William H. Schmidt
June 6, 1924 - May 25, 2011
It is hard to believe, and harder still to write about, seventeen days after losing Dad. The final two weeks were difficult enough: two trips to the emergency room and then the slow slide that ended in his death. He was, I have no trouble saying, the love of my life.
Those final weeks presented us with three falls. Two were when he was unattended (rare times, those) and once was during the night when I was helping him onto the portable toilet. He began to fall and pulled me with him. As he fell, I swung him around so that he would, at the very least, land on the soft bed. Instead, not quite able to complete the arc, his face hit the bed post instead. He was unhurt.
I was out mowing when I saw Mom approach, leaning on her cane, motioning me to come. The visiting nurse has talked with our family doctor who advised - because Dad's potassium levels were low - to get him to the emergency room as quickly as we could. After hours there, Dad was admitted at Sycamore Medical Center in Miamisburg, for the final time.
It was a slow and steady decline from that point forward, six days of pure hell. Mom, Bob and I would sit by the bed while Dad half-slept, was half-comatose. His eyes were usually partly open. He'd talk to us at times. Sometimes he made perfect sense; at others times he was in a dream-world. Once he said, "Oh, I'm hallucinating".
On the evening of May 24 he was moved to Hospice of Dayton. It was late before the move was made, probably 9 p.m. Rather than ride along (Dad was no longer conscious), we opted to wait for the next morning. Bob was working while Mom and I visited from about 10:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Bob was to come after work, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
As Mom and I sat there, Dad seemed more peaceful than ever. He breathed slowly. Towards the end of our stay his breathing changed, a little noisier, but it was never labored. A doctor (Dr. Schmitz of all names) and assistant came in and examined him. Dad was limp, made no response to their touch. They looked at his arthritic hands, his emaciated stomach. There was nothing more to do but wait.
I left the room on purpose so that Mom could be with him alone. A nurse showed me where the snack bar was and I returned perhaps ten minutes later. Mom told me later that she told Dad it was OK to go, his suffering was over. She does not know if she said it out loud or merely thought the words.
When we left, she hesitated. "Do you think we should stay?" she asked. "I don't think he'll last much longer."
But we left because I didn't think death was imminent and because I would not have wanted to be there anyway. I would not want someone there with me; neither would Mom. We got home about 3 p.m.
As I was eating a quick lunch, the phone rang at 3:15 p.m. Dad died at 3 p.m. We both broke down sobbing. I cannot think about it even now without having tears pour down my face.
We had Dad cremated per his request. Mom and I will follow in the same way. We have a grave and a tombstone at Hill-Grove Cemetery in Miamisburg but, for now, the cremains will remain here. We had no visitation, no service, again in accordance with Dad's wishes and the choice of all of us.
On Memorial Day, I cut a small rose, still in the bud, and placed it atop Dad's wooden box. We have him on the dresser that Mom and he got for a wedding gift in 1945. They had been married 65 years last November. I kissed the edge of the box and said simply: "I love you, Dad."
I can hear his response in my mind, as clearly as I heard it every night when I put him to bed.
"I love you, too," he would say, always emphasizing the "too".
Those were the last words he said to me at the hospital, at about 7 p.m. on May 24, 2011. They will echo in my mind forever. How can I go on without this sweet soul beside me?