The passing of my father-in-law

Papa has been in the hospital since he was admitted a week ago. Through the week, the staff continued to work on this sodium levels. They were hovering around 119, and the normal range is 135-145.

This sodium deficiency has been confounding. Tests indicated that his kidneys were ok, and his thyroid levels were ok too. So no one was sure why the sodium was so low or why it was not increasing.

Throughout the week, we would visit before and after work, and Mama would stay all day. She helped feed him and clean him, as he lost the use of his hands more than a year ago (rheumatoid arthritis). Each day, we would check if there was an estimate when he could come home. Each day, we were told it would be many days minimum.

Today, his condition deteriorated rapidly. He was scheduled for an MRI around 10:45AM. His nurse called Rosa at 10:30AM and said his condition was serious and that she should come in. She called me and we agreed that she would go to see him and call me if I was needed. About 20 minutes later, she called me and told me to come in immediately.

Papa surrounded by family
Papa surrounded by family

When I arrived, Papa was partly on his side, propped into a comfortable position with extra pillows. This position helped his breathing – he had been having difficulties over the past week. He was on an oxygen tube. He had been given some pain medication and some medication to calm and relax him. It was clear that it was very serious.

We talked with the nurses and they gave us a booklet on preparing for a family loss. Rosa and I went through part of the booklet and made some agreements on our course of action. I called the Tubman funeral home next door to the Queensway Carleton Hospital and made an appointment for 3:00pm.

And we waited.

Rosa needed to go back to the office to gather a few things, so she left for a little while. The nurse came in around 1:45pm to bring a warmer blanket. When the sheets were pulled back, she said that it would not be much longer, based on the mottled colour of his skin. I immediately called Rosa and said she needed to hurry back.

His breathing was averaging once every 8 to 9 seconds. But with the medications and oxygen therapy, he was actually sleeping much better than he had in a long time. At some point in the afternoon, he closed his eyes, or perhaps Mama closed them for him. He looked more peaceful than he had been in a long time.

Nothing seemed to change for the next hour, so I went to my short appointment with the funeral home. I wrote some notes, and gave the background information to the consultant, but I was anxious being away from the hospital room for any length of time. I hurried back to the hospital after 20 minutes.

Papa’s condition did not change for the rest of the afternoon. Rosa and I discussed what to do. No one could guess how much longer it might be. It could be soon, or it could be the next day. Mama wanted to stay all night if she could.

As the sun set, Rosa and I prepared to leave for supper. She went to the washroom. Mama and I were sitting by the bedside.

Suddenly, Papa’s breathing changed. It increased to 25-30 seconds between breaths. When Rosa returned, I motioned for her to come immediately.

We didn’t know what do to. Every pause in his breathing was an eternity.¬†Papa had a thin chain around his neck holding an icon of the Virgin Mary. His pulse would cause it to flicker in the light.

In about 3 minutes, with Mama, Rosa and I around him, Papa passed away. He took his final breath after 75 years; the chain around his neck stopped its flicker.

I leaned in and whispered to Rosa, “He just passed.”

And then we all started crying.

I went out of the room and told the nurse. She and another nurse each confirmed there was no heartbeat, which is the standard procedure. They comforted us and we comforted each other.

We were very sad, but there was also a sense of release, not for us, but for Papa. He has lived in such terrible pain for years and years. He was free from that now.

Jinduo Wu (Jul 14, 1935 - Nov 26, 2010)
Jinduo Wu (Jul 14, 1935 - Nov 26, 2010)

Two acquaintances from the Institute where Papa and Mama worked in Lanzhou arrived, too late to see Papa before he passed away. They looked shocked and sad too. They talked with Mama for some time, and were near tears. I called the funeral home and let them know about the death.

We asked the nurse if there was anything else we needed to do. She said that the funeral home will contact the hospital and will take possession of the body overnight or in the morning. There was nothing else for us to do. We gathered all our belongings.

And then Mama, Rosa and I left.

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