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Losing Dad

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Photo Credit: Kate Gabrielle

I went to bed early, but Hubby couldn’t sleep. All four siblings and their families would be in one place the next day, arriving from other areas and states to celebrate Christmas together. Dad’s nine grandchildren would be in one room for the first time in over two years.

I woke to Hubby’s voice as he grabbed his keys.

“Dad fell; I’m headed to his house.”

When he arrived at my father-in-law’s home, Hubby could tell something wasn’t right. He couldn’t get Dad up, so called an ambulance. He and the two emergency crew members managed to lug Dad’s six-foot-five-inch John Wayne frame into a chair. They talked him into going to the hospital.

Later that morning, doctors determined his hip was broken. As a candidate for surgery, Dad’s prognosis was bright—fall victims unable to have surgery don’t recover well, but those able to have surgery often move back into life just as well as before the fall. When the kids and I arrived at the hospital, Dad was sleeping. I offered to sit with him while Hubby took a nap; our brother-in-law took the kids to the waiting room.

In the peaceful, dark room, I watched dad sleep from the ubiquitous pink vinyl visitors chair. The warm smell of clean, bleached cotton permeated the room, almost overshadowing the sharp odor of disinfectant. A sharp contrast to the calm in the room, nurses bustled past the doorway, half hidden by a curtain.

A few minutes later, the anesthesiologist arrived, flipped on a light and woke Dad to discuss the surgery. I sent a text to notify Hubby, then turned to listen.

You are still a candidate for surgery but as the anesthesiologist, I want you to understand the risk. On a scale of 1 to 5, you’re a 4+. Your heart is not working properly. I need to make sure you are clear about the possible outcomes.

Dad immediately agreed that he understood his risk but wanted to do the surgery anyway. I asked him if he wanted to discuss it with Hubby first.

His eyes locked on mine. Motioning to his hip, he said, “I want to do the surgery. This is no way to live.”

He stared at me for another moment, as though making sure I received his message clearly, then nodded and looked at the anesthesiologist. “I don’t need to talk to anyone. I want the surgery.”

Hubby and my brother-in-law arrived with the kids just as a nurse swept into the room to begin surgery preparation. She allowed us time to give kisses and hugs and pray for Dad. As they wheeled him out, he gave Hubby a thumbs-up.

“I’ll beat this one, too.”

***

Several hours later, the anesthesiologist approached our group, a big smile shining through his droopy mustache.

Your dad came through the surgery just fine. He’ll be in his room in thirty minutes; then you can visit him.

In a collective exhale, our group relaxed.

Hubby chatted with his sister and her husband, their daughters played with phones, our children zoned in to their Kindles.

I tried to decipher a strange feeling, then realized it was mild surprise. I was absolutely happy he’d pulled through. However, I didn’t realize until that moment that I’d thought, during the conversation with the anesthesiologist, that he was telling me he might not make it—that he preferred heaven to living in bed.

And perhaps he was.

We waited.

Thirty minutes came and went.

Finally, the doors opened. The doctor, the nurse and the anesthesiologist appeared together, faces somber. Through the ensuing, one-sided conversation, the young surgeon sat as though in a trance, staring at the floor.

Right after I talked with you, we lost him. 

It was his heart. 

We did everything we could. 

We just couldn’t get him back. 

We did everything we could. 

Everything.

We were stunned. Two families were still traveling in, planning to come to the hospital so the grandkids could see Papa.

Holding each other tight, we sobbed. Several minutes later Hubby and I looked up, realizing together that our children—sitting several feet away—were still absorbed in their Kindle games. Thanks to headphones, they’d missed the tragedy. We experienced it again in their faces as we explained Papa had gone to heaven. Adopted grandchildren grieve just as deeply as biological grandchildren.

***

Take good care of him.

The anesthesiologist’s words have echoed in my mind all week.

I don’t know what caused him to zero in on Hubby. He shadowed us as we walked the empty, sterile hospital halls. He waited as Hubby and I held each other before approaching the bed where Dad’s still form lay. He pulled me aside as our somber group finally trickled away.

Wiping tears from his eyes, he insisted, “we did everything possible. Sometimes ‘everything’ just isn’t enough.” Nodding toward my husband’s retreating back, he said, “Please watch out for him. Take good care of him.” I hugged the good doctor, assuring him I would.

And for the past week, I’ve done my best. I know the toughest months are ahead of us.

We all knew this difficult time would eventually arrive; no one lives on this earth forever.

On the other hand, we didn’t expect it now. 

I’ve been terrified of the day we’d lose Dad because I was afraid it would destroy Hubby. We were all so close, especially since Mom died almost ten years ago. One of my favorite parts of Hubby is his loyalty to family, but I also worried how that loyalty might be torn in death.

Instead of destruction, this death brought something else.

I have never been so proud of my husband as during this week. He worked to create understanding and compromise. Took on tasks others didn’t feel emotionally able to handle. Remained strong support and loving comfort for our kids. Created a fabulous slide show to communicate the incredible story of Dad’s life. Wrote and delivered a heartfelt eulogy at the memorial service. Explained Dad’s faith in Jesus and our certain hope we’ll see him again one day.

 

Hubby is no different than he’s ever been; perhaps I just see him in a different light. Dad, who always reminded me of John Wayne, was larger than life in many ways; his escapades could fill a book and his presence filled the room. I was always focused, as was Hubby, on Dad.

Losing Dad allowed me to see that Hubby is just as much a force to be reckoned with. He generally focused that energy on helping Dad. Now, he’s the one supporting everyone, keeping the family together, guiding us all. He’s the keeper of the family spirit, the source of comfort, the voice of reason and wisdom—and everyone sees it.

I am so proud of him, and I WILL take good care of him.

 

 

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