Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My dad's Eulogy


Paul Martin Mohammed was born August 26th, 1932 to Faiz and Violet Mohammed, although his mother swears his birthday was 19th of August instead. So our dad had two birthdays that we celebrated. His father died when he was just 24, and his family converted to Catholicism thereby adopting their mother's maiden name – Emmanuel.

Our father became the informal 'head' of the family after that, the man of the house. It's a role he would keep until his death. He would call his siblings regularly to check up on all of them, and whenever there was a problem, his sisters and brothers always called him for advice. He would make it his duty to ensure his siblings were happy, if they needed anything, our dad would do his best to get it done. Even if he was tired or sick, our dad did everything and more for those he loved so dearly.

Our father was a family man. Mom used to say dad never wanted to go anywhere, but then again he wasn't out drinking with the boys either. He used to tell us that mom was a catch that he couldn't let get away, he met her by chance back in 1969, delivering a letter from a mutual friend, and that was it, he was hooked. But he had one small problem – his mother-in-law to be (our late grandmother – Avis Cuthbert) wasn't too fond of him, but she would eventually warm up to him, it only took 29 years.

Mom and dad lived a very simple, relatively happy life. Every year when we wished them 'Happy Anniversary' on February 7th, they would always say 'Oh shucks, it's today?' Which means they forgot every year.

When we were kids, our evenings and weekends were usually spent in the Queens Park Savannah flying kite, playing cricket, baseball or football. Sundays were beach days. Saturday nights were treat nights – KFC or Royal Castle. We did everything as a family.

Dad loved sports, he knew everything about cricket – he would watch every test match, analyzing the plays and mistakes, I always told him he'd make a great coach, but he never took it seriously. He once rang up Sir Wes Hall on the phone when there was a cricket convention in Trinidad and made a few suggestions. I asked him after if he knew Wes Hall, and he said 'Nah, but he seemed like a nice guy'. Dad was bold like that, if he wanted to call up a famous cricketer, he would. No inhibitions.

He was an avid baseball follower, any team other than the Yankees was his favourite. He loved his football, we would try to catch every Barcelona game, he always cried when Leo Messi scored. Sundays was golf, all day. He always got annoyed whenever Tiger Woods won.

Dad cried for sports, he cried when talking about horses and of course his favourite movies. Dad was very free with his emotions as he got older to which mom would say - 'stop being so emotional Paul!'

But his growing emotional side also meant that dad gave the best hugs. We hardly ever cross paths with him just outside the kitchen without being stopped with a “Where's my hug?” followed by a long, enveloping, 'I-got-you-kid' embrace.

Opera was his music of choice, he knew more about all the various composers and opera singers than anyone we ever met. Del Monaco, Gigli, Pavarotti and Bochelli were his favourites. He loved jazz, he was a huge fan of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

Our father lived life exactly how he wanted, he ate ice cream every night, he never worried about diet. We always thought he never worried about anything much, that he was the happiest man alive. But he always worried silently about those he loved.


In the last ten years, dad became a professional practical joker. He started asking cashiers everywhere he went for 'GHD'. At Laughlin & Degannes, they made a service announcement over the PA system to see if there was any GHD in stock. There was none in store, and so when the cashier asked him what it was, dad simply replied 'Grey Hair Discount'.

He rang the bakery department in Tru Valu supermarket and asked for 'space pies', because the pies they were making had more space than meat in them.

Dad once got into a skuffle with a piper (neighbourhood petty thief) over some force-ripe zaboca (avocado) he had bought a week before and when the guy asked him if he wanted to fight over the two new zaboca that dad was claiming as free compensation for bad goods, dad simply replied 'I don't mind'. Dad came home huffing and puffing, proclaiming proudly that he had just gotten into a fight.

He sometimes parked in the handicapped spots if there were no other options available, and proceeded to get out of his car and walk with a limp, much to our distress. He once parked in the VIP section at Piarco airport, putting on a Latin American accent and pretending to be from the Venezuelan embassy.

A few years ago he had to collect a parcel of books at Customs & Excise for mom, when he arrived he was told that the customs officer was on lunch and he would have to wait an hour. He sat down, but got back up quickly, explained to counter staff that he was a heart patient and he wasn't feeling well, could he please get the package now? He was told he still had to wait. So he went and sat back down, and began to make facial expressions (holding his chest) until the customs officer rushed out with food in hand and signed the package to which dad quickly and happily paid the customs fees and left with mom's books. When he got home, he was almost crying as he told the story, as if he had just won an Oscar. Mom was not pleased at all, he just faked having a heart attack.

Our dad loved politics, he watched Fox News all the time to see what 'the Right-wing enemy' was up to. He started calling various talk show programs on TV and radio to argue points about religion and politics. He knew a lot about history and all the various wars. He was our living historian.

One day, he stumbled upon the 'Adopt A Pet' program on Power 102 FM. On that day, when they were trying to find homes for dogs and cats, dad told them he'd like to get a wolverine. He waited about two weeks and then called the show with his greatest masterpiece. He told the host that a few years ago, him and his uncle came back from an African safari, they managed to smuggle a baby elephant in his suitcase, greased the hand of a customs officer and thus brought the baby elephant to Trinidad. The elephant was very happy living under the bed, but now, it had gotten too big, had jumped up on the bed, breaking three mattresses in the process, and now it was so big it couldn't fit out the door. And so he asked the radio hosts, 'what should he do?' He was laughing until he was crying as he related the story to me, the hosts just kept laughing saying 'Caller? Caller?', till they hung up. However, he complained, they hung up just as he was going to tell them that he had eleven ostriches in the yard and the children were pulling their necks and jumping on them like horses.

So if anyone of you have time on your hands, please call Power 102 on a Thursday afternoon and ask about the guy with the elephant, I'm sure dad will have a good laugh.

Dad, I only hope you've managed to continue your great sense of humour in heaven, I look forward to hearing all about it someday in the long distant future.

Thanks to all our family, friends and to all the strangers who contributed to our campaign to help raise funds to recover dad's medical expenses. This was a nightmare for us that we never saw coming. Thanks to all our loved ones for your support at this time, it's been a real source of comfort to us. Thanks to all the doctors and nurses who looked after dad. Dad visited Cuba in 1959, and oddly enough, most of his nurses both at St. Clair and Mt. Hope hospital were Cuban, maybe they were his guardian angels coming to take him home.

The day after dad transferred to Mt. Hope the sky was dark and grey every day, and ever since his death the sky has been a beautiful, radiant blue. I can't help but think that his soul is free, and that he's smiling down on us.

Rest in peace dad. Thank you for everything. We love you.




The worse thing happens to my family

I have not blogged since August. I was in Canada for a bit till the end of summer, then I was in Trinidad for most of September. I returned to Toronto just before October, and then my dad got sick.

It all started October 2nd.

At first we thought it was the mosquito-borne virus - chikungunya. But the tests came back negative. He had fever and stomach pain. He did an ultrasound and CT scans and it was confirmed he had a gallstone and his gallbladder was infected and needed to come out. He checked into a private hospital on Thursday, October 9th, because we honestly thought it was a simple surgery and he'd be out by Monday.

We were wrong.

His surgery went well the following day, although his gallbladder ruptured spreading sepsis throughout his body, and on Saturday, October 11th he started hallucinating, late that night he began having trouble breathing. I flew back that night to Trinidad, only to arrive to find my sister in a panic - dad needed to be moved to the ICU.

At 9am on October 12th, dad was moved to the ICU, where he was diagnosed with ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). He was on a full ventilator. He was sedated as there was a tube down his throat into his lungs helping him to breathe. He was stable, but his lungs were full of fluid. Added to this was the fact that he only had one functioning kidney at 40%, which could complicate matters. The next few days were critical.

My sister and I would go visit him about three-four times daily. He was awake but sleepy. His lung xrays were not looking any better, but he was breathing more on his own. However, any attempt to take him off the machine was futile as he started getting bronchial spasms. The ICU doctor couldn't understand why.

In the meantime we were amassing a huge medical bill. We desperately tried to move him to a public hospital, but there were no beds available in the ICU. We waited. On October 21st, my dad underwent a tracheotomy because the tube was in lungs too long now - eleven days and his throat was inflamed. His surgery was delayed till the evening. It went well and he was resting.

October 22nd - we transfer him to the ICU at Mt. Hope public hospital. We wait hours to see him, the doctors there give us a grim outlook, but we hope that with his new trachea tube that he will recover. Because the hospital is a good distance from where we live we take turns going to visit him. Mom is also not able to visit as she's suffering with chronic pain. It is hard for her to be away from him, to not see him, he's her main emotional and physical support.

On Sunday October 26th, dad is very alert and bright. He was breathing up to nine hours on his own. There is hope that he will be out of the ICU by end of this week.

Monday takes a turn for the worst - a new infection causes his blood pressure to plummet, he goes into cardiac arrest. I wait an hour and a half to see him, he looks terrible. His eyes aren't focusing. The doctors have stabilized him but his blood pressure is very high.

We get the prognosis late Monday night and it really doesn't look good, too many complications.

My mother, sister and I don't sleep a wink that night. Finally at 7am the next day, I get the call from the hospital - dad is slipping, please come as soon as possible. It is at that point that I break down. The sound of hopelessness is a terrible wail, and beyond painful to endure. But it's the only sound I can make.

My sister stays with mom - she needs help walking anywhere in the house. A friend drives me to the hospital. Dad is slipping away, quietly. His blood pressure is decreasing, but the doctors tell me that he is comfortable, he's not aware of what's happening. His kidney is not producing urine, his heart is not pumping blood throughout his body. The machines are keeping him alive, but he's unaware of what's happening. Perhaps that is the best way to go? To slip quietly away?

I pray over him, cry over him, anoint him with holy oil and tell him, the hardest thing anyone will ever say to a loved one, that 'it's ok to go, go home to Jesus, we'll be ok. We love you dad'.

I leave the hospital, and no sooner I reach back home do I get a call from the ICU doctor - dad has passed. October 28th, 2014 at 82 years of age.

We're in shock, family start pouring into our house. How did this happen? What went wrong? We would have to wait a few days to get the answer.

The surgical team has requested at autopsy and after a miscommunication between myself and the doctors about what's the proper procedure, the post mortem gets done on Friday, October 31st. Dad died from a recent heart attack, hypertension, sepsis shock, organ failure (kidneys mainly), fluid in the lungs and severe coronary artery disease. All these things wrong with him and we never knew. He never made a fuss. He was the happiest man alive.

No wonder he was having a hard time recovering from ARDS, his body wasn't able to cope. It was hard to see him with all those tubes and needles in him. This was his first surgery and he didn't survive.

It's been two weeks now since his passing. We're in shock still, but every day we find something to laugh about, something dad said or did, and that eases the pain for just a little bit.

Losing a loved one is never easy and we take solace in knowing that this sort of thing happens to everyone at one time or another. We're also holding on the fact that he's not suffering or in pain anymore.

Time supposedly heals every wound. But we will always miss you dad.

In the wake of his passing, we still owe the private hospital a fair bit of money and we are sorting out dad's affairs, and suddenly life is a rush, suddenly we are dealing with death and life without my father.

And I know, it will never be the same again. I wake up first thing in the morning with the thought 'Dad's not here'

I wonder when that will ever change.