Tuesday, the ringing of an early morning phone starteled me awake. I'd had very little sleep since Friday evening, when my dad was admitted to the hospital. I knew who was calling. The night nurse from the hospice center quietly, and compassionately told me that Dad had taken a turn for the worse, his breathing was very shallow.
Upon arriving at the hospice center, the night nurse rushed to me, taking my arm, giving me a hug. She was crying, and told me to hurry. I remember running to Dad's room, grasping his hand. He was still with us. Brenda told me she had been with him all night and when she saw he was slipping, she told him to hang in there. She said she kept telling him to hold on, that I was coming. He did. I held his hand and stroked his head as he passed, something I never thought I'd ever do for anyone. I'd never even imagined such a thing. But, it was beautiful, even though his frail body looked nothing like the man he once was. I talked to him, told him it was OK, Mom and I were with him, he could go........we'd be OK. He would be concerned about us, even at the end. In about five minutes, as I talked to him, he quietly, peacefully, slipped away. I held his hand until the warmth of his hand began cooling and I knew his life's journey had ended.
The previous evening, my two sons, and our daughter-in-law, spent the evening at the hospice center with us. My sons were able to visit with Dad. The hospice nurses assured me the sound of a familiar voice, and a familiar touch transcend to the soul. I believe that to be true.
My oldest son had not seen his grandpa for over a month. I warned him before he entered the room that he might be startled by how Grandpa appeared. #1 son bravely stood by his grandpa's bed, talking to him for a few minutes. Then, when he walked out of the room, he broke down. His wife, not having seen him so vulnerable, consoled him. I saw her compassion for his pain in her face. My two sons had always been close to their grandpa. #2 son had been witness to Dad's decline over the weekend, but still, later that evening, I was told he broke down in his girlfriend's arms. How wonderful these two young men had such an abounding love for their Grandpa. It makes me so proud and I know how proud Dad has always been of them. They were his life in his later years.
My mom has been through so much the past five years. She is tired. She is worn out. She never thought she could do the things she did to care for Dad these last years. They've been together for fifty-three years. She has been saying goodbye for along time. This past weekend has been extraordinarily hard for her, yet, the release has come, and I feel a sense of calm from her. I know she'll be lonely at times, but as she has told me, Dad has been leaving for quite some time and she has been ready. We are all going to be around for her.
Mom told me to make the decisions this past weekend, so I did. By Saturday, I simply told God to guide me, help me do the right thing. I opened up, I listened and I was led. In the end, Dad had a dignified and compassionate end to a long, fruitful life. At times over the past couple of years, he's felt useless. The COPD left him housebound. I took him to his doctor's appointments, but it became too hard for him to do much else.
My dad was my first hero, and my biggest fan. Even this weekend, when I would walk into his room he would smile when he saw me, as much as he could muster. The nurses on duty said he always perked up when I was there. A memory I can cherish. We had a wonderful father-daughter bond and I do know how much I meant to him. I can only hope he knew how much he has meant to me. He took care of me when I was sick. He always took me with him on his errands when I was a kid. His unconditional love is always with me. He was the strong one in our family of three when I was growing up. He was involved in my activities when I was a child. He was involved with my sons' soccer teams. He was so happy for me the day my horses came. He was and always will be the most special man in my life. He is what all fathers should be..... a true Dad.
This is how I saw my dad: Anyone can be a father, it takes someone special to be a dad. And so he was.
We are having a small, private, family memorial service and then my sons and I will be scattering his ashes up on our hill overlooking the valley where my horses are pastured. Mom says, Dad would want to be near me and he always knew how I love my horses. I think she's right. Even in his last days he would ask me about "the boys", meaning my horses, because he knew how much they mean to me. He always wanted me to be happy.
Today is our memorial service and looks like we'll have a beautiful weekend. My sons and I are planning to hike up on the hill one last time with Dad, and there, we will release him, and we will say goodbye, until we meet again...................but the Love Remains.