by Karrie Loomis
Dad would often come home to another stinking mess left in the bathroom by my grandpa who had dementia. Whenever Gramps’s poop smeared beyond the toilet lid, my sister and I’d let Dad handle the situation. “When I’m old, I will not live with you girls,” Dad promised his teenage daughters as he cleaned brown smudges from the shower curtain. “I’ll die before I’m unable to take care of myself.”
Single and working a full-time job, Dad hired a neighbor to help with Gramps on days the rest of us wouldn’t be home. Without constant care, Gramps forgot to eat. And sometimes, only wearing underwear, he’d leave the house to look for his dog that had been dead for years.
One afternoon dad walked through the front door to find Gramps shaking a large, brown paper bag. “What are you doing,” Dad asked.
“I’m trying to get this dog to bark,” Gramps replied.
Dad took the package, “What dog?” Just after he opened the sack, my sister’s kitten jumped out and hid under her bed for days.
Gramps had no sense. So, Dad spend a lot of time explaining, reminding, repeating, and cleaning. Dad hid his frustration well, but he continuously promised he wouldn’t put his girls through the same burden.
After my sister and I grew, we both moved from our hometown in Michigan to Virginia. Adulting took over our lives, but each of us often went home to visit. Even though, year after year, Dad’s health declined, he sometimes drove the 700 miles to see us. Dad traveled often. He loved everything from small afternoon road trips to exploring different states. Even though he developed congestive heart failure and diabetes, he still had a sound mind and for a few years could wander to his desire.
Eventually, his illnesses got the best of him, and he made frequent trips to Lansing hospitals to see nurses and doctors instead of Virginia Beach to visit his girls. Then Dad’s kidneys failed.
He would need dialysis multiple times a week for the remainder of his life. Without money to afford quality assisted living, the long ago promises he’d made while caring for Gramps no longer mattered. After the surgery to implant a permanent dialysis port, Dad would have to rely on his daughters for care. My sister and I agreed, we’d do our best to keep him comfortable and happy.
During his surgery, the tube inserted in Dad’s body nicked an artery. An artery that 70 years earlier, while in utero, had formed in the wrong place. The surgeon couldn’t stop Dad’s internal bleeding. A genetic anomaly the doctors said.
My daddy died during what was supposed to be a routine surgery.
Hours after Dad’s intimate burial, one of his friends stopped by my mother’s house to give condolences. He talked about his wife’s dialysis experience. At first, listening to him made me angry. The man sat next to me on the couch and told me his wife had survived the same routine surgery that killed my dad. However, as he carried on with detail after detail about how much care his wife needed, their deteriorating quality of life, and his wife’s continued failing health until she passed away, I realized Dad’s friend was giving me a precious gift: a peace of mind.
Dad did not want to live like that.
A few months later, the life insurance company sent more money because it ruled Dad’s death an accident. But I recognized his death as a promise kept.
Gramps and his little doggie, Ginger – Kellie, my dad, and I