Thursday, May 23, 2013

Passing of a great man

Ray wrote this shortly after the passing of Jay Richardson:

I was present when my father, Jay Richardson, peacefully passed away in his home on the morning of May 30, 2011.  It was the first time I have ever seen a person die.  He was surrounded by my mother and 8 of his 11 children.

Summary of my impressions:
* A tribute to my mother's wonderful care of Dad.
* Dad had a great heart!
* Watching a righteous man die was a beautiful moment.
* Tough to accept inevitability of death.
* Dad's influence will be even stronger with us now.
* God's ways are not man's ways.
* Dad ALWAYS brought us together.
* One regret, mended by the power of music.

More in depth impressions from the events that passed:

* Dad died directly from the effects of Alzheimer's Disease. In the end, his brain was so full of tangles that it literally stopped telling other organs how to eat, how to drink, and how to breathe.  Typically, people with Alzheimer's die from some other cause, such as from a bad fall or from pneumonia.  But Dad was cared for so well by Mom that none of these other things happened to him, instead he died in the most natural way possible.  Mom's decision to care for him to the end was also truly inspiring.  She lovingly kept him at home, performing many hard tasks and accepting the psychological effects on herself, instead of choosing an easier path of having him stay in a care center.

* My Dad proved that he had a great heart literally as well as figuratively!  In the end, it kept beating long after the rest of his body shut down.  Even after going 3 1/2 days without food and water, his heart kept going strong. This was unexpected since he had experienced a heart failure almost 2 years ago and was given a pacemaker at that time.  We always knew that Dad had a great heart figuratively (full of love for others) but he proved it literally too. I learned that heart failure actually often does not result from a bad heart but from other causes too. (We wondered what the pacemaker would do as he neared death. Research shows that the pacemaker only works as long as the heart does so it doesn't prolong or shorten death.)

* I had mixed feelings about facing death. On the one hand I wanted to be there when he died to show my love and support, but on the other hand I really didn't want to be there.  It all sounded scary, plus morbid to be waiting for him to die, but in the end it was a peaceful passing.  In the end, the way his heart kept beating for a long time, we really couldn't say what moment he died.  This was an incredibly beautiful way for Dad to die, with a calm and orderly transition into the spirit world, where we are sure that he was greeted by many loved ones, especially my two baby brothers who died in infancy.  We also are sure that he was greeted by the Savior who told him, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!"

* We literally could have kept Dad alive.  It was the hardest thing for me to see him there, going without food or water day after day, and to realize that if we had Dad in a hospital, hooked up to IVs, we could have prolonged his life for a short time.  But my mother felt strongly that it would serve no purpose but selfish ones for us to keep him in such a state.  In the end he would have been a vegetable, and still would have died soon from further Alzheimer's complications. We had discussed this before, and agreed that this was best, but when it came to the moment where he had been not eating or drinking for 3 1/2 days, it was very hard to stick with the plan.  But mom knew what Dad wanted and made the courageous choice to stick with the chosen path.  At any rate, it was comforting to realize that in the end, he did not die of starvation but of other causes.

* It made me smile to think that the last thing Dad could digest was ice chips.  Just days before he died, he had no problem chomping on ice.  As a dentist, he had often warned how bad ice was for your teeth!  If he was aware of himself, he probably would have spit out that ice!

* For some reason, I kept thinking about the death theme prevalent in the Star Wars movies.  I could totally relate to Anakin Skywalker's declaration that he would figure out some way to conquer death.  I felt the same way when I felt determined to keep Dad alive even though it didn't make sense anymore.  It's nice to realize that Jesus Christ is the only person who did figure out how to conquer death.  We love you, Jesus, and are thankful for your sacrifice on our behalf so that we will live again!

* The other Star Wars analogy I was thinking about: Obi Wan Kenobi declared to Darth Vader that dying would just make his influence more strong than it had ever been.  Similarly, now that Dad has passed on, we are free to remember him for all the great things he taught us and hopefully to feel the influence of his spirit encouraging us to be the best we can be.  His poems will forever influence us.  This is the way I will think of Dad, not as the Alzheimer's patient that couldn't remember anything anymore.  The force will be with us -- always!

* In matters of life and death, God has His own timing.  Family members learned that lesson while Dad took several more days to die than we thought he would.  (Talk about mixed emotions! Not knowing whether to hope Dad would die sooner vs. later.)  It proved to be a frustration when he didn't just die according to our timing, but God has His reasons.  We were blessed to have Dad a little longer, to give us a chance to think more about the purpose of life.  In the end we felt very fortunate that Dad died when he did, because there was a very narrow window of time when all family members would be able to be present (from literally around the world) for the funeral and burial.  We were blessed to also have many extended family at the burial due to prior plans for a family reunion.  It was a wonderful thing to have mother, all 11 living children, and 49 of 64 grandchildren at the funeral!

* Dad seemed to bring us together in all that he did.  Whenever we would ask what he wanted for his birthday, he always replied: "A happy family!"  He brought the family together for several years as we dlearned to care for him and really learned to work as a team.  Similarly, his passing really brought us together, both in the last days of intensive care, and in carrying out a beautiful funeral. Now we'll count on his help from beyond the veil.  Thanks Dad!

* My one regret is that we didn't get a moment to talk to him plainly in his last moments, to tell him that we loved him and that we'll miss him.  But then again, we got lots of these kind of moments over the past several years where we shared our love for him and felt his love right back.  Just before he died, there were special moments when he gave mother a kiss and another when he showed joy at our singing "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" -- that was his spirit shining through to tell us that he loved us too!

Background story:
My Dad has suffered with Alzheimer's Disease for the past several years.  It first became noticeable in April 2007 although he showed small signs of memory difficulties for a few months before this date.  Mother chose to care for him at home for the next 4 years, which proved to be a challenging task and a true labor of love.  Several milestones occurred as his condition worsened.  In particular, his care became much more difficult in September 2010 and a plan was devised for several people to visit each day to help take care of Dad.  

On Monday, May 23, we noticed a couple of changes in my Dad. The hospice nurse came on a regular visit and surprised us with the declaration that he was beginning the journey towards dying and that we needed to be prepared for him to die sometime within the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday was what is known as a "rally day", a day where the dying person rallies enough strength for one more day of alertness before quickly deteriorating in death.  This proved to be the last day where he was awake for most of the day, although deep in the haze of Alzheimer's, he could not really respond to our visits with him.  I was asked to give him a blessing.  I felt prompted to say that he had a few days left -- although at that moment it really seemed like he would die very soon.  I spoke of finishing the work left for him, which I believe was to bring us together as a family one last time as we served him.  I declared that he left a great legacy as one who faithfully lived according to God's will.

The next several days, several family members felt the urgency to assist with his final care.  Amy and I both had people at work who allowed us to take time off as needed much of the week.  Miriam (a nurse) came from Iowa on Tuesday, Melvin (a doctor) came from Utah on Wednesday, and Ken (a doctor) also came from Utah on Thursday.  Their help was invaluable in these last days of care for him, as we became overwhelmed with all the tasks of caring for him.  Rauna and Marlene (in town) came often to help too.  The first scare came on Wednesday afternoon as Dad suddenly experienced apnea (long periods of time without breathing).  After this, we decided to stay with Dad around the clock, stationing at least one person by his side by taking shifts throughout the night so that we could care for him and administer medicine as necessary.  Dad would hold a hand offered to him, although the grip weakened day by day.

As the days continued with Dad still with us, we enjoyed our time together with him and each other.  There were a few things that we would quickly step out of the house for, but we would hurry right back to be with Dad again.  We spent so much time together that we called this week "Family Camp"!  Grandchildren called and stopped by, leaving touching thoughts as they said their last goodbyes to him.  We were fortunate to have two of our missionaries call and talk to him from Chile and Bulgaria.  We also did some planning ahead for the funeral and tribute talks, and really enjoyed looking through lots of Dad's inspirational writings. But these were also emotionally difficult days for us, not knowing if his next breath would be his last, not sleeping or eating well, and trying to figure out what to make of the situation -- his body was shutting down, but his heart was still going strong.  There were a few things that we would quickly step out of the house for, but we would hurry right back to be with Dad again.  Mom's church friends were kind enough to bring food to us, as we certainly didn't feel like preparing food.  A sober moment was when my brothers and I went to buy new temple clothes for Dad to be buried in.

There were a couple of moments of greater clarity for Dad that week. One time on Wednesday he perked up and gave mother a hug and kiss.  Another special moment came on Thursday morning.  We sang "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" (a beautiful hymn with barbershop-style harmony).  Dad surprised us by clapping his hands when we completed it. This was truly remarkable since he was deep in the haze of Alzheimer's Disease and had not really responded much for weeks.  We sang it again and this time he even said something like "That's good!"  Later that morning Ken was asked to give him another blessing.  He gave a powerful blessing, blessing Dad to enter his rest as his work was now complete.  He declared that God would soon say "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord!"  He foretold the work in store for Dad in the spirit world, in particular to perform a great work as a missionary.

We learned all about caring for a dying person.  To help alleviate the pain, we were able to give him morphine as needed.  When he stopped ingesting food and water, his lungs and throat began to fill with fluid, leading to a scary sound known as the "death rattle".  We were able to use medicine to dry his throat so that he would not literally die of drowning.  It surprised me how many times we needed to clean him, even after no more eating or drinking, as his body kept removing toxins.  We also turned his position to avoid bed sores and help with his breathing.

Dad slept non-stop from Thursday around noon until Sunday evening, going without food or drink.  As the time passed, we kept wondering if death was imminent.  But Ken noted Dad's strong heart and shared his insight that Dad wouldn't die on demand, instead passing away possibly when we least expected it -- so we should just relax.  We were certainly given lots of time to think about mortality and God's ways.  Sunday evening Dad surprised us by suddenly opening his eyes for two minutes, but it was a stare with the look of a man who was no longer present anymore. The family slowly gathered. Margie flew in from Korea to be with us.

Then on Monday morning, he opened his eyes one last time.  Mother sat next to him and held his hand.  He then closed his eyes and took several deep breaths about 20 seconds apart.  He then stopped breathing entirely.  We quickly called our siblings who weren't present that this was probably the end.  His heart continued beating faintly for quite a while after his breathing stopped.  My sister Amy took his passing the hardest, finally sobbing uncontrollably on his chest as it became clear that this was the end.  But then peace prevailed again.  Even 20 minutes later my brother detected a heart murmur, but eventually that was gone too.  We didn't want this moment to pass, but we took turns holding his arm, feeling his warmth, and giving him kisses even though he had now passed on.  Joann arrived from Ohio just a few minutes after he passed on, but also enjoyed a few moments with him.  It was a peaceful passing of a giant of a man.

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