After my dad died on March 1st, 2010, one of the things that haunted me was the fact that we called Hospice too late. The point of Hospice, the purpose of Hospice, is that they develop a plan of care for the terminally ill.
I don't know when the perfect time is to initiate contact, but certainly it shouldn't be just a few days before death.
We didn't know.
It was the first instance any of us had spent time - intimate time - with Death.
So we didn't know.
Thursday afternoon, a social worker came to the house to begin the process. He let us know that he'd coordinate all the efforts of Hospice - he'd make sure that any volunteers, health aides or nurses that my dad needed would be provided.
Again, this was all too late for Dad. He'd be dead in days. Our only concern at that point was effectively managing his pain - there was so much pain. Too much.
|My father - in the middle - with his brothers, Pete and Dean, on the porch of House #402, in Greek Town, Hiawatha, Utah|
The Hospice worker explained that he'd begin by collecting information about my dad:
Full name: Anthony George Petrulakis
Place of birth: Hiawatha, Utah.
Date of birth: June 24th, 1932.
Did he go to college? Yes, at the University of Utah.
His occupation? He was a pharmacist. He received his license to practice pharmacy in 1955. The California Board of Pharmacy recognized his 50 years in the profession at their Board Meeting on July 27, 2006.
|Dinner, 1960, Sinaloa Cantina, San Francisco. Tony far left.|
What was Anthony's wife's maiden name? Anna Montzourani.
When did they get married? March 10th, 1962.
Did they have any children? Yes, George Anthony Petrulakis, Nicholas Anthony Petrulakis, and Dean Peter Petrulakis.
Religious affiliation? Greek Orthodox.
The questions went like that for a while. My mom sat across from the Hospice representative, I sat at the table with them, my brothers were in the living room. All of us there, worried about my dad, Dad lying down in the back bedroom.
So much pain.
At some point, the recitation of questions and answers ended. The Hospice worker leaned back in the dining room chair. His hands came together on top of the table. I remember that distinctly, his hands, fingers lacing, resting on polished dark wood.
I thought he was through. That his hands on the table signalled that he was through.
He wasn't through.
Anna, he said, looking at my mom. I just have one more question.
Mom's eyes were wet - they'd been wet all morning. She of course more than any of us had borne the brunt of this struggle with Death. My mom who was so very used to helping everyone else, so very unused to asking for help herself. Death can be brutal on the dying - she's an absolute bitch to the caregivers.
Yes? My mom said, wiping her eyes.
Anna, he said. Does Tony have any regrets?
Are you with me? Because if you're with me you'll realize that this question was an aberration, was so different than the others that it seemed to have been spoken in Greek, not English. Greek, though, is my mom's first language so she understood. Easily. Was able to answer.
She took a deep breath, looked over at my brothers in the other room, across the table at me.
No, my mom said. No regrets.
And the amazing thing? My mom was absolutely right. My father lived for his family, his church, his friends and his work. He'd worked hard - too hard - for too many years. But work was what my dad did. To provide for his family.
Dad's family began with my mom. He loved her more than anyone - more than any of us boys, certainly. And this is said with no offense, no resentment. He loved his boys, yes, but he adored my mom.
Maybe his granddaughters were moving up in the pecking order. Possibly he loved those three girls more than his three boys - no, not possibly but probably - because they were so small and he was so big and he could just enjoy them. Enjoy them with a wonderment that wasn't available to fathers in the sixties.
Regrets? My dad? In all honesty, no.
The question knocked me back on my heels, though. Regrets? I've had a few.
What was I doing wrong, then? If Elizabeth and Kristina had to overhear this conversation in the future, if someone rested his hands on our dining room table and asked my wife-
Karen? Does Nick have any regrets?
I regret not being a better husband, a better father. I regret not being a better son, a better friend.
I regret the the books not written.
Regret not being better.
So the question was an uncomfortable reminder that this is it - and if you're not enjoying it, this full catastrophe of life, if you're not doing your best, right now, at whatever it is that's in front of you--
Then why not?