauding my insight. Piss off. I HATE being wrong when like my Mother, I KNOW that I am right. Another thing my Father and I have in common…) My Father has extensive brain damage. He has no register of pain. The brain damage prevents him from responding to any stimuli, his breathing is affected, he cannot swallow and is not able to move his tongue. He cannot open his eyes. At this point, he does not feel hunger or thirst. I keep his lips wet with ice. He is dying, letting go slowly. It is not easy to let go of 84 years of living, I am sure.

His heart and lungs are strong. If we now put a tube down his nose or directly into his stomach to put food in his stomach, we will keep his organs going. That’s it though – his heart will beat and his lungs will breathe. He will be in a vegetative state for perhaps weeks, months, or even years. We will care for him with love and tenderness. The question is – what would HE want? In 2016 we sat down as a family and worked through an extensive advanced directive. In his usual manner, his answers were categorical: “NO, NO, NO!” I double-checked, and we laughed, he sat with his arms folded on the table, head down as he always did, affirming his life choices with every question I asked. He signed the document in his beautiful, rm handwriting and signature (I also inherited his handwriting).

At the time we went through the motions. Filling out forms, singing them, putting them away. We had many discussions as a family. As a Freemason, the custom would be that his cof n would have to be carried from the church to the graveyard on the shoulders of the pallbearers. We often joked about this. Apart from the fact that the graveyard is uphill about ve kilometres from the church, at 1.85m tall I would carry most of the weight on my shoulders with the others being shorter than me. I joked about sending him to the old age home if he did not behave…

Rob, his biker pal just visited. More stories of the stubborn, upstream individual that my father is. He hates stop/go systems where there are roadworks, and would often zip through on his bike. Whenever he gets himself into trouble, which happens quite often, he would take off his helmet and say “How old do you think I am?” His age was used well, so proud of his 84. Shaved head, stovepipe jeans, denim waistcoat full of rally badges and leather jacket and zooty helmet he could be 24 on the bike. When he took off the helmet, people often shake their heads in disbelief. And then at other times, he would act every day of his 84 years. Grumpy, full of aches and pains. The minute you mention that yesterday when he was on the bike, he would say “Man, as ek op daai ets klim makeer ek niks!”

And here we are now today, day ve. I am grappling with the task I took of being my father’s medical proxy. I have never been one to back down on my convictions. I did not think that I would get so much resistance. It makes me question everything that I know, that I believe in, that I stand for. Not a question as in that I want to change my mind about any of it, but a deep questioning of looking inside, finding answers to questions that I know are beyond my reasoning.

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