A year ago today my father, Frank Joseph Breen, Sr., passed away from complications of a stroke. He’d been in either the hospital or a home since late April, with no sign of improvement and no real hope of recovery. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t move his left side, and didn’t speak well. He had no control of his bathroom functions, which was a source of great pain and embarrassment to him, yet he’d discuss it loudly and profanely with his family and with the medical staff. He became more disoriented as the weeks wore on and suffered dementia toward the end. He had just turned 77 years old on June 14.
My brother and his family had arrived from St. Louis on Thursday for what we knew would be a farewell visit with Dad, although we had no idea how long Dad might hang on. On Saturday morning, the home called to say Dad was being moved to the hospital because of problems with breathing. By 7 a.m., the ICU nurse contacted me about permission to perform some function that would help his respiration. Dad had told us for years never to prolong any suffering, and he had a “do not resuscitate” order. I confirmed that we didn’t want anything done beyond making Dad comfortable. The nurse suggested his family should come.
Every time my brother visited from St. Louis, Dad always tried to get all four of his children together, preferably with the grandkids as well. It was hard to accomplish. My brother who lives locally has an erratic work schedule, I usually wasn’t available for the big King’s Island hoopla that Dad wanted to throw every time, Diamondqueen had things with her own kids to schedule. It was one of those little gifts of life, and a minor miracle, that all four of Dad’s children were at his bedside when he died. We entered his room in the ICU expecting to be there all of the day and possibly all night or longer; but Dad was gone before noon. I tried to tell him that we were there and rubbed his shoulder sometimes, the way he’d asked me to recently and even going back to childhood. I always had strong hands and a “feel” for giving massages. We watched the various numbers on the screen go up and down while he lay there silently. Finally the numbers plummeted and we couldn’t see his chest move at all. The nurse came in to confirm that he was gone.
It was a relief. He was so miserable from the effects of the stroke. The evening when the stroke had taken him down, he was supposed to have gone out to dinner with several neighbors who were his friends. He was extremely active over the years, even after he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and had a couple visits a year to the hospital to be checked out for abnormal bleeding.
I was glad he was free and out of misery. I was especially happy that his children had been there to see him off. I admit I was relieved that he’d died naturally and I’d never had to kill him, which had seemed a possibility many times during the years when he was violently intoxicated, especially during my teen years when the psychological abuse was so damaging. At the same time, I wasn’t sure until he’d lost all his capacity to move and get around that he wouldn’t kill someone himself, either out of anger or because of drunk driving, although he’d been dry since the late 1980s. There was always an electrical charge of danger about my father, christened The Mad Monk by his co-workers at the Cincinnati Water Works. That he died in such a peaceful fashion was a blessing for everyone–and for him most of all.