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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Madland: Death and the holidays

I'm writing today to impart some holiday wisdom gleaned from waiting for my father to die.

Every day for the last two weeks, members of my family have spent many hours gathered around Dad's bedside at Agrace Hospice in Fitchburg.

Dad has had a rough year, and I don't know if he's going to make it to see 2014.

That's a long story, which I won't go into now, except to say that the people and the facility at Agrace are both topnotch. Dad, who has advanced dementia and a host of related health issues, is finding peace for the first time in many months.

The staff and volunteers have done all they can to make him comfortable. We kiss him and hold his hand. We sing to him, and tell stories, and have family feasts in rooms designed for families like ours to gather. We've watched the Packers win two games without Aaron Rodgers, which reminds us that miracles do happen.

All his siblings took Amtrak from the East Coast to gather around and say goodbye to him. Our childhood priest has come to pray with us.

Sometime between two and four in the afternoon, the cookie lady comes and offers us coffee, tea and homemade cookies.

It's been so hard to watch a man move from being vital and articulate to being bedridden and speechless. Our loss feels personal and acute. Yet all around this place, people are enduring and waiting and smiling. Here I know that everyone is losing someone. And it's strangely comforting.

I feel blessed.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, try to notice and appreciate the people around you. Someday they might be swabbing your dry mouth or changing your diaper. Or you might have to do that for them.

Say what you need to say now, before it's too late. I realize I have so many questions for Dad that he can't answer anymore.

It sounds trite to say "be present," but this situation makes it so obvious that it's all we have.

Be here now.

Notice that we live in a community brimming with givers, people willing to bring you a cookie, hold your hand or bake you a casserole. When people offer to help, take them up on it.

And we should all thank those caregivers who provide for our loved ones -- especially the ones who work on holidays. I've watched my dad's nurses and CNAs stay cheerful and loving through some really difficult maneuvers. Bless them, one and all.


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