I’ve had a blessed life. Blessed. That’s the word. How many people can say that their parents married once, didn’t divorce and argued very little around them. Not many. I’m not bragging. I’m just very thankful. I was also blessed to have parents who wanted a child very much. It took them more than ten years to conceive. They really wanted me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child was loved and wanted by their parents?
My dad was wrapped tightly around my little finger. He loved me unconditionally and told me often. His hugs were tight and frequently given. I have very few memories from my childhood without him. As I grew, his love manifested in different ways. He still hugged and professed his love verbally. He watched me closer, though. He watched the boys that came around. When I began to date, he fretted. He didn’t like any of the boys I brought home in high school. He was a smart man. During that early dating period, my dad would wait in his recliner with a loaded shotgun across his lap. Understand, that driving up to my house, you could see my dad, clear as day in the large picture window that revealed our living room. Lights would be blazing all through the house, including the porch light. I’m not sure if he made the boys nervous or not. Even then, boys were sort of arrogant and resented authority. I’ve finally realized that I was the cause of his chronic Rolaids use. Poor man. While he didn’t like any of the boys that I brought home in high school, he had no issues with one of the men I brought home when I was in college. Of course, that one I married. My dad had impeccable taste. I should have listened to him more.
My dad was an amazing father. But he was really in his element as a grandfather. I was almost jealous of the love he had for my son. Almost. My dad was generous with his love and his time. I don’t remember my grandparents. But my son does.
My dad died last September after fighting cancer for over seven years. He had been in an out of the hospital during the last three months of his life. His body was just giving out. During a couple of those last visits, I really wondered if he’d make it out. But on this last hospital stay, I was so hopeful. Our family had already been dealt such a heavy blow. Two days after my dad was admitted to the hospital, my mother-in-law, a vibrant, active 67-year-old woman died from a massive hemorrhagic stroke. We were all in shock. I was doing well to just put one foot in front of the other in the days following her death. Here’s the timeline: My dad was admitted on a Friday night. An ambulance rushed my mother-in-law to the ER late that Sunday. She died on Monday. We delayed her funeral until Friday. We didn’t expect my dad to come, even though both families were close. We delayed so that everyone from far off places could get here. We scheduled her funeral for Friday.
The day before her funeral, the doctors were still running tests on my dad. During the morning hours, he was very sick. But he seemed to rebound in the afternoon. By the time I left, he was looking better. At one point, my mom, my husband, my dad and I were all in his hospital room talking. My dad was feeling a little better, but still looking gray. My husband, who was doing his best to just BE in a hospital room, was nervously chatting away. At that moment, I noticed that my mom looked as if she was ready to cry.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she said to my dad. He was staring at her with a strange intensity. I asked him if everything was ok. He sighed and told me that yes, he was fine, he was just tired.
We left a little later. My mom went home. We went to my husband’s parents house. Everyone had finally made it in for the funeral. Food from our wonderful church family, co-workers, and school friends was starting to arrive. My husband’s dad needed us to help organize and document who was bringing what. I was sick to my stomach. Not because of the food. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that something was wrong. Of course! I told myself. Your mother-in-law just died and your dad is in the hospital! What’s right? I wrote off “that feeling” to normal shock and grief. I promised myself that we would visit my dad again on our way home. His hospital was just down the block from my husband’s parents house.
It was 8:30pm (ish). And I was getting tired. I heard my cell phone ring out in the kitchen. I stepped away from the mass of family, and hurried to answer it. It was my mother, I knew that. I couldn’t understand her though. She was…screaming…no, that’s not the right word. She was wailing. A mournful wail. Finally, I understood what she was saying over and over again.
“He said no. He said no. He said no.”
I asked, “What, what did he say no to?”
“Life support. He’s dying.” I quickly asked her if she was at home or at the hospital. She was at home. The doctor had called her. I couldn’t have her driving like that. I couldn’t have me driving either.
Phone in hand, I turned to the questioning eyes of my husband’s family. I could barely form words. ”She says he’s dying. I have to go.”
My husband ran to our car and said he’d pick her up. My son, sister-in-law and nephew followed us and got in the car with us. I looked over at him, realizing that I wanted to get to the hospital now, not after he picked up my mom and pleaded with him to allow me to just walk, it was only a few yards away. He said no, he would just drop us off then go get my mom.
What we found in my dad’s room haunts me still. My dad, so thin, was trying to get out of his bed, his hospital gown hanging from his body. He was alone and his face was contorted in unimaginable pain. He was gasping for air. I was so angry! Why was he alone? How could the nurses leave him alone like this? Why weren’t they giving him pain medication? Why weren’t they doing anything. Then, a nurse and doctor arrived and answered some of my questions. They hadn’t given him pain meds because that would likely put him under and he wouldn’t come back out. They had wanted to give us a chance to say goodbye. My dad has refused intubation. Pain meds and intubation, that’s all they could do. He was dying.
Have you ever watched someone die? Smother to death? Slowly? From 8:35pm to 6:30 am the next morning, my dad slowly died. The morphine did indeed knock him out. He didn’t wake up again after that. Our nurse explained that hearing was the last thing “to go.” So she encouraged us to continue to talk. So we did. Hoping that he would magically wake up and answer. He didn’t. Though, he did give my husband a crooked smile when he asked him if he wanted us to talk politics for awhile. My dad was always up for a political debate. I asked if he was in pain, the nurses said that the morphine was helping. Helping. So, yes, he was still in pain.
During this time, family and friends came to hospital to sit with us. Hold our hands. Tell my dad they loved him. At midnight, I told my husband to go home and sleep. He was speaking at his mother’s funeral on Friday (this was Thursday, remember). He didn’t want to leave. I had to coax him into leaving. In the end, my mom and I stayed and watched. And though my husband left, he proceeded to call me every hour.
There were no monitors in his room. So at times, we weren’t sure. Was his heart still beating? We could no longer see him breathe. The nurses watched his monitors up at their station. Only they knew exactly when he died.
The last six months have been pretty bad, with a few wonderful highlights thrown in. You don’t lose two very important family members in one week and go back to being “ok” quickly. We’re still working on it. And just when we’re doing well, something, a song, picture, a holiday, will come along and remind us of who we lost and how much we miss them. Then we’re down again. I miss our lives pre-September 2009. For the family reading this, please understand that this is about my dad. Someday, I’m going to write about that sweet mother-in-love of mine. I can’t tell you how much I miss her.
I miss them both. I have hope though. I hope to see them both again in Heaven. I picture my mother-in-law up there organizing activities and being the life of the party. And my dad is strong again, no longer in pain. He has a new body, not one riddled with cancer. I have hope and faith.
I’m glad that we were here. Just a few years ago, we would have been four hours away, living apart from this wonderful family. But, God knew we needed to be here.
Thanks for reading.