Monday, June 22, 2015

I Try To Say Good-bye And I Choke ... (spoiler alert: a "downer blog" with a "upper twist")

Father's Day, Circa 2015, has been a little gloomy.  I greatly enjoyed the lunch with my daughter and her family, the hug from Christopher when in invaded his work place, and the extended FaceTime with Scott and Amanda from their home near Chicago.  Debbie treated my like a King, feeding me and encouraging me to do whatever I wanted.  We had a great day at church, complete with bacon at a breakfast the ladies of our lives prepared for the men folk.  You cannot beat bacon.  It was a day filled with very good stuff. 

The truth is that fifteen years ago today was the last time I saw my dad alive.  It was the last time I shared a sentence with him.  My dad passed away from liver cancer on June 23, 2000 in Mtn. Home, Arkansas.  I think of my dad every day and give him more than a passing thought around this time every year.  And this year, even more so.  I suppose it is because the anniversary of my last visit with him coincided with Father's Day.  Honestly, we will have a talk about that some day when I catch up with him.  He could have chosen any other month for his home-going.  He did not have to mess up my holiday.

In June of 2000 I was at Centrifuge with the teenagers of my church.  I called my parents daily to check on them and especially to inquire into dad’s health.  I knew he was not well.  Dad had cancer and he was taking a mild chemo to relieve the symptoms and try to buy him another year of life.  I was with him when the doctor recommended it.  I took him to his first treatment several weeks before.  I could live with that... Another year.  I would make it endless.  I made plans to go there every other week knowing we would laugh and talk and share stories.  The year would last.  I called him from a pay phone(remember those?) at Centrifuge in the middle of the week.  That is when I discovered he was in the hospital.  It seems he had fallen and mom found him on the floor. When we talked he sounded so weak... So frail.  I asked him if I should come and he told me to wait until after Centrifuge.  “Stay there son and do a good job.”  Those were his words.  I did as he said. 

But the week ended.  I returned home, got through the weekend, and went to Mtn. Home.  Dad was still in the hospital and clearly he was in trouble.  My dad was dying.  Not later.  Not in a year.  He was dying now.  I did the only thing you can do.  I sat with him.  

Over the next couple of days he drifted in and out of reality.  He would talk to me, weakly, but coherently.  And then he would be gone in a merciful wash of pain medication.  Scott was with me on the trip and on our last evening there we drove out to Lake Norfolk and engaged in the time-honored tradition of skipping rocks.  Then we drove back to check on dad.  I looked at what he had tried to eat for supper.  He had gently run his spoon through the soft foods in a halfhearted attempt at making me happy.   I took a surgical rubber glove out of the box by his sink, blew it up, drew a smiley face on it, and wrote, “We love you dad.”  Then I tied it near the foot of his bed where he could see it.  Dad was doing well tonight.  Maybe he’d rally and get back home after all.

The next morning, as I walked down the hall of the hospital, God whispered.  He does that.  When He knows I need to hear Him... He speaks.  Generally through impressions and never through an audible voice.  And this time He told me not to expect what I saw last night.  I kind of already knew.  As I walked into the room Dad was incoherent.  He gasped for air.  He wheezed.  I talked to him and I had no idea if he heard or understood.  Soon Scott came into the room.  We spent time in silence and time trying to help dad.  Trying to give him our strength.  Scott left for awhile.  Soon Dr. White came by.  He called me out of the room where he told me that dad’s liver was gone... Totally consumed by the tumor.  He was going to die.  But he had a strong heart and “might rock on for a week or two.”  Then he turned and left.  No “I’m sorry.”  No “Can I do anything?”  No “We are doing the best we can.”  He walked away and left me standing alone in an empty hallway with my hero dying 8 feet away.

I'm the pastor.  I am suppose to be strong.  I have been with other people at this moment dozens of times. This ... was different.

Scott returned and we knew we needed to pray with grandpa.  Dad suddenly woke from his restless slumber.  “Dad... Can we pray with you?”  Dad never talked about things like prayer.  Maybe he prayed.  Maybe he didn’t.  He told mom that he prayed the Lord’s Prayer before going to sleep each night of his adult life.  But he didn’t talk about it.  “Yes.”  It was a reply borne out of a gasp for breath.  I prayed.  I prayed the prayer of my life.  I had prayed it a hundred times by a hundred beds with a hundred dying men.  But this time the prayer took on new meaning.  Scott prayed.  And as we said “Amen” we looked at dad.  He was not looking at us.  He was looking past the foot of his bed.  He was looking up, above the TV, where the ceiling met the wall.  And he said in a strained, hoarse voice... “What is that?”  Scott and I looked up.  There was nothing there.  “What is what?”  I asked.  “What is that?” Dad gasped again and his eyes grew wide.  And we said nothing.  There was nothing where he was looking.  Nothing for our eyes to see.  But dad’s gaze remained fixed to the spot until he lapsed back into a merciful semi-coma.  I have wondered many times what dad saw that day.  Perhaps it was the delusions of a dying man.  Perhaps he saw the city of his dreams.  I don’t know. 

I sent Scott to the store to pick up groceries for grandma.  If dad might “rock on” for another week or two I needed to return home and make a sweep through the office.  I needed to check on my family and make sure they were ok.  I needed to find someplace to breath.

Scott left.  I sat by dad.  He struggled to sit up claiming that he had to go to the bathroom, unwilling to give in to the ever present catheter.  And then he slept.  He sucked air with all of his ability.  I stood by his bed.  I left the room.  I came back in.  I stroked his forehead gently.  I quietly told him how very much I loved him.  I told him how grateful I was for the life he had given me.  I thanked him for the countless hours of work to support his family.  I thanked him for the “Jimmy Jets” my brother and I always called our favorite Christmas presents ever.  I thanked him for being there even when he didn’t know how to speak words of wisdom.  I kissed him gently on the forehead.  I said, “Goodbye Dad.”  And I walked out of the room knowing in my heart that I would never see my father alive again. 

I walked through the hospital corridors.  I thought about going back and seeing dad one more time.  But I kept walking.  I exited the building into the bright sunshine of the parking lot.  I took keys from my pocket and opened the door to my father’s car, the huge, spotless 1978 Ford LTD.  Dad’s pride and joy.  He said when he bought it off of the dealer’s lot that it was the last car he would ever own.  I put the key into the keyhole, totally aware that my father would never do that again.  I turned over the big engine.  The radio was on and tuned to the station that Scott had punched in the night before.  Out of the speakers came the voice of Macy Gray.  “I try to say goodbye and I choke.  Try to walk away and I stumble.  Though I try to hide it, it’s clear, my world crumbles when you are not here.”  I sat in the parking lot for what seemed like an eternity.   Scott and I drove home that afternoon, a Thursday.  I planned on going back on Saturday.  Dad ran to Jesus on Friday.

And so I  suppose it is alright to be a little less than jubilant this Father's Day.  Fifteen years is a big deal.  It is a long time.  A "marker" of sorts on the highway through life.  I was driving from my office to my home for lunch today.  I like silence when I drive.  Today I broke with that tradition and flipped the stereo on.  Talk radio came across the air waves.  Ummm.  No.  Not today.  And so I pushed the button to go to FM.  And there she was again ...

"I try to say good-bye and I choke
I try to walk away and I stumble
Though I try to hide it, it's clear
My world crumbles when you are not here.."

Wow.  Macy Gray.  Fifteen years later ... to the day.  What were the odds...


Kristi said...

My heart breaks for your grief, I celebrate the fact that your Dad was your Hero....not all of us have those precious memories of having a wonderful Father....and for those of us that don't we can only look towards heaven and thank him for being exactly the Father we need.....I pray that your heart will only feel Joy when you think of your Dad..

Ron said...

thank, Kristi. You are wise and I love you for it.

The Dashboard Poet said...

My Dear are one of the greatest joys of my life. The last conversation I had with our dad was telling him I was leaving then for Arkansas. He told me no. He said I have work to do, and that I should wait until the following weekend. I asked if he were sure, and he said "Yes. Very." I told him I love him, and the very last thing dad said to me was "I love you too, son." He died as I drove to your house that following weekend. I have never resolved his death. I dream of him at least once a week. He was my hero, next to Jesus and Paul. But, Ron, dad left me something to remind me exactly what he was like. He left me you.

Jason Woods said...

Miss him everyday...

Anonymous said...

So touching. Beautifully written as if we were all there with you. I feel your grief Pastor Ron, I truly do.
How wonderful to share the final moments with our parents. You know the parents we never expect to die.
I think it takes a brave and caring man to share your innermost thoughts of your father's passing with all of us. Ellen

Ron said...

Thanks, Ellen. He was pretty special.

Ron said...

Me too, Jason.

Ron said...

Now that is humbling. Thank-you, James.

Ron said...

From Patti (blogger had a glitch and this is the only way I can post your comment)

There's nothing like having your dad be your hero. He left a great legacy in you Ron. Your kids are grown, you have grandchildren and more on the way. You are a hero to them. Your dad was proud of you then as he watched you be a dad, I just know if he were here he would be even prouder of the dad and grandpa you are now. You will leave a legacy as well.

Ron said...

You have the gift of encouragement! Thank you!