Three weeks before Christmas I got the call. It wasn’t the first time but this time it seemed different. More urgent. Mother called to let me know Dad was back in the hospital.
It was a critical time in their lives – in more ways than one. They were in the process of selling their house; the one they purchased in 1956; the house I grew up in.
Dad couldn’t keep it up any more. He had congestive heart failure – for the past five years. He was diagnosed at age 66 and was given 6 months to two years to live. Obviously, the doctors didn’t know my dad very well. Although he couldn’t walk very far, he could still drive. From their home in the Philadelphia suburbs, they would drive back and forth to Florida where they had become “snowbirds.” They would visit me and my family in St. Louis regularly. He did all the driving.
Because my dad was a planner, my folks had bought into a retirement community outside of Lancaster. The plan was to sell the house in December and head to Florida as their new abode would not be ready until February.
But my dad went back into the hospital.
Somehow my mother’s voice was shakier this time. She’s been a trooper those past five years – carrying additional burdens and responsibilities with no family close by. I asked the question, and not for the first time. “Do you want me to come?” Normally the answer was no, she just wanted to update me. This time, “Yes!” I booked the first plane I could, landed in Philadelphia with friends (my mother’s BFF) waiting to whisk me to the hospital. My first question, “Is he still alive?” Yes, as far as they knew.
The next three weeks were a blur.
The house had been sold and the packers/movers were about to arrive. Dad hadn’t finished packing and mother didn’t know whether to pack his clothes or not. Everything would go in storage for the next several months. I couldn’t bear the obvious, so I insisted his belongings needed to be packed.
This point in time was before cell phones were in every pocket. We were torn – home with packers or at the hospital with dad. We alternated. Then the home phone got disconnected. We were furious. We panicked. The phone company had shut off the service too soon and we could not be connected to the hospital. It took a bit of deliberate determination, but we got it turned back on.
Mother had to go to closing on the house alone.
The doctors were stumped as to why Dad was holding on. Although he was still conscious, he wasn’t always thinking clearly. And as the doctor said, “His blood pressure is 70 over nothing!” But, knowing my dad, he knew all was not in order. So, the realtor came to the hospital. Bless her heart. She showed Dad the check and said closing was done. We hoped he’d be able to let go. Nope.
The doctor pulled me aside. He informed me that Dad had given instructions on his Health POA to be kept alive . . . The doctor wanted my permission to forgo that. My mother just couldn’t make the call. So I had to. Worst decision of my life! Not the wrong decision, just the worst one.
And yet he held on.
The house sold; the possessions were packed. Mother and I moved into a friends’ basement. Extended family showed up at the hospital.
I loved clam chowder. The hospital cafeteria had the best. If I wasn’t sitting in the cafeteria with a bowl of it, I was sipping it from a Styrofoam cup in my dad’s room.
To this day, I have not had any more clam chowder.
I was becoming a bit frantic. Back in St. Louis I had two teenagers and a hubby waiting. Christmas was closing in and of course I’d done no shopping.
Three days before Christmas I told my mother I needed to go home.
My brother flew in from Colorado to take over. I said goodbye to my dad, I knew, for the last time although I just couldn’t grasp that. I cried all the way home.
The day I left, he lost consciousness and three days later – on Christmas – he died.
He was 71 years old.
My dad was a good man. He was a hard worker and a strong provider. He was a responsible, accountable guy. He provided for us and took care of us the best he knew how to do. It wasn’t the ideal. But it was his best.
He wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type. Our home lacked affection and I felt I could never live up to his expectations. But he was wise in so many ways. He taught me all about finances, manners, accountability, etc. And, in his own way, the only way he knew how, he loved me.
I’m sad he never saw my kids grow up. He never got to reconnect with his oldest grandchild as we did, the one who had not been in our lives for so many years.
He didn’t meet the grandkids’ spouses or get to know his nine great-grandchildren.
He didn’t get to see how I finally turned out.
I think he’d be proud. 🙂
Christmas is always bittersweet for me.
But I’m blessed – and relieved to know where he is and that I’ll see him again. I’ll bet he’ll have a hug waiting for me.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4