A flood of fresh tears flowed as I thumbed through the twenty-eight page document. The Medicare “Summary Notice” coldly spelled out the amounts paid to the mile-long list of medical providers. I couldn’t help but re-live the experience of dad’s final days as I moved chronologically through the papers. The final ER visit. Multiple blood draws. An electrocardiogram. Numerous ex-rays and a CT scan. The chest tap and chest tube. The ambulance ride back to the nursing home. The physician’s final visits.
Perhaps what stood out most was the ER doctor’s description: “Emergency department visit, problem with significant threat to life or function.”
Dad was, indeed, gravely ill when he landed in the emergency room in mid-November. His white blood-cell count was sky-high, indicating something was seriously wrong. When I arrived at his bedside, I couldn’t help but look at his frail body and think that we might not be there had it not been for a snap decision made by a physician a month earlier. Continue reading →
Apparently David Bowie did it. The New York Times reported on January 11, 2016 that the rock icon “died peacefully.”
In fact, I’ve noticed that the phrase “died peacefully” crop ups up frequently in eulogies and obituaries. “John Doe died peacefully, surrounded by his family.” So perhaps it shouldn’t have taken me so off-guard when someone leaned in and probed, “Did your dad die peacefully?”
I stood there dumbstruck, unsure how to answer. I had just come through a grueling nine days of bedside vigils. I wasn’t sure what the intent of the question was – did he want to know whether my dad looked serene at the actual moment of death? Was he grasping to find out if my father’s dying process was comfortable and “easy?” Was he somehow trying to ease the sting of his own grief by receiving an affirmative answer?
My dad’s world (and my family’s world) changed dramatically this month. It started with a phone message alerting me that dad wasn’t answering the door for his noon “Meals on Wheels” delivery. I wasn’t initially too concerned, because sometimes he doesn’t hear the doorbell. So I tried calling dad and left a message. Five minutes later I tried again. When another few minutes had elapsed, my anxiety began to rise. I called my cousin’s husband who lives around the corner from dad and asked him to check things out.
My relative called with an urgent tone in his voice moments later to let me know that he had found dad collapsed on the floor, unable to get up. Dad was still wearing his night clothes, so we estimated he had been there at least five hours. His “Life Line,” which would have detected the fall, was later found on his bathroom counter. Continue reading →
Following on the heels of “15 Things I Learned From My Mom,” I thought it was only fitting to devote a post to my father. This month not only marks Father’s Day, but my dad’s 93rd birthday. Here are just a few of the countless things he’s taught me:
1. Commit your heart to Jesus. My dad’s faith began forming when he was a young farm boy searching for a lost cow. As he went from field to field looking for the wayward beast, he eventually became disoriented and panicked. In that moment, dad asked God to help him, and instantaneously remembered that he could tell the direction home by looking at the sun. The seeds of faith sown that day on the prairie came to fruition at age 15 when a traveling evangelist came to town. When the altar call came, dad felt a burning in his heart to respond. “I practically ran to the front,” dad recalls. He says he knew that it was time to “get off the fence” and make a commitment to Christ. My father calls it the most important decision he’s ever made—and one he’s never regretted.
Baby-faced dad in WWII
2. Worrying is worthless. One of the hallmarks of my dad’s faith is how it dissolves fear. As a soldier in WWII, his fellow Army buddies asked him why he didn’t share their fear of dying on the battlefield. He responded, “My life is in God’s hands, and I know that if I die, I will go to heaven.” My dad has consistently turned to prayer during trying times, leaving the matters in God’s hands. He is famous for saying “we’ll take it one day at a time,” a philosophy that focuses on the present rather than fearing the future. Even now, when the frailties of old age could easily produce anxiety, dad often says, “I’ll sleep well tonight; I don’t have anything to worry about. What good would it do, anyway?”
The garage looked cavernous without the lumbering, maroon car parked in its usual place. Only oil spots and track marks lingered as indicators of its long-time resident.
Pangs of sadness zinged my heart as I knew dad’s car, a 1991 Lincoln Continental, was gone forever. But I wasn’t grieving the loss of the vehicle as I much as I was mourning what its absence signified. The sale of “Mr. Lincoln,” as we affectionately called the car, meant that my dad would never drive again. Continue reading →