Prior to January 4, 2011, Tuesday was just another day of the week. After that day I have experienced a permanent shift in every Tuesday that I have lived through since, we all have. Mom, Jess and I know that Tuesday is the one day of the week that our brains will begin a subliminal countdown of each event, activity, and conversation that took place on the night my father died.
I have written several blogs about my father and his condition as it was happening. “I’ll Watch the Snow With You” was the turning point. It was in this moment that I let myself begin to mourn the loss of my father while he was yet still on this earth. The night he died I wrote “Gentle Passage” in an attempt to give a brief accounting of the miracle we all witnessed the night he died. Today I will attempt to give a broader snap shot of the events which occurred in the house that night. My mother has requested this story. She says there is much of that evening that she can not recall. This is for her. It is not a story that I have wanted to write. Today marks 17 weeks since he died. I began this blog on week 8 and again around week 12. I just couldn’t do it. It still feels unreal and dreamlike. I find that I often refuse to allow myself to “go there”. I will come across pictures of him or hear a song which reminds me of him and I have to move right on past it. I’m not ready to be there yet. So, one of the hesitations in writing this has been that I know I will have no choice but to go there. Maybe it’s time. This Tuesday bears special significance in the fact that in less than 4 hours, when the clock strikes midnight on Wednesday, May 4, my sweet mom and dad would have celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary. This is my gift to them…
Most of our sweet friends have followed my family’s journey through this slow ascension into confusion- for both dad and the rest of us. His disease, corticobasal degeneration, was similar to Alzeheimer’s and Parkinsons. (Interesting that I keep typing this in present tense and have to change it to past…. denial…. sometimes it’s a great place to reside. Anyway…) As best as any of us can recollect the symptoms began around 3 years ago with slight changes and proceeded slowly but surely to the place he remained in his last days- a place of absence and unrecognition. It was beyond painful to watch, but we knew that God was with us and that He would hold us up on those days we were too weak to move, and He did.
On Tuesday, January 4 my mother and I were both anxious awaiting the arrival of a hospital bed to be delivered to my parent’s home. We trusted that this new equipment would provide my dad with a new level of comfort and would make the seemingly impossible task of moving him from one place to another just a little bit easier. I arrived at her house that morning and was there when the medical equipment company arrived. We were blessed in the latter stages of my dad’s condition with a sweet, young girl named Devin who would come and sit at the house with dad when mom needed to run out on business or to go to the store for groceries or whatever was needed to care for him. Devin had come that morning and mom and I had made plans to go to the store to get new sheets for his new bed and some other necessary items. We said our goodbyes to dad and to Devin and mom and I left. We ran to the store and even decided that since it was so rare that we got to share a meal out together that we would go and get food and coffee. We did and then returned home around 3 p.m. Upon entering the house we both went and checked on dad and he was so hot, even to the touch, that he had sweated through his shirt. We immediately began to remove his t-shirt and I ran for the thermometer. His temp was high. Too high. I got on the phone and called our family doctor, Dr. Blaine Jones, and my dad’s hospice nurse (who had never even yet been to the home). Things were happening so fast that I don’t think it even sunk in that things had grown as crucial as they had.
By the time Jenna (hospice nurse) arrived we had called Jessica and asked her to pick up some liquid Tylenol. It was impossible at this point for my dad to swallow a pill. Jenna came and checked his vitals and had much difficulty finding a pulse because it was so faint. I remember asking her if we should put socks on his feet because they were so cold at this time. She looked at us very lovingly and in the most perfect, considerate terms began to explain to us what was happening. His body was shutting down. The blood was leaving from his extremities to protect his vital organs. My mother asked her to come with us into another room and talk to us very frankly. “What are we talking about, Jenna? How much time?”, said mom. “He truly has a matter of hours to a matter of days at the most.” In that one moment it was like driving a car into a brick wall. Seriously?! Already? You just got here. It can’t be time. I have no doubt that nothing other than the all-inspired, strengthening hand of God fell upon the three of us like a blanket to prepare us for what was about to happen.
During the next few hours she contacted a doctor and asked for a prescription of morphine to keep dad comfortable. He wasn’t trembling. He wasn’t struggling. She said it was simply to ensure his comfort. I didn’t even want to say the words out loud, but I’d always heard that morphine sometimes has an effect on the body which actually can speed up the dying process. In my mind I resolved myself to the fact that if this was indeed the day he was to die, then we wanted it to occur in the most peaceful fashion possible. After a series of phone calls to a pharmacy and a pharmacist who was a family friend we were told that the prescription would be filled even after closing hours if necessary. There are many days that I hate living in this little town, but on that day I witnessed the benefit of having sweet friends who worked in positions such as these to offer their services. We are forever thankful to all who orchestrated those events.
Dad got received his first and only dose of morphine at 7 p.m. She explained to us that we may witness the slowing of his breath and that this was a normal part of the process. We witnessed the slowing and even the complete stopping during several occasions. I remember looking at Jenna during one such event for affirmation that things were ok and she just sweetly looked at me and nodded her head solemnly. This continued for some time until she felt she had done all she could. Jenna left the home afterwards and instructed us to call her at any hour that we needed her. The next little while remains a bit fuzzy to me, but I remember that in the most amazing fashion our dearest friends just began to appear at the house- for no real reason really. We were surrounded by friends of my parents and friends of Jessica and myself and other family. People quietly took their positions. Some gathered in the living room and others joined us by his bedside. My mom and Jessica stood to his right. I took my stance at his left. My friend Wendy appeared after leaving small group and just stood and held my hand. There was much crying as the three of us talked softly to my dad and told him that he was the most wonderful and amazing husband and father that any group of women could have ever been blessed to have. I have a strong memory of my dad, who had his eyes closed through most of the ordeal, looking directly at my mom and just staring. I believe it was in this moment that he knew he was about to be standing in the presence of the Most High. Then, as if it had been perfectly scripted, Jessica began to pray. She talked to God and thanked Him for this man. It was indescribable. I followed next. The sweetest words that I believe had ever been spoken were said in that room that night by three women who loved a man unconditionally. When I finished my mom began to pray. It was amazing. Literally, as she said her final words, my father took his last breath at 8 p.m. It had been one hour since the medication and he was gone. No struggle. No fight. Just peace.
We all felt an unbelievable sense of loss that night, but everyone who was in that room knew that the Lord Himself had been present. It was beautiful. It gave me the assurance that we all serve the most mighty and righteous Lord. He took my father home and restored him to his perfect self, and for that the three of us will be eternally thankful. Thank you, Jesus.
We miss you so much, dad.