Friday, September 16, 2016
Last week we said goodbye to my father. Even typing the words seem a bit surreal to me. Did it really happen? Yet I know it did, for the hollow ache in my heart tells me so.
I had prayed for miracles through the years and God answered those prayers in amazing ways. My father lived to the age of 85, when by all standards he should have been gone a while ago. He beat odds. He survived quadruple bypass heart surgery, a fall down bleacher stairs at a high school stadium. He made it through several bouts of congestive heart failure, kidney issues and several hospital stays. But on Sunday, September Fourth at 1:58 p.m. that strong heart stopped beating.
I drove to Sewickley hospital that morning knowing Dad was back on the ventilator once again. He'd signed DNR before, but continued to give the "ok" when asked if he wanted to try one more time. I think he was doing it for my family. Always thinking of others, especially my mom, this man would have given his last breath for another.
I knew what my mission was that morning. I'd spent three weeks watching Dad go downhill, then upward. Making it through what seemed to be routine gallbladder surgery that you or I could easily bounce back from, Dad fought a good fight. Yet I knew he was tired, weary, worn out. I saw it in his eyes, those bright eyes so full of life were now telling me another story. "I'm ready," they seemed to say. "Let me go home."
I arrived at the hospital around 8 a.m. And I found Dad to be unresponsive, yet breathing with all the bells and whistles attached to him. Mustering my courage and faith, I began to speak softly to him. I told him it was time to go home. He'd done all he could for us. He deserved his Heavenly reward now. I mentioned to Dad that he had two other children waiting with open arms for him. That my brother and I had been blessed to know him all this time, but now the babies my mother had lost were ready to meet him; ready to love him.
I thanked him for everything he'd been to me, and all he'd taught me. I promised that Mom would be taken care of. I laid my head upon his chest as tears poured from my eyes.
Later in the day, when my mother and other family friends arrived, and it was time to make the decision to let Dad go, I could not stay in the room. I walked to the chapel in the hospital, but it was too dark in there for me. I knew outside the sun was shining brightly. How my father loved the outdoors! So I went out into the bright day, walking around the well-tended grounds of the hospital, looking at flowers, watching butterflies and birds all around me; something my father and I would have enjoyed together.
I found a wooden bench at the front of the hospital, and sat down, raising my face to the brilliant sun. Cardinals chirped cheerfully across the street, though I could not see them, but I knew the sound intimately. Moments passed, prayers continued. When inside my innermost being I heard my father's voice clearly: "The nightmare is over."
Now I must pause and explain. One of my Dad's favorite phrases had always been, "What a nightmare," as he described things that upset him, bills that arrived, hospital visits that were unplanned, and how poorly he'd been feeling lately. But he'd always said it with a sort-of giggle to his voice--a way of making light of difficult situations.
Perhaps a minute or two after I'd heard the voice, I received a text from a family friend asking me to tell her when I was back in the waiting area. I texted back: Why, is he gone?
My father had passed peacefully in that same moment I heard his voice. Always the jokester, I imagine Dad needed to tell me he was free, in that silly way, and goofy sentence he would have known I'd understand. I will never forget that moment. I will treasure God's love and light shining on me as the sun warmed me and the words from my father, now young, now free of pain and grief, tears and suffering echoed in my heart.
I know that somewhere else, my father was also hearing the words: Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant.
Friday, September 2, 2016
We painted small plastic football men with toothpicks. Made a Crystal Radio kit. Spent countless hours trying to understand word problems with my math homework.
We bonded over crafts: pine cone Christmas trees. The doll houses he so painstakingly put together. Would my brother and I please purchase some contact cement for him? Oh, and could we pick up a small can of tan paint? Tan is such a good color for the outside of a three-story miniature home.
Blip, bleep goes the hospital monitors. Whooshing sounds; the ventilator--the most hated and loved of life-saving devices. Drip, drop goes the intravenous fluids. Dad lays there, drifting in and out of sleep. His eyes open for a moment and he waves to us as we stand gathered at his bedside.
Each one of us takes our turn to whisper words of encouragement. His grandson, my son Matt, who tells his beloved "Lamp" as he calls him, that his YouTube fans are sending out prayers and good wishes. This makes him smile. I know it's a smile, for I see those eyes twinkle still yet as Dad hears this. So proud of being in one of Matt's YouTube videos, playing the silly claw machine and winning a Betty Boop doll that the fans went crazy over. Several of the kids liked Dad so much, they even asked for his autograph.
My mother lays her head against his arm. Their fingers are entwined together. Sixty years. A good marriage. I show the kind nurses pictures on my cell phone of Mom and Dad when they first wed; those two gorgeous people in their early lives, so much hope before them.
I pray out loud, offering words of comfort and strength. Dad closes his eyes. He knows the Lord.
The silly names he has called us all through the years float through my mind and the nonsense language he invented. If we were shopping and he needed kleenex, I knew what the word lagogos meant. My son Matt has been Raymond to him, my brother, Matty or Boy. And my own magical names: toots, Tenya, Nice-a Toy. Oh I want to hear those words from his lips right now.
He wanted to talk yesterday, of that I'm certain. Knowing Dad as well as I do, I filled in the blanks for him as I watched his eyes and hands. I tried my best to envision what he might like to tell us all.
The silly hats Dad used to put on when we would be shopping together. Once he donned a type of fedora and pretended to be Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs. A big, tin popcorn can went on his head one Christmas, and he breathed like Darth Vader stating: "Luke, I am your father." He unzipped his postal sweater one evening, singing "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" as good as Fred Rodgers.
He loves Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau movies. War pictures. Funny Farm with Chevy Chase. Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman. I think of the hours we've watched and re-watched these films, able to quote whole scenes from them.
A good life. A good man. Even the nurses tell us this. When asked how he is feeling, they always get a "thumbs up" from Dad. From the little they know of our family story, and the times they were able to actually speak with him, every single person who has met Dad in the hospital says the same thing. What a good guy. Gracious. Kind. So sweet. Yeah, they have a small glimpse of who he is.
Keep fighting, strong man. Know how much you are loved, not only by your family, but by every life you have touched and blessed.