Good life, good death, good grief – as good an opening line as I can manage.
In all my life I’ve never watched someone die before. It seems fitting, this man who gave me life, was my first.
His passing was gentle, peaceful – no struggle left.
I often had remarks from caring folks who didn’t really get it – commenting that it must be hard for me, as the only child, taking care of my dad’s affairs, helping him with appointments, care etc., hard that I don’t get to share that workload with siblings.
They didn’t understand.
Best part was that I didn’t have to share it, and didn’t want to share that.
I got to do it all.
Not to say it hasn’t been challenging to manage his care in addition to my own life and business – it has been incredibly challenging. But, on a scale of ‘really hard’, it hasn’t been hard at all. Lucky me.
I’d known him all my life . . .
Born on the homestead, 12th of 12 children in SE Saskatchewan, near Outram. His twin sister died at birth. Mild case of childhood polio, farm work, air force, mechanic, foreman, manager, farm machinery dealer. Then he worked for me. I had an opening, in my business in Edmonton – I called him, asked if he wanted to come work for me. He put the house on the market the next day. Property manager, process server, right-hand. The bonus, aside from working with him every day, was that my kids got to see their grandparents so much. He wasn’t much of a storyteller or bounce-kids-on his knee guy. But there was lots of love given and received. My mom died the year I moved back to Calgary 15 years ago. He moved back to Calgary the following year. He retired, moved into a project called Millrise Estates where he determined he would overcome his shyness and get to know people. He knows everyone – more friends than he’s had in his entire life. Lots of great stories.
Yesterday turned out to be a good news, bad news, wait for news . . . and sad news day.
He was so comforted by discussion we had about 1:30PM with the doctor – not sure what was wrong, more tests will clarify source/cause of fluid in his belly and hopefully provide a non-invasive solution. He asked me to pass on his thanks for calls, emails and kind wishes of so many friends and so many complete strangers …
At 2:30PM I returned – brought his some toiletries from home. We talked some more. He was feeling much better, clearer, about what was happening to him and feeling good about the actions doctors were taking. We didn’t talk about worst-case scenarios. We’d covered that so many times before, there was no need.
I left, did some errands. I would call later in the evening to talk with him and get an update from the nurses . . .
I was making dinner – just before 6PM. I got a call urging me to rush to the hospital – he’d taken a turn for the worse. As I entered the room there was a virtual army of equipment and ICU staff attending to him. His blood pressure had crashed, efforts to restore his equilibrium were proving unsuccessful. His weak heart couldn’t pump hard enough to move his blood. There’s more to it all, of course, but it was clear to everyone at that point, his end was very near.
Removing those people, and all that equipment was the right thing to do. In moments, all that noise went away. There was just silence, except for his sounds.
There was life in him, but not much and he was fading fast. I saw him move, in just a few short minutes, from talking to me and knowing what was going on into delirium and then he passed out, probably from the low-blood pressure and insufficient blood getting to his brain. I sat there – he was unconscious, snoring loudly (hey, Kolke men snore!), and then he came to rest, finally. I touched him, held him and kissed him good-bye. At 7:36PM, he was gone.
So many times over the last seven years we’ve had those close calls. So many falls, 3 heart attacks, so many body parts failed, broken, broken down – so many times we’ve been asked by medical personnel if he really wanted that do not resuscitate order. Each time he said, “I’ve had a good life”. He meant it. Not that he was ready to go, but he never had trouble with the idea of letting go, of going . . .
So many scares, so many times, so many talks with doctors about plans, about risks, about the profound seriousness of his multiple medical problems.
Seven years ago we met a fantastic cardiologist when my dad was in hospital (his 2nd heart attack). We were both so impressed by Dr. Greg Schnell that we switched to him. He took us on and followed my dad through the Cardiac Function Clinic at the RockyviewHospital where we visited every six weeks for monitoring and follow up. An aside to me from Greg and various nurses over the years were consistent – we should expect 6 months – 2 years.
Model patient, he followed orders and took prescriptions to the letter.
Seven years was indeed borrowed time.
Well, time is up.
The kindest gentlest man I’ve ever known – a man I’ve known all my life, is gone. Life left him, but he’s not done.
We discussed many times, what’s next?
We had Plan A and Plan B.
Plan A was to donate his body to the University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine. We registered with them in 2011. They use bodies for teaching. Their only concerns were ‘that no limbs or organs had been removed’ and that they have a need/room at the time. Apparently they only need a certain number. For that reason, we also had Plan B, in the event they couldn’t take him. Plan B would be cremation, also pre-arranged through the Calgary Co-op Memorial Society.
Everything I ever learned about work and work ethic – I learned from him. Everything I ever learned about integrity – I learned from my grandfather Edward, as channeled through his youngest son. I could have had no better teachers. Man, father, grand-father, great grand-father, 91 ½. Hubert Kolke, born – July 21, 1922, died – March 8, 2014.
The people of Plan A have been very kind. When I called, even the telephone answering service offered condolences. When the on-call fellow, Calvin, called me back the arrangements were quickly handled. I provided our pre-registered file number. They need some additional data, forms signed etc. I’ll do that Tuesday, Calvin reminded me that my dad’s body and its parts would be used there, not just right now, but perhaps for a very long time . . .
He would have liked that.
I’ll close with a link to his favourite tune by its best performer – Hallelujah …
column written/ published from Calgary
morning walk: 2C / 36F, light overcast, today’s melting has begun – Gusta and I walked the long hill along the cemetery (that seemed appropriate), it’s a lovely morning in our neighbourhood.
Hi Mark, Today’s Musing has hit the mark for me. My Dad is 87 and has been in the hospital since Jan 26. We thought this may be for the final time as he’s been in and out numerous times over the past year. Lung infections (COPD) and bladder infections (full-time catheter) have slowly but steadily sapped his strength. Miraculously, he has responded to the antibiotics again and may leave the hospital on Monday. However the care level at the senior housing is not appropriate now for what he needs so another hurdle of finding a spot in the adjacent building is faced. The toughest part for my brother and I is living 8 hours away and Mom (aged 75) having to deal with everything on her own. You’re in my thoughts, JL, Calgary, AB
We all anxiously await news Mark……god bless, GB, Crossfield, AB
So sorry to hear about your dad. I will be saying a prayer for him..... Bright sun and blue sky today on the beach here. Everyone off golfing but I am just off to the pool and some reading and sun. Some me time that is much needed. Will be thinking about you as you deal with all that there is over the next few days, SC, Fredericton, NB …from Myrtle Beach
You caused me to pause, reflect and think positively about my Dad, Mark. After having been told after his first heart attack (he was gone for 12 minutes before the firefighters and EMS brought him back) that he would be a vegetable and we should think about how long we were going to leave him on life support, as a family we decided to give him a few days. That decision allowed him to pull out his life support stuff in his sleep and guess what? He was around for another 10 years. Grumpy sometimes, balance was off and couldn't drive, but he got to establish a relationship with all his Grandchildren and allow us to witness how powerful faith can actually be. When it came time for him to pass, he was ready, and while sad, we were all prepared to be able to celebrate his life as opposed to bereave about the loss. Obviously it was a huge loss, but our frame of mind was able to deal with it better. At this time, please know that you are thought and prayed about Mark and best wishes as you deal with this. Cheers, Cheers, RA, Calgary, AB
Thinking about you Mark, PL, Calgary, AB
Best wishes, JCP, ?
So sorry to learn of your Dad’s hospitalization. Always so frustrating. Know that he’s in the prayers of many and will, hopefully soon be pain free, BJR, Calgary, AB
I know you feel so helpless at this moment, but I send you a HUG. Sometimes events of which you are now going through, HUGs are a comfort. I hope it has helped, even a tiny bit, NL, ?