Faced with a Life or Death Decision

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.”

ER signDad 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 “Faced with a Life or Death Decision”

Dying Peacefully

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?

Continue reading “Dying Peacefully”

My First Christmas Without Presents

thJ5VQ8FZ0I was that kid who got so excited about presents that I spent night after night camped out by our Christmas tree each year. Captivated by the mounds of tantalizing packages, I repeatedly rattled, squeezed and even sniffed the gifts, trying to guess what treasures lay within. The wait seemed almost unbearable as I counted the days until Christmas.

While my passion for presents has mellowed somewhat as an adult, the “Christmas countdown” has continued to tick loudly in my head each year, reminding me of all the things I need to do before the big day. In recent years my list has included writing and sending a Christmas letter, decorating my house, buying presents for family, friends and co-workers, and hosting a Christmas brunch and gift exchange for my brother, his girlfriend, and my dad.

But this year there are no decorations at my house, other than a couple of spindly thWGJ9R4T4poinsettias that are quickly shedding their leaves. I didn’t write my annual letter, search for gifts on Amazon.com, or plan a scrumptious Christmas brunch.

My 2015 holiday season has been radically different – more accurately, my entire world is still reeling from a seismic shift. You see, my precious father went to heaven two days before Thanksgiving. Instead of cooking a turkey, I spent the holiday writing my dad’s obituary. In the days following, I devoted hours to writing a tribute to my dad, planning a memorial service, and putting together a slide show commemorating his life.   This year sympathy cards have far outnumbered the holiday cards I have received, and remnants of funeral flowers adorn my home instead of a pre-lit tree. Continue reading “My First Christmas Without Presents”

15 Things I Learned From My Dad

Janie & Dad -whip cream 1961

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.

DAd - army
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?”

Continue reading “15 Things I Learned From My Dad”

When Dad Can’t Drive Anymore

CIMG2659The 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 “When Dad Can’t Drive Anymore”