It might be too soon for me to try and do this…however, it seems to be the one thing I can do to get out of my head. These past three months (exactly three months to the date fyi) and especially these past six days have threatened to push me to the edge.
I’ve been blogging about my dad’s cancer diagnosis and the savage way it tore through his body in a rather merciless way. I had the blessing of spending many days with him, being his ‘buddy’ once again, like I did when I was 10 years old. Only this time instead of rummaging through junk and eating greasy hamburgers we were waiting in doctor’s offices and ciphering through the medical jargon to find a nugget of hope.
Like we did when I found a random item at JR’s Junk Yard that truly had no worth or value, Dad took whatever news he was given and found the value in it, regardless of it’s supposed uselessness. He told me in the beginning, within weeks of diagnosis, “This is fast growing, Shannon. I just know it.”
Even with that truth within him he held onto the odds that he would beat it, or at least beat it enough to continue living out what he had planned. My dad rarely ever lost in his predictions. Only problem with this one is he predicted his own early demise.
When I came to Sherman this past Wednesday Dad was already in Hospice care at his home. A hospital bed in the study, hooked up to an oxygen machine that sounded like the engine of a 747. (Well maybe a smaller plane but you get my drift. 😉 ) He was still getting out of bed to go to the bathroom, though he had to be helped and used a walker. By the end of the day he couldn’t stand and was in a wheel chair…by the end of the night we realized he would be bed-ridden. All in one day.
Thursday morning mom was distraught, he wasn’t speaking, had a far off look in his eyes that were half closed. We tried to rouse him but he wouldn’t move. We thought for certain he was on his way. After family pictures everyone left and were in the living room. I had stayed behind. I was talking to Dad, and he opened his eyes wide, “Where am I?” he said, confused.
I jumped out of my skin! “You’re at home, Daddy. It’s Thursday. Everyone is here.” I yelled to everyone to come back in the room. We crowded into the tiny study, surrounding my dad’s bed and he told everyone to “Line up and give him a kiss.” He then had the opportunity to say what he wanted to each grandchild and child… even if it was not what they wanted to hear, he still gave his opinion … like “Get your head out of your ass.”
My mom then sat down at his side and he said, “This is the way to go! What is our song?” I knew exactly what he was talking about and I played it. He held my mom’s hand and danced, shaking his feet, wiggling as much of his upper torso as he could. Tears flowed and smiles widened.
Then nearly as quick as he came to he sunk back into an incoherent state. We thought for sure he would leave us that evening while we were sleeping or taking our turns watching over him. Yet he rallied.
The next three days were excruciating. He would come in and out of consciousness, try to talk but rarely could we understand what he said. At one point he did tell me a few things about those he worried about and I assured him they would be OK. By Saturday we noticed a knot on his neck that grew to be the size of a tennis ball by Sunday evening. With each hour his pain intensified and we begged Hospice to come back and help us figure out how to get his pain under control. I couldn’t take moving his legs and him crying out in pain, or my mom touching his head and him screaming.
Hospice care were angels. They came immediately, stayed until we had what we needed. Assured us all the signs we were seeing were normal, especially as they near death. As we took care of him through the night we each made sure to tell him it was OK to go. But yet again he continued to rally. He’d try to speak more and more towards the very end but we simply couldn’t understand him, unless we moved him to change him and he was very clear, “Oh God help me!”
I told him if he could muster the energy to speak that clearly when he was in pain then he could try again if he had something important to say. That isn’t me being mean…it is what he’d say to me. 🙂 Occasionally we each had the blessing of hearing him reply “I love you too.” When we expressed our love. That’s all we needed and I’m sure he knew that.
In the early morning hours of my shift during Monday morning, Christmas Eve, I sat with him as his breathing seemed to change. “Dad, please don’t die on Christmas day. It is so hard for us to see you in this pain,” I begged him. “Think about everyone who is waiting for you. Your dad and mom, Uncle Garnet, all of your friends you’ve lost. You can do so much more for us in heaven than here on earth. You can pray for us.” I sang him a song I sang to my kids when they were little “You are Near” and then I sang the first verse of “Amazing Grace.”
He moved around a bit but nothing else. Then I told him, “I’m going to leave you alone just in case you want to go while I’m gone.” But he remained through my shift and well into the morning. However, he was less ‘present’. We all decided to let him be. Taking turns to check on him, give him his meds, say a few words. But we figured he wanted that time because he certainly would always have the last say.
However, just before 4:30pm my sister, Dustie, said she was looking at pictures of Dad and had this weird feeling. She went to check on him and she said his throat made a gurgling sound she had heard only one other time in her life. It scared her because she didn’t want to be the one there when he went. She poked her head out the door and hollered for me to come into the room. I dropped everything and ran in their to see his face had gone white and his eyes fixed. I immediately put an arm around my sister who was already lost in her tears of sorrow, and at the same time a hand on his chest.
“Thank you, Daddy.” I said and then with one one last breath that rattled his lips he was gone. Dustie couldn’t understand why she was the one in there, why she felt what she felt to go see him at that very moment. I assured her that was a great gift that he gave to her. My mom had been on the phone which is why she didn’t get her attention and so I poked my head out of the study and made it clear to my brother in law what had happened…he told her gently. She came into the study and we left her alone with him.
I’m still in shock I’d say. My dad asked one thing of me when this all began and that was to help him get done what he needed done and to be a support to my mom. I had my moment alone with him. I held his still warm hand and finally allowed tears to flow. But I know it’s only the tip of the ice.
I’ll miss him on a random Saturday when I don’t receive his usual call either to or from ‘work’ (aka: The Casino) asking about my life and wanting to give me advice whether or not I was seeking it. I’ll miss him when I do need that advice and I will have no one to call (that is as smart as my dad)…I’ll miss him at my 5th Anniversary Gala for Hopeful Hearts Ministry when he would always show up to support me and the cause, the first to help with what was needed to make my vision lasting and solid. I will miss him.
But what is most profound to me is that the Lord took him in this season of Advent. My dad fretted often in the last three months about the things he’d done wrong in his life, the mistakes he’d made, the bad decisions he never rectified. Much of it he didn’t divulge in detail but some of it he did and maybe, as his daughter, I shouldn’t have been privy to it…but I also understood the gift in that intimacy of revelation. I knew he needed to know the Lord loved him no matter what. That there was nothing he could ever have done to make God love him less. In the end he asked me to make sure he had the opportunity to speak with a priest and he did which it wasn’t long after that he faded quickly.
For the Lord to take him and bring him home into his everlasting life during the season of Advent, of new beginnings, does not lose it’s profound meaning with me. For a man who didn’t fear much but feared not having what it took to be in God’s light… God took that fear and crushed it with His promise, bringing my father home just at the time of the celebration His son’s birth and the promise of his everlasting love.
Now I will see Christmas in a new light. The light of His truth. Receiving and believing the promise of what the Word becoming flesh signifies. Everlasting life. Amen
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL.