Of Life and Death / by Deborah Clague

This post was supposed to be different.

I was going to write about how my father was doing well enough to be discharged from the hospital on Wednesday, June 25. 

I was going to write about how I brought him to one of his favourite spots, Assiniboine Park, and walked him through its conservatory. He sat in a complimentary (albeit faulty) wheelchair provided at the entrance and complained about the lack of regard for those who are handicapped. I listened intently. We both marvelled at the size of the banana tree leaves growing in this faux sub-tropic herbaceous environment. The koi pond reminded us of our adventures backpacking throughout Asia. What a life we've shared! As we both adjusted to our new reality, I was starting to make plans to spend quality time with him again now that he was free of the salmon pink prison. We would visit the new 'Journey to Churchill' exhibit at the zoo. We would travel to Bothwell, Manitoba to purchase some of the world-renowned cheese made in the area. We would finish watching the World Cup...

I should be writing about these things but they were not meant to be. My father had a stroke on June 28. 


Brought back to the hospital, I knew this was going to be different. My father had lost his ability to speak and could barely control the movement and grip of his hands. Feebly attempting to communicate his thoughts and concerns with us through the written word, they came out garbled and nonsensical. Our struggle to comprehend resulted in my dad frustratingly verbalizing the one word we did understand quite clearly: "fuck".

"Fuck", "fuck", "fuck". 

I went home the next morning leaving my father in the care of several extended family members who would take the next shift in looking after him. In 72 hours, I had a total of 3 hours of restless sleep. I was so tired, yet knew my body and mind would not get lost in REM anytime soon. There were too many thoughts racing through my head. Before leaving the hospital though, I did two things: 1) spent 10 minutes vomiting in the washroom and 2) came to terms with the fact that I was about to lose my father. 


The first call came at 1:30pm on Sunday, June 29. My uncle called to let me know that I was needed at the hospital immediately. I braced for the worst but this wouldn't come yet. This would be a different hell. There was no immediate family present and extended members had cornered the doctor delivering a long harangue about perceived incompetence and lack of humanity. When I arrived, I was pulled aside. A decision needed to be made. A part of me always thought I would be the one to request every option. To pull out all of the stops. Someone would have to - would NEED to - save this man; my beloved father, my compass, my rock. I could not comprehend a life without him. And yet…I knew. 

I told the doctor that I had already made a decision but wanted to know one thing - would any treatment the hospital could provide give my father his speech back. I was sympathetically told no. An explanation was given as to the few options available and potential side effects but I zoned out. There was no variable in this situation. The stroke, the extensive internal bleeding that had been going on for weeks, the fact that the cancer had spread to his liver, kidneys and brain…my father's body had been shutting down for awhile and death was imminent. Any treatment we opted for would buy us a few days. Nothing more. I couldn't let my father suffer and in that moment found the strength to inform the doctor to stop treatment. There would be no more chemotherapy. There would be no more blood transfusions. There would only be a promise to keep my father "comfortable" as his body failed him.