1. Perhaps when my father fell off the toilet at the nursing home, breaking his hip (again), it did not happen in just the briefest moment when the aide turned to retrieve a towel, but because he was alone in the bathroom, in his private room, down the hall from the nurses’ station.
2. Maybe 48 years of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day took its toll.
3. Two years after he dies, I read an article in a reputable newspaper about a former pharmacist—who worked in the hospital where my father spent weeks prior to the nursing home admission—describing an atmosphere in the hospital pharmacy of chaotic management, slipshod double-checking procedures, incorrect drug labeling, malfunctioning calibration machinery. My father had had pneumonia and was taking between six and nine medications daily.
4. The stroke, the kephosis, the emphysema, the Alzheimer’s.
5. Was my father’s excellent supplemental health insurance coverage a factor when scheduling a second hip replacement operation? More a factor than the likelihood that the man would never get out of bed again?
6. The osteoporosis, the congestive heart failure, the severe arthritis.
7. Or was it my father’s denial (and his reluctance to admit anything at all was wrong with him beyond a bit of bothersome arthritis), my mother’s optimism (and her reluctance to question doctors), or my brother’s denial (and his reluctance to ask the hardest questions), or my own absence (and my reluctance to accept that distance matters)?
8. This is the thing: I was not there. I live far away. I didn’t fly out more often and I probably could have, despite the kids, the job, the husband, the bank account, the depression. I tell myself things would have been different if I had been there. This is the thing: I am a liar.
9. By the time I begin to think about an autopsy, after my plane lands in Nevada the morning after he dies, my father’s body has already been embalmed. Las Vegas is a fast town.
10. The myasthenia gravis, the pneumonia, the multiple vitamin deficiencies.
11. There are no premade plans, no prepaid funeral, no notes.
12. When we get the death certificate, it doesn’t read complications from pneumonia or congestive heart failure or malnutrition or stroke. It reads dementia. Alzheimer’s had begun its creep a year or so before (or maybe longer, but his being forgetful and befuddled only seemed a tiny uptick from his usual forgetfulness and befuddlement). It was my understanding that Alzheimer’s takes years to kill.
13. My mother is left without life insurance, and we cannot locate the stock certificates.
14. I talk about malpractice attorneys, about investigations, about lists and reasons and theories.
15. We hear about his final hours from the hospice nurse. They are good hours. This is enough. She was enough. It has all been enough, we decide, finally.
About the author:
Lisa Romeo’s nonfiction has appeared in dozens of literary and mainstream venues, including Hippocampus, The New York Times, Sweet, Sport Literate, Brain Child, and Under the Sun, and is forthcoming in Digital Americana and Synaesthesia. She is part of the founding faculty of the Bay Path University MFA program, teaches at Montclair State University, and is creative nonfiction editor of Compose. This piece is an excerpt from her memoir manuscript about confronting her father’s death. Lisa’s former careers include covering horse sports as an equestrian journalist and operating a public relations agency. Lisa lives in northern New Jersey, and you can find her online at Twitter @Lisa Romeo or via her blog.