August 27, 2019
Finally, hospice accepted him. He needs more help. My daddy can’t speak but an occasional whisper. He tried to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand. I strained to listen as I placed my ear near his lips. A faint whisper, but so weak it couldn’t be understood. I tried and tried to hear, but I couldn’t meet his needs if that is what he was trying to voice.
Three phrases I understood today:
“I saw your mother today.” (Mom has been gone for 12 years).
“Thank you,” he said to Shelly, the CNA who wiped his mouth with a warm washcloth after lunch.
I rubbed his back as I spoon-fed him broth from his chicken noodle soup, taking over for my sister-friend Barb. He only wants liquids now. Everything else requires too much effort. The bones in his back, his shoulder blades, and spine are what I rubbed through a paper-thin layer of skin. Where has my daddy gone? Piece by piece, he is disappearing. Each time I see him, a part of his mind or body have vanished. His voice is gone – I’m never to hear, “I love you so, so much!” ever again – an ever-present element of our times together, or closing our phone conversations. His 180-pound body, now a scant 120. Where does it go? Will someone tell me? How can he be disappearing so quickly? Eye contact – my favorite thing to do when I saw him – to lock eyes and smile at each other. Today, sometimes one eye open and one eye shut, both eyes closed; both eyes open, but staring down, looking somewhere beyond the present. I caught a glimpse when I kissed his forehead near his right eye, his left eye found me, and I knew he saw his “Red.”
He understood today. His mind was not gone. He couldn’t speak, but he answered questions with a nod or a shake. “Are you hungry?” No response. “Peanut butter and jelly?” A slow but deliberate shake. “Grilled cheese?” Another shake. Chicken noodle soup? A nod! Chicken noodle soup it is! And, it just so happens to be on today’s lunch menu! A bowl of soup for dad! God did that. He gave dad a nod and served it right up for everyone in the dining room, but I know he did that for dad.
After sipping a few spoonsful of broth, he tried to whisper. I pulled my ear close, and after a few attempts, I heard it ever so faintly, “ice cream.” The white melted cream dribbled from his mouth, but he swallowed more of that than anything. He loves vanilla ice cream! Napkin, after napkin, caught the melted dribbles between bites. He was eating! Who cares if he has diabetes when his body is starving for calories? Then we tried the butter pecan protein shake. Straws help abundantly. He sucked and sucked. Who knew he likes butter pecan flavor? A discovery late in life. Lunch was a great success! More calories in him providing for him another day of life.
So is this what we do? Help him eat more so he can live longer? But he’s ready to go. He wants to “go home.” Is it cruel to celebrate dad’s intake of calories providing more sustenance when what he wants is to go? It is a confusing time. As I feed him, my wheelchair next to his, I lean my body underneath his hunched body to speak into his eyes, “I love you so much, you know that, right?” A slow but definite nod. “Jesus is waiting for you to give you a crown.” “You’ll get to see Mom again soon.” “Don’t give up on your faith; God is with you even though this is so, so hard.” “Thank you for your faith, Dad; it’s helped me to have mine.”
He’s in there. Some people think he’s not in there as much as I know he is. He can hear, and he can understand, he just can’t speak. Today he understood everything and recognized everyone. I got another glimpse of eye contact when I said, “I will always be your Red.” A nod of reassurance.
Last words. What will my last words be to him? I think his last words to DaNia and me were, “I saw your mother today.” Or, no, to me, it was his request for “ice cream.”
We got him back to his room and determined through yes or no questioning, and a nod, that he preferred to get into bed instead of the recliner. I wheeled myself close to him, and then stood to get my ear near his mouth straining to understand. But I couldn’t hear him. I don’t know what he said. He couldn’t get it out. Oh, I wish I knew so I could meet a need or respond. His goodbye statements to me were almost always, “Tell Mark, Jenny, Nicole, and Stephen hi for me and give them my love. I love you so, so much, honey. Good-bye for now.”
I don’t know when the last time is that I’ll get to see him. It feels eerily close.
Tears catch in my throat. You know the tears you hold back? They get stuck right there. I cannot speak, or I will lose it. I can’t talk to anyone about today, so I write.
My whole body grieves as you disappear more and more, day by day.
Your soul is vast and full of the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t disappear – it never fades away. As He prepares to bring you home, my throat opens, allowing tears to flow, then sobs I’ve stuffed in there unleash.
After some time, my whimpers turn to tears of acceptance as I think about your desire to go home. When you get there, for a moment, you will probably still be speechless as Jesus lays a crown of faithful victory on your head. Then your voice will burst forth, completely uninhibited, as you proclaim with a strong revitalized voice along with the angels and saints, “Glory be to God!” Then God will lock eyes with yours and tell you, “Well done, Roger, my good and faithful servant. Well done!” And He will kiss you on your forehead.
“Good-bye for now,” Dad. I will see you again. I will hear your voice again and I will lock eyes and smile together with you again. We will eat chicken noodle soup and ice cream and drink butter pecan flavored protein shakes and laugh and talk and maybe revisit Harvey Park again and enjoy another soda under the shade of the trees.
You will be okay. This will all be okay. You are moving piece by piece to the other side. “Tell Jesus hi for me and give Him my love. I love you so, so much, my sweet dad. Good-bye for now.”
Note: Over the next two days, Dad closed his eyes and became unresponsive. I never heard another word spoken by him. He never ate another meal. Dad died on August 29, 2019. Most of us got to say our goodbyes throughout that day. I know he heard us. Christina wiped a tear away after she spoke to him. I know he felt our kisses, my last near his right eye. His final visitors came that evening. When the nurse went into his room to turn him, he awoke. She told him his granddaughter Jennifer was there to see him. Nurse Sheila said he smiled a great big smile, and he was happier at that moment than she’d seen him during the three weeks he was at the 24-hour care facility. Jenny and Stephen ushered him into heaven with prayer and scripture readings from Psalm 23, 2 Corinthians 5, and 1 Corinthians 15: 50-58. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” He opened his right eye in response and saw Jenny. She called me, and over speakerphone, I had the chance to say one last time, “I love you so, so much Dad. Good-bye for now.” Ten minutes later, he let go.
The battle has been won! Dad’s battle scars have been transformed into a new and glorious pain-free body! And he is wearing a heavenly crown. He is okay. Everything is going to be okay.