Gone but Not Forgotten

Four years ago today, we lost my Father.  A simple phone call 12 days prior had me packing a bag, rearranging my schedule, and booking a flight without a second thought.  I wasn’t sure what I’d find once I arrived, or how long my trip would last – I simply knew it was my obligation, and eventually my honor, to walk our this journey with my Dad.

My only outlet during this time was Facebook, and each night in the quiet and solace, I poured out the day’s events onto my page.  Looking back, I am so very grateful for the chronical of the events as they unfolded, the outpouring of support, and the opportunity to reflect back on those last days even today:

(As posted to FB October 24, 2011 through November 5, 2011)

‘Arrived in SC this afternoon to tend to my Dad…he’s not doing well at all.  Please pray for strength for the days ahead for my brother and I as we do what needs to be done for him.’  10/24/11

‘Update on Dad:  Very bad day today; morning started well with Dad on nasal cannula and talking well, but he quickly decompensated just after noon, with continuous A-Fib/tachycardia episodes that lasted into the evening and continues intermittently; severe apneic episode which was terrifying to witness as he gasped for breath.  We were informed definitively today that Dad is in the end-stage of his disease, and that this most likely is the continued course he will take – duration unknown.  If he does recover, he will never be able to return home alone again.  We continue to have a busy week ahead, regardless of the outcome.  Please continue to lift us all up in prayer for strength to submit to God’s will, and endurance to stand by our Father in the days to come.  Thank you for those who have sent your prayers along – they are felt and appreciated.’  10/25/11

‘Today’s update:  Dad was off the BIPAP all of today, but struggled for every breath.  He slept all day because of the huge toll the simple act of breathing in and out is taking on his body.  His vitals remained fairly stable, but the slightest movement or attempts to take a bite of food sent his respirations soaring, as he now cannot breathe and eat at the same time since he requires his nose and mouth to maintain breath.

As I spent my entire day caring for my Dad – feeding him when he could tolerate a few bites, wiping down his body with a cold cloth when his temperature caused breathing to be that much more of an effort, rubbing lotion on his dry and ever swollen legs, removing numerous bandages from days of blood draws, ABGs and IV attempts I was acutely aware of the comparison of infants, newly helpless to the world, and the dying…equally helpless.  And while one occasion is full of joy, the other sadness – God has allowed us the privilege to participate in both events as teachable moments.  As I spend these 8 hours per day I am allowed in as many days as Dad has left, I am learning so much – about nursing, about my Dad, about myself.  And as painful and taxing as these days are, I wouldn’t trade them – 22 years ago I missed all of this with my Mother in an instant.  When this is over, there will be peace for me, for my brother, and most of all, for my Dad.

Thank you all for your prayers and notes.  It is certainly day by day, and looks like I may be extended down here.  I will continue to post updates in the evenings as long as I can.  Love to you all.’  10/26/11

‘Today’s update:  Well, I just typed out a long update, but lost it before I could post, so I’ll leave you with this song that was playing on the radio when I got in the car to leave the hospital this evening.  God’s timing is perfect – for all things.  Hoping we can remember this in the days to come.  Love to all.’  10/27/11

‘Dad’s update:  I guess I probably say this each day, but by far today was the most emotionally draining and difficult yet.  I am typing as I sit in the ICU – thankful for the special exception that was made to allow me to sleep here tonight, but knowing at the same time these ‘privileges’ are only extended to those in their very last hours and days.

After prayer and much contemplation, we have formally changed Dad’s status to DNR, allowing only measures to keep him comfortable.  Over the night he acquired a GI bleed and was NPO (no food or liquids) until he could be scoped, which we declined.  Upon entering the room, Dad immediately gasped to me that he was tired and he wanted to be done.  Hearing those words from this stubborn, strong man gave me more than pause – it has now become my mission to honor his request with all my being.

Several rounds of strong meds were brought on board to alleviate any pain he was having and to allow him to rest, but his body’s instinct to fight kicked in – and fight he did for the next 5 hours – through hallucinations, pulling out his NG tube, removing his oxygen several time, attempting to pull his Foley…he became the 8 armed bandit who could find no peace.

By mid-afternoon it was decided to let him try the BIPAP once again, not so much for the oxygen benefit but more for the opportunity to relax and let sleep come.  Within 3 minutes he was out, with his vitals lower than they’d been in days.

As I sit here now with one of the first opportunities to reflect back on the days’ events, I realize I am reduced to death watch…a mission I missed with my mother and failed my grandmother in.  My brother and I view our responsibilities very differently – neither is wrong or right…just different.  I imagine this is quite common in the dying process…each member experiences their pain in their individual way.  Mine defaults to duty first hidden by a shroud of numbness followed by a few more bricks being added to the bunker around my heart.

The amount of pain and the number of bricks would be insurmountable by now were it not for my Heavenly Father holding me against His chest as I cried out to Him, sometimes daily.  Today when the pain washed over me like a tsunami though I tried to put on my bravest face so my dad wouldn’t be scared, I could only cling to the hope and faith I have in Him.  I am not doing this…He is in me…guiding my motion…standing beside me as I weep…stroking my dad’s hair with His hand…sharing His love through me.  I learned to love from Him…and He’s still teaching me, even today…’  10/29/11

‘Update:  Quick Dad update as I know many of you are having your own personal struggles right now trapped in a Halloween Wonderland…Friday was a really bad day…I think I posted that day.  Saturday he woke up, completely coherent and stayed stable and alert for the entire day – it was such a gift!  We had the opportunity to ask about a lot of unfinished business and make several important decisions.  Satan tried to get a foot-hold within the family, but after talking it out and getting some perspective (and much needed sleep) I am happy to report he failed miserably.

Sunday fell somewhere in the middle with a few periods of alertness but mostly sleep and pain medication.  Dad was also moved to the PCU – basically the step down unit.  He handled the move OK, and I stayed the night as the end seems to draw closer each day and I don’t want him to be alone when that moment does come.

Today included a lot of pain and the question “How much longer?” from Dad early this am.  My mission was to make sure he got his morphine every hour on the hour so that pain could not touch his frail body.

God also used today and Dad’s semi-conscious utterances to chastise me for judging his heart.  Only God knows a man’s heart, regardless of how that man presents himself to the world.  Yesterday my sister-in-law Crissy asked Dad if he had Jesus in his heart and he told her yes.  I would love to believe that was true, but I was immediately skeptical, not because of the wrongs done to me but the way he’s walked his life.  But several…and I mean several times today he came out with confirming statements that let me know that I was not only hasty but out of line in my judgment of his heart.  And all I can do is praise God for His unending forgiveness – for me, for my dad and for anyone who seeks Him.  What an awesome God we serve!’  10/31/11

‘Update:  Moved Dad to hospice about 24 hours ago – such a freeing experience in so many ways.  I cannot say enough positive things about the staff here – this environment is just what we all needed.

Dad sleeps most if not all of the time now.  He hasn’t eaten solids in 3 days.  He’s taken a few sips over the last few days and his breathing becomes more labored each hour at this point.  He is on a regular schedule of morphine and Ativan, with more available as he needs it.

The nurses and the doctors with so much more experience  seeing this process and this disease have now said we are down to days or hours – certainly by the weekend…all the signs are there.

This center is much more equipped for round the clock visitors, so I head into night 4 by his side.  Crissy and Bobby are bringing me my things as it is no longer practical to leave because of the distance – nor do I have a desire to be anywhere but here.

You who know me know I am far from a Biblical scholar…I am much better with songs.  The latest one rummaging through my head is John Weller’s ‘While I’m Waiting’…one line is particular speaks to me right now, ’I will serve You while I’m waiting…’  I cannot begin to tell you how many times a day God shows His face as I sit here waiting…I can just tell you I am so very thankful even in this quiet room with just me and my Dad.  I am never alone.’  11/2/11

‘A gift from God via Joyce and FB…thank you, Jesus…message received.’

“Know that you are not alone.  The Lord understands what you are going through and has promised to be with you in every trial in live.”

‘Afraid to sleep tonight – Jesus, please hold us both tight…’  11/2/11 late evening

‘Finally at peace – 4:45 am.  We love you, Dad.’   11/3/11

{I have purposely left out the comments due to length, but in no way am I diminishing their importance to this story.  Each night before the new post, I soaked in the love and support and it helped to drive me forward in one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever done.  The following comment, however, as I reread this transcript, brings me to tears – each and every time…with its simplicity, its timing, its truth.  I include it today for that reason.}

-Jenn Daniels “Oh Melissa…I send you much love and prayers.  You did a good job.”

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Enough

“Do not be sad I am with you always; close your eyes…listen.  Can you hear me?

I am the music in the trees, the song of a light rain, the rhythms of your heart beat.  Can you hear me?

Find the afterglow of my smile in every whisper of a bird’s song, feel the warmth of my touch in every crescendo of the ocean’s waves.  Can you hear me?

Feel the reverberation of my life, the happy times and bright and sunny days we shared and let you tears of grief be dried by the sun; I am the music of life, and my song will play on.  Listen…and you will find me.”

 

Tonight I spent a few hours at the wake of a young man of such promise.  He was the brother of my daughter’s friend – a senior in high school – an honor student, accepted to an excellent college for the fall, plans for the future, for a life full of LIFE.  A bad decision – one with terrible and permanent consequences – cost this young man his life earlier this week.  I watched his devastated parents, numb from grief, go through the motions – stand in line and hug family, friends, and strangers alike, all who thanked their God that it wasn’t them who stood in their stead, that it wasn’t their child each guest knelt before, praying to whomever they believed in, all with the same look of disbelief that I had as I found my seat.

How could this happen?  How could you think you’d done everything right as a parent – raise a seemingly exceptional kid who checked off all the boxes, but when push came to shove, you had possibly missed the glaringly obvious signs that your child wasn’t prepared for the toughest challenge of all – stepping onto life’s stage and living?  Please hear me when I say I am in NO WAY judging these poor parents.   There but for the grace of God go I most assuredly.  I just find myself at a loss as a parent – as I watched the evenings events unfold, surveyed the roomful of memories, observed countless high school friends experiencing their first loss with their parents in tow – how can I do all I can to prepare my teens for life as it races to meet them head on?  How can I assure them that they are enough in this world when I still doubt my abilities?  How can I trust they will turn to me when they question themselves, their worth, their value and that I will be there in their moment of need?

The world has faster, cooler, and smarter answers than I have.  Their friends are available at their fingertips, always at the ready.  I am who they come to when they’ve exhausted their other options.  I want to change that scenario.  I know I’m not going to ‘replace’ their best friends, but I also know I’ve implanted in them the knowledge that they can trust me – good or bad – they can come to me with whatever is on their minds.  We can talk it through and I can help them, even if they think it’s the end of the world…I’m always going to help them.  I may not love the choices they make, but I am always going to love them.

As I walked my daughter through this first wake experience, I secretly hoped there wouldn’t be any more for her to experience such as this.  Her innocence on what to do, how to react and where to go reassured me that I still had time to plant more seeds within her.  She’s growing into an exception young woman, and my prayer is that the pressures of this world don’t overwhelm her ever.  But if they do, I hope she remembers my subtle reassurances that she can always come to me – even if she thinks I’m goofy – and I am going to help her.

I hope this young man felt surrounded by the overwhelming love of his parents, even as he made a costly mistake last weekend.  I hope he knew without a doubt he was cherished, special and enough.

In Memory of ABR 4/12/15