TW: death, illness
My father passed away six years ago from complications due to Parkinson's disease. My immediate family and I were in the process of relocating back home to the US from living abroad. We rushed back to spend his final weeks with him. He was only 73 years old when he died, but had been living with Parkinson's for over 20 years. Parkinson's disease progresses differently for individuals. For my dad, he was mobile up until almost the very end though his balance was greatly compromised. One thing that deteriorated early was his speech. He had so much to say, but his speech was so slurred with the syllables running sloppily one into the other it was nearly impossible to understand him.
In the weeks leading up to his death, he spent some time in the hospital. At that point, we knew his situation was grave, but it was almost possible to deny this truth and have hope. He was mostly conscious then and even retained a bit of humor. I was keeping him company by his bed and I was keeping up a good stream of chatter. I was talking about the kids, our plane ride, what we ate in Korea, our relatives we spent time with. I sang a lot of songs to him. I surprised myself that all the songs that came out were hymns I used to sing when I was religious. Funny how my soul found comfort in something my head no longer felt.
Maybe he got tired of my yammering, but he started to faintly indicate to me that he wanted to say something. He was vocalizing, "Sss. Sss." I leaned in closely to his mouth and couldn't understand what he wanted. He then made a movement with his index finger, loopy circles on his other palm. I gave him a pen and a pad of paper. All this transpiring over half an hour, an excruciating effort for him to tell me he wanted something and frustrating me while I tried to decipher him.
With the pen clenching in his fist, he wrote a big stroke down. A one? A big stroke over it again. A big one? "What dad, a one? a one something?" I had frustrated tears starting to swim in my eyes, angry that I couldn't understand him. Then he drew a another line horizontally above the "1." Is this a letter T? Again, a darker line interlacing the bar. What starts with the letter T that he wants to say. I was even more confused thinking that he would use the alphabet versus writing something in Korean. Maybe he knows my Korean is hapless at best and doing me a favor so I can understand him better?
Then he made what looked like a loop, but not closed on top. Again. "T...O?" Then underneath it another tall vertical line. And then a determined "O" stuck on that stick. "TOP?"
"Dad, 'Top?' What is top?"
"Sss," he faintly replied.
Then the dense fog of frustrated despair started to dissipate from my head. Then the hilarity of what my dad was writing to me became clear. 7-Up. He wants soda. I ran out of the room to the vending machine, which didn't have 7-Up, so I bought a can of Sprite. My dad wasn't allow to drink anything because he's prone to aspiration pneumonia. I asked the nurse, but I think she knew better than I allowed myself to know how grave dad was. We gave him tiny sips of soda, only wetting his lips, maybe just a few drops of sugary drink landed on his tongue.
He fell back asleep almost immediately. I'm sure he was tired after all that talking and writing to me.
This is actually one of the very last times my father spoke to me. The last was when he was moved to another facility. He said he loved me, as clearly as he could. Clear enough that I could understand. He was brought home for hospice and never really gained full consciousness again.
I dream about my dad from time to time. I always wake up crying because in the dream, he is talking to me clearly. Sometimes he's just telling me how much he loves me. Sometimes it's a short fragment of something he's telling me about. Even in the dream, I know it isn't real. I know I'm having a dream and I want to hang on to the moment. But the more I try, the more I feel myself awaken. I am not spiritual nor religious, but when I wake up crying I feel my dad comforting voice surrounding me.