Packing for a Funeral

The last few months have been pretty crazy, and the fall always seems to get even busier. Brooke and I just finished our annual film feast at the Toronto International Film Festival and have been looking forward to a vacation for a long time now. We’ve both been so busy that we had hardly done our usual amount of pre-trip planning. But we had booked hotels for six of the ten nights we’d be in Belgium and Luxembourg, and we’d arranged a rental car as well. Things were complicated by the fact that my Dad was taking his annual trip to see his family, first in Ireland and then in Spain. He’s recently become the owner of a new cat (not quite a kitten but still under a year old) and so we made a deal that I’d watch Marmalade for the first week and then drop him off at a local vet for boarding. That made the end of TIFF a little crazier than usual and we’ve been scrambling this week to get things finished at work and prepare for what we hoped would be a relaxing trip abroad.

And then I got an odd Facebook message from my aunt in Spain. She said my uncle and aunt in Dublin had reported that my Dad wasn’t doing too well. Over the past few months, his health has been deteriorating. He’s been a lifelong heavy smoker and about a year ago, I began to hear a lot of wheezing in his breathing. Always reluctant to go to the doctor, he finally had to earlier this year because the over the counter asthma “puffers” he was using weren’t working anymore. As we suspected, he has emphysema and received stronger medicine to help him breathe. But he hadn’t given up smoking.

I’d noticed his activity levels really dropping off recently as well. He used to go out for beers a couple of times a week, but was talking about giving that up, at least during the oppressively hot weather we had been having this summer. But the last time I saw him, about a week ago, he told me he’d fallen after getting up too quickly, and was feeling banged up. He had no energy and was a bit worried about having to travel overseas in a few days. When I got my aunt’s message, I thought that the stress of travelling had been more serious than any of us expected, but that he’d recover after a few rest days.

This morning, however, I had another message from her, that he’d been admitted to hospital with breathing problems, and that I should call my uncle in Dublin right away. The rest of the day has been a bit of a blur. I left work early to go to his apartment so that I could take Marmalade to the vet. While there, I missed a message from a doctor in the ICU unit. Things are more serious than they seemed. He’s on a ventilator and has been intubated to help him breathe. My uncle says he wasn’t even conscious. My cousin who’s a nurse says that once someone is put on a ventilator, there is little chance of coming back to any measure of health. The doctor asked me about what decisions we’d discussed in case he went critical.

So, our planned trip to Brussels on Friday now has a detour to Dublin, and I’m packing a suit, just in case. This is surreal, but I’m also comforted by the fact that he is surrounded by his family, who are taking the very best care of him. In many ways, I feel he might have unconsciously been just waiting for a situation where someone else would take care of him. If this is the end, I feel okay with that. But right now I’m anxious. And I feel disappointed that Brooke, who more than anyone needs a vacation, will have to come along on a not very happy journey with me.

I don’t know what the next few days will hold. I’m not sure we’ll see much of Belgium. But I feel like I wanted to write something down about the way things like this happen. It feels very odd throwing my nice shoes into a suitcase and hoping I don’t need to wear them. And I feel a bit angry about having to alter my plans and spend more money just to be with him, and then I feel guilty for being angry. I know that however this turns out, we’re going to need a vacation more than ever.

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