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Day 7

Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Billy Butterfield, Ray Connif. I tuck the iPad under his pillow, as much for his pleasure as for masking the sound of his difficult breathing. I grew up with the Big Band Jazz of these artists. Sunday evenings at home, lights dimmed after toasted sandwiches and tea for supper. He knew each song, every artist. In 1972 they drove to Cape Town to see Billy Butterfield at the then Nico Malan. I remember him telling us that the performers insisted that all races be allowed in the then-Apartheid era theatre. A concession was made, my Mom sat next to an African lady. They spoke of this for many years…

My sister and I stepped into the nursing role. Somehow it is the most natural thing to do, not because we are such amazing people, trust me. But this is the way we were brought up by my parents. Nike got their tagline from my parents – “just do it”. We step in, we step up when things need to get done. Most of the time we don’t think or even discuss, we just do it. Sometimes stupidly, often reactively, most not considering the consequences.

Making the decision to discharge my Father from the hospital was an instinctive act without much deliberation. This is how they did things – act, or be acted upon. I remember family and friends in trouble, a phone call and minutes later the car is pulled from the garage. There was never a discussion of whether should we or shouldn’t we, shall we wait until the morning, maybe someone else can go. I recall countless times that I woke up for school in the morning, my parents gone. Friends telling us that they went to attend to a crisis.

My Mom was the local ambulance driver for many years. With bad car accidents (too many to recall) my Dad would accompany her. Once on our way to Knysna, we were the first to see an accident where a couple hit a horse that was in the road. They stopped and spent hours helping. Just did it.

I have never seen my Father naked in my 54 years, not even without a shirt. Instinctively my sister and I took on the role of his caregivers, washing him, turning him, and changing his incontinence wear. It is hard to believe that after seven days of no food or fluids, his bladder is still secreting urine. He is a solid 90 kg, rock solid, dead weight. All my years of watching nurses paid off – after the first few fumbles, Dad opping like a ragdoll, we manage the draw sheet manoeuvre.

A new respect for nurses and caregivers, and trust me, I already have the highest regard for them. The art of caring. Again, this is easy, I am caring for my father. Imagine doing this back-breaking, smelly job for a total stranger, getting paid pittance for it? God knows caregiving is a calling. It is not a job. And it certainly is not an “unskilled” job!! (I bump into one of the neighbours this morning who tells me that he can never do what we are doing for my Dad. Yes, I think. You can’t. Very few people have the skill, nerve, personality, patience, the tolerance to be a caregiver. It is time we change our minds about the profession of Care. I can never be a Caregiver.)

The question of “letting my Dad die” comes up with almost every visitor. “Are you not giving him anything, nothing at all?” No, we are not. My Father is dying, feeding him or giving him water will keep his organs going. The body knows how to shut down, forcing food or fluids will do more harm than good. Of course, I fret about it at moments, deep existential doubt crawls under my skin and gives me goose esh. Am I doing the right thing?

I look at my Dad’s face. There is no sign of pain or discomfort. He no longer opens his eyes. Curiously I lift his eyelid – his eye is dull as if the Life has already gone out of it. I wish I knew more, for certain, about the Soul’s transition. It seems that he is now in a negotiating phase, for lack of a better description. Contemplating the transition, escaping the cocoon of this body. I suppose after 84 years of being in this body it takes some time to leave it behind.

This body served him well, and he took good care of it! He never overindulged, keeping moderation in mind with eating and drinking, staying fit, biking, golfing, and fishing. Every year he joked about doing the Comrades. It was always just a joke. Everything is in moderation.

Somehow I feel that today might be the day of his transition. “And on the seventh day…” I listen as his breath gets more and more faint. He is so peaceful. “Just” a breath…

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