North Carolina, December 2008

December 25, 2008.

Sarah and I went back on forth on where to spend Christmas this year: I liked the idea (stolen from a former co-worker) of Robert waking up on Christmas morning in his own bed; Sarah liked the idea of sharing Christmas with the larger family. We made plans to fly to Atlanta for Christmas but those plans were side-lined by bad news.

My dad had not bounced back as expected from a chemotherapy treatment early in December. He was not feeling well and further tests showed the cancer was resurgent and causing problems with his bile duct. While plans for surgical treatment were being worked on, he felt bad enough to ask to be taken to the ER on December 21st. Steve picked up my mom and dad and drove them to ER that afternoon.

We changed our plans and headed down to Boone where he was in the ICU. We had a subdued Christmas but Robert was still ready to open presents at dawn; I think both Robert and Aaron enjoyed having some younger company. December 25, 2008.
December 25, 2008. December 25, 2008.
December 25, 2008. December 25, 2008.
December 25, 2008. Steve, Helen and Aaron normally head to Atlanta for Christmas, usually spending the morning with Loren, Susan and their crew (along with my folks) then heading to Helen's family in the afternoon. So this was the first Christmas they had a tree in their house -- Aaron did a great job decorating it.
There were a couple substantial gifts this year: Aaron unwrapped a Wii Fit and Robert unboxed a guitar that is almost his size (he can grow into it a bit more). December 25, 2008.
December 25, 2008. December 25, 2008.
December 25, 2008. December 25, 2008.
December 25, 2008. After the traditional morning unwrapping session, we headed in to the hospital to wish Daddy a Merry Christmas and follow the ambulance which was to take him "down the mountain" to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. That was a move to a much larger hospital where they planned to check on the possibility of installing a stent to open up his bile duct. They also had him in an acute room there, a step down from the ICU in the Boone Hospital.
After he was settled in, we came back to Steve, Helen and Aaron's house. Another of the fun gifts was a huge collection of Helen-made tiles for Aaron, who likes to build elaborate domino structures to knock down. But he never had enough dominoes before -- he does now! December 25, 2008.
December 25, 2008. The stent operation turned out not to be an option. Before the doctors could come up with another plan, my dad made up his mind that a week of hosptitals was enough: he was ready for hospice care and wanted to return to Steve, Helen and Aaron's house. He was very clear and calm about his wishes and I was amazed at how quickly the hospital helped discharge him (I was expecting lots of push back from the doctor's but they were very supportive and helpful).
He was comfortable enough that first night back to open a few presents. We all tried to recapture some traditional Christmas spirit but it was hard. December 27, 2008.
December 27, 2008. December 27, 2008.
December 27, 2008. My dad got to spend some time enjoying the view out the big living room windows before he lost interest in that. And there was enough time for visits from family and friends. He remained calm and alert for about two weeks; gradually eating less, drinking less and sleeping more. While there were some exciting times (including a couple more trips to the ER), the hospice folks and the St. Luke's Church community really made his last weeks as comfortable and comforting as possible.

In the end, we all thought the walks "around the block" in Seven Devils had strengthened his heart to the point that it probably kept beating a little longer than he needed it to. He died peacefully early on January 12th. The hospice folks turned us over to the care of the St. Luke's community and they were very helpful and supportive. There are not enough good things to say about Cyndi Banks, the rector there.

The memorial service was on the 17th. Steve and Loren both did great jobs with remarks. Cyndi's Homily showed a very deep connection with and respect of my dad. And in a tribute to his personal tastes, several of members of the men's group wore shorts in the 20 degree weather.

After the service, we were piped outside to the memorial garden where my dad's ashes were laid to rest. We poured a little Laphroaig (my dad wouldn't want us to waste too much) on the ground before being piped into the Great Hall for a reception that again spoke of tremendous love and respect.

January 15, 2009.
January 18, 2009. January 18, 2009.
January 18, 2009. We took advantage of having far flung family and friends together with a brunch the next day before most folks started to disperse. Robert, Sarah and I came back to DC and some degree of "normal" life, but there is something missing for me. I'm sorry that Robert will have to settle for experiencing his paternal grandfather through my pale reflection of him. Perhaps as he learns to read Robert willll be interested in some this collection.
The Williams boys and their extremely supportive and helpful families are now contemplating what our mom would like to do in this next phase of her life. January 18, 2009.

Vacation notes: