My dad would have been 65 years old today. It made me stop for just a few seconds and wonder what he would’ve done these past 18 years here on earth that he has been absent. But just a few seconds. No sense dwelling on what would never be. What is the point in that? It would just reap a harvest of sadness where acceptance has been resident and I’m not about to evict that occupant.
The day I arrived at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical center relieved that my dad was still alive but slightly horrified and unprepared (even though my mom warned me) at the condition he was in was the day things began to change for me. I was staring death straight in the face for the very first time and it put a reality in my heart that was not there before. Death truly was real. I believe that although I couldn’t recognize symptoms of anxiety or remember having any at the time that this was where the seed was planted in my life. The seed that eventually grew into a monstrous vine that entangled me, bound me and laid me flat.
My dad continued to hang on to life after I arrived. Days passed as he was in and out of delirium. One of his closest friends from Alaska had flown out and day after day we sat vigilantly keeping watch. We talked to my dad and I sang to my dad. We ate bad pizza, drank vending machine soda and wearily met each day wondering what it might behold.
Since my dad had been in the hospital quite frequently and for long periods of time over the course of his treatment the staff had a fond attachment to him. The day after I arrived my dad crashed and the nurse who he affectionately called “Wayner” (his name was Wayne) rushed to do his job as they tilted his bed to make the blood rush to his heart and then did what needed to be done to stabilize him. But my eyes weren’t on my dad. They were on Wayner. He was clearly distressed and upset. Only after my dad had stabilized did the frenzy and deep concern in his eyes dim. A great respect for nurses planted itself in my soul that day. This man loved my dad. How could he not? He was with him day in and day out serving him and relating with him. He was a welcome balm in our time of emotional depletion.
It wasn’t just the nursing staff that was fond of my dad but the doctors were too. Every morning during rounds before they could talk over his chart and discuss his progress (or lack thereof) they had to play “Name that Bird Call”. My dad would play them a bird call and then they all had to guess. Even in the hospital my dad’s delight for wildlife could not dim nor his love and enjoyment of people waiver.
Gone were those days though of chipper rounds and laughter as the staff miserably failed at bird naming. Instead, there lay my dad. I knew that God could do miracles but as I looked upon him and prayed for his healing I knew his time was winding down in this world. But still I prayed, faithfully. Knowing that sometimes healing comes through death.
Two weeks passed and my then boyfriend and now husband showed up for the planned visit to meet my dad and family. I tried my best to prepare him for the state my dad was in, but just like me he too was shocked at the condition of my father. By now he was in the ICU and even though we all held out hope I knew that he would not be coming home to us but rather he would be going home to Him.
As the time drew near for me to leave to go back to college I was torn. Do I go back as planned like my dad would want me to do or stay until the end? Did I need to be there when my dad passed from this life to the next or should I keep doing what the living do best. Live. I decided to go. It seemed the right way to honor my dad. To keep living among the living.
On our last day at the hospital my boyfriend and I went into his ICU room one more time to say our goodbyes. My dad had not been awake at all while Matt was visiting. I leaned in to tell him I loved him and that I was headed back to college now. Spring Break was over and it was time to go. As Matt stood by my side and spoke promises to my dad that he would take care of me my dad opened his eyes. He looked first at me, and then he looked straight at Matt resting his gaze gently upon him. Then he closed his eyes and I knew that was God’s gift to me. Perhaps it was God’s gift to my dad too.
Loading the plane to head back to school I sat next to Matt in the window seat and began to cry. The plane was full and I knew people were staring but I didn’t care. As the plane taxied and took off I knew that was the last time I would ever see my dad alive again. So there on the plane headed home with each second putting more miles between me and my father, I cried unashamedly for the upcoming loss of my dad.
A few days later I got the call I was waiting for. The call that told me my dad was gone. My roommate wrapped me in her arms and just held me as my mom told me the story of his passing. They were all around his bed because hours before they had taken him off of life support. They suspected he had a brain aneurism and there was no response so the decision was made to let him go. However, my dad couldn’t just die. He had to live for awhile longer because that was just the kind of guy he was. Strong and full of life that even off life support his heart beat on. My mom, my uncle and my aunt and some family friends were there. Tired and wanting my dad not to suffer anymore my mom quietly prayed in her heart, “Lord, let him take two quick breaths and die.” So he did. Two breaths later and my dad entered into glory. Two breaths later and our lives were changed forever.