“I was surprised by how painless it was…”

When I got to Dad’s place I learned a friend had just sent him the obituary for author Ruth Kirk. Ruth had been a dear friend of Dad’s and Dad had tears in his eyes when I arrived to visit with him. He was having a hard time of it. He’d told the care-giver that he’d illustrated some of Ruth’s books, and the care-giver had tried to find one of Ruth’s books on Dad’s bookshelves – but hadn’t been able to find one – so, instead, she’d pulled out Dad’s book, The Challenge of Rainier and they were looking through Dad’s illustrations in his book when I got there.

His care-giver made room for me to sit next to Dad so we could talk. Dad shared how sad he was about losing his friend, Ruth. I told him that this had been a rough year, and we talked about other friends he’d lost. He said at this point whenever he gets a card in the mail he expects to find an obituary for one of his friends inside it.

Some people he remembered were gone – climber Fred Beckey, and his brother, K (although he thought K had just passed away a couple years ago, when actually he’s been gone since 1994). He was surprised to learn that other friends were gone – “I wondered why I hadn’t heard from them,” he said. I think he was wondering why no one had told him about his friends’ passing – so I let him know that we’d shared these passages with him, but that he’d forgotten. I suggested that maybe he forgot because it was too traumatic for him to process – and I told him that would be understandable. He seemed to accept this.

I always follow my intuition in these conversations – sometimes I don’t bring up Mom’s passing, and sometimes – like today – it seems the right time to talk about it. I know talking about Mom’s passing is very hard for him – but… there are times when I think it’s helpful to him, too. So I held his hand and shared with him, again, Mom’s last week with us – I told him that he’d been able to say good bye to her in the hospital before they brought her to my home; told him she’d died peacefully in her sleep while I slept on the couch next to her; told him I felt her presence brush passed me as she left – I felt her love and joy. I told him that she’d loved him very much – that she still loves him – and that we’d promised her we’d take care of him. Dad nodded and wept quietly.

I observed that when you live to be 100 you lose a lot of people along the way. “But fortunately,” I said, “you have a lot of friends who are younger than you.” He smiled and nodded.

I asked him if he’d ever expected to live to be 100. He said he’d never thought about it.

Then – “Is it time for a drive?” he asked, hopefully. So his care-givers helped me get him ready – got him in his sweater, put shoes on his feet – and I put his alpine hat on his head – and we loaded him up in my car. I asked him if he’d like me to take him for a root beer float, and he nodded his head.

On the drive to the Sisters Espresso…
Dad: I’ve been thinking this week that I needed to get out of here and get back home to Mom. But now I realize she’s gone.
Karen: Yeah. That place where you’re living is your home now.

As we turn onto old Hwy 99…
Dad: Now we’re heading north. Parallel to the Pacific coast.
Karen: Yup.
Dad: How are the boys?
Karen: They’re both graduated from university now.
Dad: (taking this in) Time goes fast. I was in school a lot longer than them. Or… that’s how it feels, anyway.

As we turn onto Chuckanut Drive…
Dad: Last month when I thought I was dying I was surprised by how painless it was. It’s just getting sleepy…
Karen: You thought you were dying last month?
Dad: What?
Karen: (louder) You thought you were dying last month?
Dad: What? I can’t hear you. Let’s talk when we get to where we’re going.

I pull into the Sisters Espresso…
Dad: (smiling) I remember this place!
Karen: (turning off the car and speaking into Dad’s ear) Did you think you were dying last month?
Dad: I dreamed I was. I was surprised by how painless it was. It was just like going to sleep.
Karen: Do you feel like you’re dying now?
Dad: No. I’m good.
Karen: Good!

I get him his root beer float and hand it to him. He thanks me and begins drinking it. I head the car back to his home. As we pass a field bursting with little yellow flowers (maybe mustard seed flowers?)…
Karen: I love you, Daddy. (I’m not sure he can hear me, but I feel the need to say it.)
Dad: (turning to me) And I love you!

We pull into the driveway and next to the front door, and I help Dad get out of the car and up the stairs. The care-giver helps him get situated in the living room in Mom’s old chair.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you! Thank you!
Karen: Thank YOU!

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“Am I going home now?”

Recent conversations with Dad (Dee Molenaar, aged 99) –

January 6

Karen: Look at all the people here to see you! There’s Joe and Robin and Scott and Pete and Sheila.
Dad: Pete’s here?
Karen: Yeah… right there… (motions for Peter to come up…)
(Pete starts talking to Dad about the drive they took to his home on the Hood Canal a couple months ago…)
Dad: That’s a nice place you have.
Pete: We’ll try to get back there again after the winter.

January 8

Dad’s in bed when I get there.
Karen: Hi, Daddy!
Dad: Hi, Sweetie. Am I going home now?
Karen: You ARE home.
Dad: Oh. Good.
Karen: How are you doing?
Dad: Oh. Well. I was trying to take a breath up to 20. I’d almost done it, too, and then you walked in (starts grinning).
Karen: (laughing) Sorry!
Dad: Where are you going now?
Karen: I need to get home and take care of the dog.
Dad: (nods) Thanks for stopping by! I love you.
Karen: I love you, too.

January 12

Karen: What are you watching?
Dad: The Price is Right. Do you ever watch The Price is Right? It grows on you.

January 16

Karen: Hi, Daddy!
Dad: Hi, Karen. I’m watching lots of wonderful movies here. Movies about wildlife. It’s a series called Planet Earth.
Karen: Oh! I love those shows!
Dad; They’re really good.
Karen: How are you feeling?
Dad: I feel good. How else should I be feeling? I don’t have to do anything but sit here and watch TV.
(The nurse is poking Dad’s stomach and asks him if it hurts.)
Dad: No. Should it?
(Dietrich brings Dad’s mail to me and I hand it to him letter by letter and point out the names of the people who sent them.)
Dad: (Looking at the inscription in the first card I hand him) Elliot and Diane. Have you ever met them?
Karen: I have! They’re wonderful people.
Dad: Yes, they are. (Looking at the next card) The Hardy’s. I was with them when they first met each other on the Juneau Icefield. They’re a nice couple.
(Soon Dad needs to use the restroom. Before he disappears in there…)
Karen: I love you!
Dad: I love you!

January 18
Dad was in his bed, sleeping, when I got to his home. I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and he opened his eyes and said, “My daughter!”
Karen: I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to wake you up – I just wanted to kiss your cheek.
Dad: I wasn’t really sleeping. I just lie here and think.
Karen: What do you think about?
Dad: I think about my travels and my friends and my mountains. I think about traveling around the equator.
Karen: You have a lot of good memories to think about!
Dad: Yeah, I do.
Karen: I just stopped by to say hi, but I’ll let you go back to sleep now. I love you.
Dad: I love you.
(Dad closes his eyes and goes back to his thoughts.)

Reminder to self: Build up lots of good memories now so you have good times to re-visit when you reach your sunset years.

January 21

Karen: Who are you rooting for?
Dad: New England.
Karen: Why?
Dad: Because that’s where the poets come from.

Scott and Dad

Dad and Scott