For several days I've been wanting to watch the slideshow again. But, because I was never alone, I kept putting it off. Putting off the emotions. The tears. Knowing that as soon as I hit play, those tears were going to flood. But just now - while the kids are gone to PTC and it's just me and the dog - I watched it. And I cried. And I cried. And I cried. And I'm still crying. And I want to watch it again, and again, and again.
I had a really good Dad. The kind that makes growing up such a joy. The kind that makes losing him so, so hard. I miss him terribly. It's not that he was such a conversationalist. Or such a presence in the room. But he was my biggest fan. He was always glad to see me. He loved to see my kids and hear all about basketball and music lessons and what they did to make me laugh. As life keeps moving on without him...there's just so much I want to share with him. So many little stories I don't get to tell.
And you know, I need to share about Dad's last day. The Wednesday where everything changed.
Up until that day, I'd never been with someone when they died. I'd never experienced death so closely. Up until that day, the hardest experience I'd had was seeing my Dad in the recovery room after he'd had his open heart surgery in July of 2010. That day shook my world too. To see my tough guy Dad lying there looking so helpless with the tube coming out of his mouth...I had a hard time with that. I suppose in some way, that experience was God beginning to gently prepare me for January 6th of this year. But then again - nothing prepares you for losing a parent.
The day before Dad died, we had a family meeting with Hospice. They informed us that Dad's body was shutting down and they were expecting that he only had a day or two to live. Strange how hearing them say that didn't shake me. I knew it was coming. He hadn't had any quality of life in weeks. I wasn't naive to where this was headed. I was in manager mode. Managing my emotions. Managing the to-do list for Mom. Managing my busy life. Just figuring how all of that day's to-dos were going to get "to done".
Since my brother was there (and I had to leave soon to get kids to basketball), my Mom and brother headed to the funeral home to start getting some things figured out. The neighbor came to sit with Dad until Mom got back. I went back to my day.
As I was in such a non-emotional mode, I didn't fully process the weight of what I was about to share with the kids. My kids knew - just as I did - that Grandpa's time on earth was coming to an end. They had seen him decline. They saw him "check out" of life. They knew. But this is where I made a crucial parenting error. I chose to share with the girls what Hospice had told us as I was driving them home from practice that day. In the van. Just driving down the highway. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Here I am, going from 131 to M-6 as Hannah is bawling in the passenger seat. What was I thinking?!
The next day, my Mom had already planned to go to lunch with her friends (she hadn't really been out of the house much at all in over a month - so we all felt this was a good thing for her). I was going to go sit with Dad while she was gone. Because of the news Hospice had shared, Dave and I talked to the kids Tuesday night to see if they wanted to go "say goodbye" to Grandpa when I went there the next day. Hannah bawled and climbed into Daddy's lap (he was bawling too). Mikayla was visibly sad. Luke was stoic. They all decided that they wanted their last time seeing Grandpa to have been when he was still talking. Still interacting. They knew that now he was just sleeping. That's not how they wanted to remember him. And we got that. I think when we went to bed, we were somewhat expecting they'd change their mind and want to go with me. But I'm glad they had the chance to choose.
When I woke up that Wednesday and was getting ready to go to Dad's side...I was so glad that it was just going to be me there with him. I had been saying for a while that I wanted a picture of his hands. Those hands that touched so much in his 85 years. I took the camera figuring I'd take time to do it while I was there. I didn't know this would be his last day...but I was excited to be alone with him. I hadn't had that opportunity since he'd been in Hospice.
As I look back on those couple of hours I was there with Dad...I'm so thankful for that gift. God granted me the chance to say goodbye. Even though I didn't say those words. I just sat there and enjoyed Dad's presence. Much like our time together had been my whole life. Dad was a man of few words. But I still treasured our father-daughter time. This was just the same. Me and my Dad. In the same room. Experiencing life together. I held his hand. I sat across from him and watched him sleep. I was praying and asking God to show me what to do. Asking myself what last memory would I want with Dad. And over and over again, I felt the Lord saying - "What you're doing is exactly the right thing." Any pre-conceived ideas of "how to say goodbye to a loved one" didn't apply here. Dad and I did things our way. Even on his last day.
Before Mom came back, I had taken some pictures of me holding Dad's hand. I enjoyed just sitting there soaking it all in. As I gave Dad a kiss and said goodbye...he did something he hadn't done before. He squeezed my hand and pulled me back. It was like he knew. He knew.
I got home about 2PM. Jumped right back into homeschool Mom mode. Task mode. Normal life mode. At 3PM, I was getting ready to take Luke to his guitar lesson when Mom called. The Hospice nurse had just left. She said Dad probably only had a couple hours left.
Boom. Life changed.
I cancelled Luke's lesson. Got a message to Dave at work to rush home. Within 30 minutes, both me and my brother were there. I held Dad's hand. Mark read the Bible to him. I played his favorite waltz on my phone (the one we danced to at my wedding).
The amazing thing about this day? At 7:30 that morning, Dad's newest Great-Grandson had been born. Little Karson entered this world the same day Dad would leave it. My brother came from the hospital visiting his newest grandchild...to the house to say goodbye to his Dad. Surreal doesn't even come close.
By 4PM, one of my nephews and his wife & daughter were there plus my brother's wife and their grandson (who had just met his new baby brother). My parents' pastor had already planned to be there then to go over some things for the funeral. Turned out his timing - God's timing - couldn't have been more perfect. By 4:30, Dave was there. We all surrounded Dad's bed. The pastor prayed and read more Scripture. He left about 4:45.
At 5PM, we were all sitting around. Waiting. Figuring out who was hungry & what to eat for dinner. Shortly after that, we knew. Dad's coloring had gone from pink to grey. His breathing had changed. We all gathered around his bed. We watched him struggle through his last breaths. And then...that was it. At 5:06 he was gone. Just about two hours to the dot. (Dad always was one for being punctual.)
Once I got out my ugly cry and shed a bunch of tears...it was time to switch gears to manager mode again. Phone calls to make. Things to take care of. No time to think about me. Time to think about Mom and what she needed.
Soon it was just my Mom, my brother and me. Waiting for the funeral home to come for his body. Sitting in the other room sharing memories. Eating pizza. Moving on.
The thing about that day that I don't know if I'll ever fully grasp...is the fact that one second Dad was struggling to breathe in the middle of his family...and the next he was standing in the presence of Jesus. I mean, I've been a Christian virtually my entire life. But that's just something my finite mind can't even begin to understand.
There are so many memories from the days that followed - planning the funeral, visiting with people at the visitation, getting used to our new normal. Some memories were able to be captured on Facebook. Having that ability to chronicle the experience has also been a blessing.
Like this moment from Dad's visitation:
Mikayla's basketball team surrounding her in prayer - literally and figuratively. Precious, precious memory.
Thankful today for time to write. To work through the grief. To reflect on the man. On his life. On his legacy.
As one of my friends told me after seeing us at the visitation, "You grieve as those who have hope." And so we do. So thankful that one day we WILL see Dad again. This isn't goodbye forever. But it is sure still hard to lose him. What a great man he was too.
Love you, Dad!