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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Without Him

Three weeks ago, I lay in my bed, feeling like a heavy weight was sitting on my chest.  I had only been home from the hospice a few hours and tried, unsuccessfully, to get some sleep.  But the events of the few days before kept flashing through my brain like a fast forward movie reel and I would wake with a start like I’d missed an appointment or should be somewhere else.  But the somewhere else I was feeling I should be was now an empty room being cleaned out and prepared for it’s next resident.

My Dad was gone.

Four days earlier, I had slept in much later than I normally did and had a fleeting thought that God was preparing me for something, giving me rest.  I hurried to get ready to leave to see my Dad in hospice, my kids had made a video for him and I wanted to get there before they gave him meds that would make him too groggy to watch it.

I walked into the hospice room to find my Dad awake, for which I was grateful.

‘Hi Dad!’ I said smiling.  And he turned his head to meet my gaze but in slow motion.  ‘Dad, are you ok?’ I asked.  His eyes met mine he tried to speak but it was as though his mouth had been taped shut.  His hands shook and I knew in my gut that something had changed.

I pressed the button to call the nurse and shortly after my step-mom came in the room.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong, he can’t speak’ I said.
She walked over to his bedside, and leaned in close her hand on his arm.

“Hi hunny are you ok?” she asked gently.
He looked in her eyes and tried to speak but again, nothing came out.  My eyes began to fill with tears as the realization of what was happening filled my heart.

We were losing him.

The nurse came in and we explained what had happened.  She said she would get him something for pain and to relax him.  I knew that would mean he would be asleep soon. 

The tears spilled onto my cheek and I knew that this was the day we knew was coming and had dreaded.  It doesn’t seem to matter how long you know something is going to happen, the moment it happens still hits you like it transport truck.

I went into the bathroom to get something to blow my nose and the nurse came in to get something as well.
“How long are we looking at now?” I managed to choke out.
“Hours…maybe days.  He can hear you, tell him you love him say what needs to be said and be with him.” She said.

I contacted my siblings and in laws and we began what would be a three night bedside vigil. We held his hand, we stroked his hair, we spoke to him.  We ate, we told stories and shared memories, we cried and we laughed.  I don’t remember a time in my life since I was a small child that I spent that much time with my sister and brothers.  It was a cherished and bittersweet time.

That first night the nurse and care worker on duty felt it might be that night.  One of them was one of my Dad’s favourite and her voice began to break as she told us how much our Dad had come to mean to her.  She said that whenever she came to see him, no matter what he was going through he always had a smile or a joke for her.  My Dad brightened her day enough to shine through the darkness that she had to face in the other rooms.  He would be missed by everyone at the hospice.

On Wednesday evening our brother who lives on the east coast was arriving.  For three days my Dad had been pretty much the same, mostly asleep and breathing comfortably and steadily.  So much so that the slightest change in his breathing caused all of us to hold our breath and stare at his chest.

He had two hours one evening of wakefulness, he became very alert and wanted water and soup and to kiss his wife.  Between sips of soup he puckered his lips for more kisses, like he knew they’d be their last.

On the third night my brother who lives on the east coast was flying in.  No sooner did we finish discussing his arrival than my Dad’s breathing pattern changed noticeably.  The nurse came to check his pulse and said it had weakened.  The time was drawing near.  We all drew closer to my Dad.

None of us wanted to miss a thing.  We all wanted to be there until the end and for the end..
My brother arrived and we all huddled near my Dad’s bedside.  I held his hand, kissed his cheek and whispered how much I loved him, how much I would miss him but that he could let go now.

At around 1:30am the nurse came to check him again and told us we should try to get some rest, that he could go on like this for hours.  We all hunkered down, eight bodies in various positions around the dimly lit room and tried to get some rest as the sound of my Dad’s breathing filled my ears. 

I woke several times over the next few hours pausing to differentiate my Dad’s steady breathing from everyone else’s.  At about 5:44am I woke and couldn’t hear him. My pulse quickened and I sat up trying to clear my eyes.  My brother was sitting next to the bed and saw the panic on my face and nodded, he was still breathing just very quiet and shallow.  I got up from my makeshift bed on the floor and sat in a chair next to the bed.  Putting my hand on his leg I watched his chest rise and fall.  I felt as though the time was very near but then also wondered if he would rally for a another day or so.  He had been so strong throughout his illness, not wanting to ‘leave the party’, knowing how much it would hurt us to say good-bye. 

As four of us sat touching part of him, he took one big breath and then exhaled for the last time.  We sat staring at his chest for a little while longer, waiting for it to rise again but knowing that it would not, I could see that my Dad was gone.  It was as peaceful as I could have asked for, a quiet gift after a long year of suffering.

In hushed voices we woke the others and my oldest brother placed his hand on my Dad’s chest as he recited the 23rd Psalm and I tried to join him through the tears and soft sobs that threatened to escape my throat.

His pain and suffering had finally come to an end, he was free of this bed, this room and the body that failed him.  We were now the ones that had to live with pain, a pain of losing a great man, a wonderful father.

But, if death can at all be beautiful, his most certainly was.

Shortly after my sister and I drove to get our step mom, to tell her that he was gone.  On the way back we saw the most incredible sunrise I have probably ever seen and later I wrote this:

A warm orange glow spread over the crisp morning frost and wisps of clouds spiraled up from the rising sun reaching higher towards the heavens like tendrils of steam on a hot cup of coffee.  A peace filled my inner parts where sorrow threatened to take up residence and I knew you were there with Him, the great I AM.  The glow of the celestial city illuminated your face, no longer hollowed from the illness that took you but full, soft and youthful.  A smile spread across your face as you embraced the joy and love that filled you and you spread your arms wide as you ran into your eternity.

My earthly father is now with my heavenly one, and despite the grief I will need to endure, there is a peace deep inside me that comes from knowing where he is and that one day, I will see him again.

Until we meet again Dad….

My friend Kris MacQueen, a talented musician wrote this song, the lyrics and the music both remind me of that morning, as sad as we are to lose our loved ones it is indeed a glorious moment when they are united with the King of Kings.

Here is the video my kids made for their beloved Papa, unfortunately he didn't get to see it.  In the month of November and in memorials my Dad raised $3500 for Hospice Wellington.  My brothers have decided to to this fundraiser yearly.