My Father’s Beautiful Death

Hospice care gave him a dignified transition. I wish more black people knew about this option.

Madison Gray Sr. in 2010 (Courtesy of Madison Gray)
Madison Gray Sr. in 2010 (Courtesy of Madison Gray)

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But the visit proved to be too much for him, as simply staying awake seemed to take all his strength. My mom and my sister had been his primary caretakers for the past year. They had helplessly watched him slide further into weakness. They were almost as exhausted as he was, but “Hey, it’s Daddy,” my big sis said. The two women shared the duty of his day-to-day care, but they knew of an inevitability that I had not spoken of with my brothers or my oldest sister.

I walked out of the hospital room with my mom and my girlfriend, who was tearing up. It all reminded her of her own father’s passing two years before. My mom threw her arm around her shoulder, but had every expectation that I be as stoic as possible. I was a man, after all.

Sometimes, however, manhood means showing love. I went back into his room and hugged him, and kissed him on the forehead. He grinned and laughed a bit, then drifted back to sleep.

It was the last time I would ever connect with my dad.

One month later I was back, this time diverting my previous travel plans because my oldest sister told me that I should get home as soon as possible. She had already traveled back into town to be with him. Having worked as a geriatric nurse, she had the wherewithal to ask the hospital one important question: Is he a candidate for hospice care?

The answer to that was yes. And it meant that he didn’t have long.

“He’s waiting on you,” my brother told me, as I packed my bags. Then it dawned on me: This man who raised a family, who served his country in war, who opened a successful business, whom everybody in Detroit knew in some way, who had been the picture of virility when his friends were becoming feeble at much younger ages — this man’s number was finally being pulled.

“Goddamn it. How am I supposed to deal with this?” I selfishly muttered.

Saying Goodbye

When I got to Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care, a wing of the Detroit Medical Center’s Sinai-Grace Hospital, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought there would be a cloud of sickness and moaning, death singing its morose fugue. But that wasn’t it at all, much to my surprise.