Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Tribute to My Dad

My Dad died two weeks ago today.

I had just arrived at work; hadn’t even been there 5 minutes yet.  Hadn’t even had a chance to turn on the computer, when my cell phone rang.  I looked at the number on the screen and I just knew in my heart already what the caller was going to tell me.

“Hi Donna.  This is Kathy calling from the nursing home and I’m so sorry to tell you that your Dad just passed away.”

It’s not like this news was a tremendous shock.  My Dad had just, six weeks ago, celebrated his 90th birthday and he had been slowly failing for a long time. He had been in a nursing home for almost 5 years and when he got up out of bed, he was confined to a wheelchair. 

I had just seen him the day before.  I always went in on Sunday afternoons and for quite awhile, had been calling the Bingo game that so many residents enjoyed playing to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon.  My Dad loved playing Bingo.  But not that day.  I couldn’t even wake him up.  I sat with him for a few minutes, rubbed his arm and talked to him, but got no response.  I went to call Bingo and when the games were done, went back to his room.  I still couldn’t wake him up.  He was in a very deep sleep.  That would be the last time I saw him alive.  I talked to the nurse when I left that day and she said he had been like that all day.  Didn’t even eat his lunch.  But he had experienced days like that in the past so I really wasn’t overly concerned.  He was just having what we referred to as “a bad day.”

My Dad had been expressing for the last 13 years of his life that he didn’t want to live.  Ever since my Mom died in 2002, he just didn’t have the same zest for life.  Even after remarrying in 2006, he still felt that way.  

For his 90th birthday, we had an Open House at the nursing home and 35 people showed up to wish him well.  

He was very happy that day, excited almost; the most energy I had seen from him in a long time.  He was overwhelmed with love from everyone and really enjoyed the afternoon.  Still, about 5 days later when I was showing him the pictures from that day, he stopped half-way through and started to cry and said, “I never wanted to live this long.  I wish I was dead.”

So, no, his death wasn’t a shock, but it was a surprise.  I truly didn’t expect it this soon.  He did wake up that next morning after the Sunday I was there. He sat up in bed, took a couple of bites of a muffin and a banana, drank a little juice.  The nurse left him with his breakfast tray and returned less than 10 minutes later and he was gone.  It was that quick!!  The angels just came and took him.

You know, even though I knew my Dad wouldn’t live forever and even though I knew how much he wanted to die and even though in a lot of ways, it was a tremendous relief for him, I still was not prepared.  I don’t think you can ever be prepared for the finality of death. 

I was at the nursing home usually about 4 days a week; at the least, 3 days a week.  I spent a lot of time with my Dad in the last three years of his life after his second wife died.  We talked about a lot of things.  We shared a lot of fun activities at the nursing home.  During the summer, I would often take him out on the back porch to enjoy the fresh air or take him for a walk in the area of the nursing home.  We went on field trips with the nursing home staff, played a lot of Bingo, spent some not so pleasant times with him when he wouldn’t talk or respond to me, when he would play "possum" because he just did not want to “show up!”  Sometimes he was frustrating, sometimes he was hard to understand and sometimes he was very stubborn.  But he was my Dad and I loved him. 

I am so blessed that I got to spend as much time with him as I did.  I really got to know him so much better in those last few years.  He shared a lot of his feelings and his failures with me.

But even after all that, it wasn’t enough.  Today, I’m still thinking of things I should have asked him, things I should have said to him, things we should have talked about, things I should have done. How I wish I could hug him just one more time!

Are we ever prepared for the death of a loved one?
Is there ever a time when we’ve talked enough, shared enough, laughed enough, lived life enough together that we can let go?

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  
James 4:14

This past Saturday my brothers and I scattered his ashes and said our final good-byes.  The reality and finality of his death is just now starting to hit me.  I miss him so much.  But I am so comforted that I know I will see him again.  My Dad loved the Lord and believed in Him as His Savior, so I know he is in the presence of the Lord today and that when I journey “home,” I will see him again.  But I also know that it won’t be the same.  The relationship that we enjoyed here on earth will be much different than in glory and that’s a good thing - really.  But I mourn for what I’ve lost here on earth.

I will miss his amazingly beautiful blue eyes.
I will miss the wink he would give me from across the room.
I will miss his smile, his laugh and the look he got in his eyes when he was up to mischief.
I will miss hearing him say, “I love you” when I would leave him after one of our visits.
I will miss simply being his daughter and having a Dad.

In my younger years, he was someone I just knew I could count on.  He was just always there.  Underneath his sometimes gruff exterior, he had a very tender heart and cried very easily.  I was always so impressed that he was never ashamed of his tears in a time when it was deemed inappropriate for a “real man” to cry.  He worked so hard to provide for our family, sometimes working 2-3 jobs at a time.  He wanted to give us everything we needed and wanted and he saved diligently because it was so important to him to leave us an inheritance.

We hear these cliches so often from people after they lose a loved one -

Enjoy them while you can.
Love them while you can.
Say I love you while you can.
Give a hug while you can.

But we don’t really hear what’s being said until we, too, lose a loved one and we realize how fleeting our time is and how truly important relationships are.  How truly important it is to love and be loved.  So I risk another cliche -

If your Dad is still alive, give him a hug and a kiss today.
 Tell him you love him. 
Give him your love, time and attention. 

Because those are the most precious gifts we can ever give - our love, time and our attention.

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