|One of our last pictures together. August 2011. I loved making him laugh :-)|
Wow...it has been a while! I'm glad to report that my lack of writing (outside of recipes) is not because of anything bad, simply because it was a great last few months of fun summer activities! It is nice to have bright days again :)
In this post I want to share about my Dad. On October 21st, today, it is 2 years since he passed away. I haven't really been able to talk about it, except to close friends. I want to share what it was like the few weeks leading up to his death. Don't worry...this post won't be morbid. Any of you that know me know I'll have some comic relief! It is quite long, so just a heads up. There may be parts that aren't too clear...I don't have a lot of emotional energy to do my own editing, just enough to get it written down. Sorry if it is confusing; at least I got it out on paper, hehe.
This time of year is always more difficult than the rest of the year. Weather changing. Less sunlight. Some normal seasonal changes, but those seasonal changes always trigger memories of what my family went through during this time 2 years ago. (Side note- I will only be sharing from my perspective.)
I am very grateful that the months my Dad was sick and near me, I did everything I could to be near him. I remember thinking multiple times during those 4 months that if he did die (still was an "if" in my mind), I never wanted to regret not being near him as much as I was able. So that was a priority to me. Most days, it was really uncomfortable. What daughter wants to see her strong Dad not be strong? But I never will regret being near him.
I think it was during this month that I felt the Lord teach me something new about His love. On October 16th, it was Phil's birthday (still is...every year! He likes BIG presents ;)). It was the first day when we actually thought Dad was going to die. I went to Mom and Dad's condo and we called the family because he was really fading...we also canceled a party we had planned for Phil's birthday. Some of you may remember that. It was about 2pm, and I remember we all calmed down after calling the Hospice nurse and worrying that this was "the day," and then Dad started perking up a bit and asked, "So what time is Phil's party again?"
"Dad...you almost just DIED! HELLO! We canceled his party because we didn't want it to get you too tired and be loud."
"No. Call people back. We are celebrating Philip! We are celebrating Life. Philip is alive, so that means we will celebrate!"
Dang. I'm sure one thing Dad loved about dying was people hardly EVER argued with him! Ha. Who wants to argue with a dying man...especially when he's coherent and making TONS of sense! (it's okay to laugh here!)
So...we called people. However, we were purposeful in who we called back. By this point Dad had lost a lot of weight and didn't look good. For me, it was hard to see him, so I knew it would be harder for people that barely knew him. Phil chose some specific people to call back and re-invite to his Birthday. And we celebrated. The friends we had come were such a blessing. No one acted weird or uncomfortable. Dad sat in his chair and watched us all. And I know, without a doubt, he enjoyed seeing Phil be celebrated so much!
It was this day that I learned something new about love. It can be very uncomfortable. I remember thinking, "I don't really care if people are uncomfortable being around my Dad. I love him so much I just want to be in the same room as him...even if he looks sickly!" And I felt the Holy Spirit speak to my heart...."Hannah, this is how I am with my kids...I just want to be in their presence."
Wow. I'll never forget that. I think I even shared that at my Dad's funeral in Ireland. God simply wants to be in our presence because He loves us. My Dad literally sat and did nothing for the party...but I could care less. I sat at his feet, or by his chair, because I just couldn't get enough of him. It was so incredibly hard...but my love for him completely overtook my feels of discomfort and I didn't care.
I miss that. I know, it's a strange thing to say. I do. I miss just being in my Dad's presence.
It was after Phil's birthday that Dad started to decline pretty steadily. I still don't remember if I thought he was actually going to die. Silly me? Maybe. But I had never experienced death before. The process of death I mean. Phil's birthday was on a Saturday, and on Wednesday, a hospice nurse (sent by God himself I am sure!) came to check on my Dad. Just routine stuff. It was something she said though that changed me forever. She was talking to my Dad about how he felt...he wasn't eating anything really and us "living" people were freaking out because hey, people are supposed to eat! So we were concerned. She explained to us that when our bodies are preparing to die, it's actually not good to eat. People lose their appetite on purpose. The body knows how to die. Food and drink actually could have the effect of suffocation or drowning. I think this was what started the conversation about dying...which none of us still really accepted.
She said to Dad, "Why are you fighting so hard?" I can't remember quite what he said, but I'm sure it was around the lines of, "I'm fighting to stay alive"...probably for us and he still felt he was called to do stuff here on earth. What the hospice nurse said next changed our lives. "I know you are waiting for a miracle from God. He is big enough to do the miracle of healing you but you do not have to fight to stay alive." (Some of you are probably saying, "WAIT A SECOND! Yes you have to fight to stay alive!" Hold on a sec and maybe you'll change your mind like we did.) She continued..."We are always told to fight to live, but no one ever shows us how to die. It is okay to die. It does not mean giving up. You are not giving up on God, you are allowing Him to really come through with your miracle."
Wow. Pause and re-read that. No one ever teaches us how to die. It's okay to die.
You know what, she was right on. I think, especially in the Church, we think it a failure to die...especially if from a disease because we should believe for healing. Let me tell you, this moment in time set my Dad free to die. It was...beautiful. He stopped fighting...in a good way. He allowed God to be God in a way that he was never shown before but inadvertently showed me how to do. Death is hugely scary...even for Christians who know where they are going! That day, my Dad taught me how to die. I will never be the same. And let me tell you this too, I think of healing and death in a whole new way now too. I completely believe that God heals today, in the present. But I also know that death is not to bad and nothing to be feared. Sure, easier said than done...as you see from my experience. I don't get mad any more when God doesn't heal. I think I learned more from my Dad in his dying than I did when he was praying for a miracle. I know not many of us can say that, and I don't say it lightly. I cannot wait to talk to my Dad one day (in heaven, face to face) and ask him what went on in those last days when he was halfway with us and halfway Home.
The next few days kind of blurred together...emotionally anyway. I didn't leave my Dad's side for the most part. It was that Wednesday night, when he let go and allowed God to show him how to die, that he asked to "gather the gang." This meant, John-Michael and Candace and Haddie, Phil, and call Uncle Bill and Aunt Joy and Tori. Earlier that week he had also asked for his friend Uncle Mike to come and see him too. And my Dad's brother, Uncle Randy was able to be with us.
These next few days were especially tender to me...because, whether it's really how things were or not, it felt like it was just me and my Mom and Dad. The hospice nurses flooded the condo in a very non-intrusive way to take some burden off of my Mom and me for administering meds and giving baths, etc. Dad's body started to shut down, but no one really knew how fast that would happen. On Thursday the nurse had said probably another week at earliest because Dad was so strong. It was this Thursday that he still winked at Mom as she walked out the door with "that look" ;) and it was still this Thursday that he grabbed her butt to flirt with her. What an incredible man.
Let me back up a bit. Wednesday night we put him in his bed (he needed support to walk) and he wanted to talk to my brother alone. I think this is when they said their good-byes. Me and Dad never had a formal goodbye...sometimes I wish we had. You know, to have a single moment that I can know we said goodbye (I like closure). But the next few days I felt we became so close...I became his confidant. We were so similar that I think this comforted him because he knew that I knew how much he loved me. It was almost like we didn't need to say anything because in our relationship we were very intentional about always saying what we needed to. I do remember that Tuesday night (I think) was when I sang for him for the last time. This was really special for me. My Dad always loved hearing me sing...it was almost like he heard something no one else ever heard, so I always loved singing for my Dad.
I sang my favourite Genny Owens song...quite fitting for what we were facing. And I sang with all my heart...completely fearless. (And I remembered all the words! Ha. For those of you that know me, I am awful at remembering words of songs! Not the best quality for a worship leader, lol.) I sang as though he were the only one who needed me to sing. That is quite empowering. I remember this whenever I am afraid to lead worship...because I know God is the same, He delights in my singing. Not because I'm fabulous, but because He knows where it is coming from.
"The pathway is broken and the signs are unclear. I don't know the reasons why you brought me here. But just because You love me the way that you do, I'm gonna walk through the valley if You want me to.
"Cause I'm not who I was, when I took my first steps. I'm clinging to the promise that You're not through with me yet. So if all of these trials bring me closer to You, then I will walk through the fire if you want me to.
"And it may not be the way I would have chosen, when You lead me through a world that's not my home. But You never said it would be easy, You only said I'd never go alone."
"So when the whole world turns again me and I'm all by myself, and I can't hear You answer my cries for help, I'll remember the suffering Your love put you through...and I will go through that valley if you want me to."
That night was the first of many nights we all slept at Mom's condo. I stayed up most of Wednesday night with Dad.
When our bodies are dying, they become very antsy. Dad would be sitting, resting, and in a second be jumping on his feet needing to go somewhere! It was a bit scary because he was hooked up to all his medicine and morphine drip so one of us would always run over for fear he'd accidentally rip something off! I would walk him around the condo. I remember on Thursday morning, it was just me and him, (hospice nurse was just quietly reading at the kitchen table) and we went for a walk around the condo and sat on the futon which was in their office...for a change of scenery. We didn't say anything to each other. Just sat there holding hands. I'll never forget that. We would walk outside for a few moments, then would have to come back in because it would get too cold.
Now thinking back, it was as though Dad were just waiting.
In those last days, he would often say, "I need to go home. Take me home." Maybe this was his conscience leaving his body already, but I really know that he meant Heaven. He was getting ready. Wednesday I think God met with him and let him know he was heading Home very soon. So Dad waited. I'm not sure what he was waiting for...probably just his body to catch up with his mind because he was ready to meet His Beloved. (Again, can't wait till I can ask him all these questions).
Thursday was mostly a blur for me I think. Uncle Mike flew in, and so did Uncle Randy. I had some more tender moments with Dad...again, when it just felt like him and me. I think this is what I most remember of those last weeks. On Friday I went to pick up Uncle Mike from where he was staying and when I got back, Uncle Bill and Aunt Joy and Tori had already arrived. This was the last time Dad made any physical responses; he was mostly unresponsive starting early Friday morning. But when Uncle Bill leaned close and told him he was there, Dad squeezed his hand. This blessed me so much. Uncle Bill and Aunt Joy have been in my life...well, for my whole life. Uncle Bill was Dad's best friend and to see the depth of their friendship, in this last moment, was incredible.
Uncle Mike helped us rearrange the condo so we could put Dad on the hospice bed in his own room. John-Michael (my brother), Philip and me all carried my Dad from the living room into his bedroom. This may sound weird and maybe even hard for some of you to read, but it was so natural. Who better to carry Dad but his kids? He was so light...the boys took one arm each and I took his feet. I know there is something symbolic in it...John-Michael was under his right side, Phil on his left. Again, even in his dying, he taught us so much.
For the rest of the day, we waited...for what, we weren't sure. Since the hospice nurse told us he was so strong we didn't think he would be gone just a few more hours...but I really believe it was God's timing. Everyone was there that needed to be, and the Lord in His great mercy allowed the waiting to be just as long as it needed to be.
Someone was always with Dad. Mom didn't want him to be alone. It was this day that it really hit me that my Dad was going to die. I was exhausted. I tried to sleep, but maybe just dosed. It was hard to see my Dad unconscious. I did make sure that Dad, Mom, John-Michael and me all had time together though. There was some unspoken anxiety that I carried for years that I needed to talk about before Dad left. We did that on Friday.
At 9:45pm, my Dad walked into Eternity. I think he had probably left a few hours before, but his body was just catching up. The state a person is in while dying is unlike anything else you've ever observed. There is a song I play now because I think it describes the state my Dad was in for these last hours. It's a upbeat song...but I think Dad was excited to see Jesus. Think of it, in the moment of my greatest pain, my Dad got to see Jesus with his very own eyes for the first time. Talk about perspective change! Wow.
When Dad had passed away, there was a tangible presence of God in the room. It was...beautiful. I sobbed on his right arm...I just wanted him to hug me one more time...to hold my hand. I couldn't let go of his hand. And you know what I miss the most about his physical presence, to this day? His hands and his hugs. I know a part of me died that day when my Dad died. I've never experience so much anguish in my whole life. So much pain. So much loneliness. And the only person who I want to talk to most days when I feel that way is my Daddy. It's hard to describe...but when you are so connected to someone, and they die, you know they are gone...but it doesn't feel like it. Maybe that's what people mean when they say they are in our hearts? Because it really does feel that way.
We sang after he died. Sounds weird. But Mom really felt we needed to sing and praise God. That is something that God spoke to both her and my Dad through all this...healing comes in worship. Healing didn't happen how I was wanting it to...but we worshiped and sang anyway. It was powerful. I have no idea how we did it. None. But we did. With my Uncle Randy there with us.
After our singing...the hospice nurse suggested to call the undertaker to take his body. This made me panic a bit. If his body was taken, that meant I had to say goodbye...permanently. I think this was when the little girl inside me started to scream and cry. I just wanted my Daddy. Thankfully we were able to wait for a few hours before anyone had to come get his body. I needed closure. I needed to say goodbye to his body. Even though Dad was no longer there, it brought a great deal of comfort having his body there still.
I watched the undertakers take his wrapped up body up the stairs and put into the van. They were so respectful. I appreciate that even now. That night before I went to bed, I cried because I had forgotten to have my Dad write in my Bible. I had meant to ask him for months, actually over a year, but kept forgetting every time I saw him. I cried myself to sleep because I realized he would never write in it. It was the little things that struck me...the small things that confirmed he was gone...like I would never have new pictures with my Dad...never see new handwritten notes. Those little things were hard to process. For month actually I had a really hard time going up the stairs at my Mom's condo because all I could see what my Dad's covered body being taken up those stairs. It was always hard to walk into the condo, go into his room, see his chair. The memories would often times overcome me.
I know this all may sound so heart wrenching and miserable...but it actually gives me some strange solace in telling all these details. It reminds me that it really happened. I am very grateful and blessed that I had my Counselor walk through this all with me. I don't think I would have gone through it without her patience and listening.
I feel blessed.
I know who I am. Dad taught me. I know my Dad loved me SO flipping much! I know that he loved being around me. I know he loved hearing me sing. I know he loved hearing all the cool things God would show me. I know I am so similar to my Dad it's scary, hehehe. I know that I will never have anyone like him in my life again. I know that I am blessed. I know it is good to grieve...outloud. I know it is good to grieve by yourself at times, and with others at times.
Something God told me after Dad died...and promised me was this, "It's a New Day To Live In Hope." That is where my blog was birthed from...a way for me to live in a new day of hope; by giving myself a voice again.
Although it sure didn't feel hopeful for most days, I held tight to this...It's a new day to live in hope. I pray you get to experience your new day of hope. You may have to chose it in the midst of pain. It's always a choice.
P.S. I would love to hear how my Dad impacted your life, so if you would like to share, please comment and share your thoughts. If it's a specific story you have, or just a thought...I would love to hear it. I love talking about my Dad and hearing how he touched others :)