This part is by far the hardest to relive and relate. Thus, I ask for your grace, if it seems less fluid than the rest of the story. After he walked again, my father lived about 6 more months. He caught a virus in September that year and it was strong enough to put him in the hospital. He wasn’t in continuously, but from that point he was in and out a lot. His body couldn’t successfully fight it; he was too worn down by the cumulative effect of his disease. We had gone from a super high with the walking to a super low, as the reality of him “not making it” set in. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, to say the least: sadness, hope, sadness, hope; stress, relief, stress, relief, stress; so many stays at the hospital with the problems only partially solved, if at all. Dad was weak, he couldn’t communicate verbally, he was just hanging on, hoping to make it through again. When one hospital wasn’t doing enough to help him, we transferred him elsewhere.
Thanksgiving with family didn’t happen that year. Mom was at the hospital with dad. I honestly don’t remember what I did with my family unit. It didn’t matter. I was on autopilot, going to work, hitting the hospital or the nursing home on my way home. One night, about 4 days before Christmas, we conspired to take dad to UC’s Emergency Room. My sister was sure they’d do a good job helping him. He only stayed about 24 hours. They told my mom that it was time to move towards preparing for his death, to get hospice or some other pallative care program involved. There was nothing they could do. They, in fact, told her she needed to “let go,” that her expectations of dad improving were unrealistic at this point. Ouch. It was like telling someone to give up hope. Dad was transported back to his nursing home, and we all met with the hospice representative on Christmas Eve while dad lay in his bed, very weak and unable to participate. He looked terrible. I know I held back tears, and my sisters likely did too. We made plans to have our Christmas there at the nursing home, bring all the kids and the presents; it would be his last. All of our children had been around a lot, they knew Pa was in bad shape. They’d been drawing him pictures and giving him hugs and listening to us tell stories, as we sat in his room around him.
And God love him, knowing it would be his last Christmas, and Christmas being his favorite holiday, one where he always played Santa, giving out presents from under the tree, wearing his Santa hat, dad conjured up enough strength to get out of bed. We were all very grateful and joyful that day. And on New Year’s Day, a week later, he was sitting up in bed laughing with some good friends there to visit him for the last time. And we all thought, maybe the doctor was wrong, maybe he’d be okay, maybe he’d pull through again. But he wasn’t being treated for anything at that point and wouldn’t be. The goal was comfort, taking in what food he could, seeing how things went. On Jan. 5th, he stopped eating and drinking, no strength to even do that. He was resting, resting in a way that he hadn’t for 17 and a half years.
I think I was there every day after that. I didn’t want mom to be alone when he passed, and I wanted him to know that he was deeply loved and not alone either. And for all the times he had been there for me, had protected and supported me, I owed him at least my presence in his final days. It was hard as hell to watch him slowly die those last eleven days of his life. It was gut wrenching, when I slept the little I slept those days, I would wake up wondering if he’d passed, but then realized mom hadn’t called, so he must still be hanging on. And I thought of what else I needed to say to him, and there wasn’t anything else. It was just, “I love you, dad, and I’m here for you” on repeat every day. It was holding his hand, gently touching his head, or his shoulder, or his arm, kissing him hello and goodbye, fighting the same sort of tears I have now writing this, until I left and got in my car. He didn’t need my tears. He needed my love and my calm, nurturing presence which I knew how to keep in tact after 17 years of being a therapist. Maybe I had been given all the skills I needed for moments like these. Maybe it was meant to be that mom and dad had raised a treatment team of women to help, to be all the things needed in dealing with a long term, debilitating illness and death. I took some comfort in that.
Dad passed peacefully on the morning of Friday, January 16, 2015, around 10am. Mom was there, but none of us girls. I was on my way and another sister had recently left. Mom said she was sure dad didn’t want any of us to see him die, even though it wasn’t anything he could verbalize. The rest of my sisters were called to come and we hugged and cried and gave dad one last kiss goodbye. His 17.5 years of struggle had come to an end and we were grateful for that, for him to be at peace. We managed to pull off a funeral three days later on Martin Luther King Day. It was beautiful and there were so many people there to pay their respects. Some that I and my sisters had never met came to tell us about how our father touched their lives. And others who we did know, told us things that he had done to help or touch them too. He had made his work colleagues feel safe and protected; he had inspired neighbors with his fighting spirit throughout his whole illness; he had told such great ghost stories when our childhood friends spent the night; he had been a wonderful friend, brother-in-law, uncle, son, brother, supervisor, colleague, neighbor, and resident at the nursing home. Of course he had been, I knew the type of person he was, but it was incredibly touching nonetheless.
My father has left a legacy that continues to grow. He has 14 beautful and amazing grandchildren, ages 1-20, 7 girls and 7 boys. He always wanted more boys in the family and after his death, 4 of those 7 boys were born, two almost on his birthday. I feel his presence often, I feel his guidance and influence in a way I never would have anticipated. And I am grateful every day that I am his daughter.
Thank you for hearing his story.
May your day be sprinkled with HOPE,
Melissa Adamchik, Daughter of William Wambaugh and 1st Executive Director of the Tristate Trauma Network as of 5/19/15 (exactly 4 months to the date from his funeral)