My father passed away two and a half weeks ago. He died of dementia, a burden he had carried for nine years, which is unheard of longevity. My father was incredibly strong. I’ve been carrying a heavy load of grief over the fresh loss of my first parent.
Dementia patients rarely live nine years. A blessing, God gave us more time. One afternoon I settled onto the couch beside my father, side by side, watching our favorite teams play college basketball.
He reached over to hold my hand. Shoulder to shoulder, we rooted for our team, laughing together. And then he turned to me, his eyes clear and unclouded by confusion.
“Melinda.” His eyes twinkled with love and affection. “You’re here.”
“Yes, I am, Daddy. I’m Melinda watching the game with you.”
My heart pounded as I smiled back at him. Joy swelled up in my chest. He hadn’t recognized me in years, yet here I was, known and seen and loved by my father. Momentarily at least.
The next time he was lucid when he spoke to me was during a Facetime call a year later. At the end of the call, he leaned toward me, locking eyes.
“Don’t go.” His stare through my iPhone screen was intense. “Don’t go.” He repeated this several times. I continued to talk as long as I could, but I had to go.
I wish I had stayed on the phone with him. I could have cancelled my appointments. The fact that I didn’t stay, eyes locked with his, causes deep regret.
These were the last times he knew me.
Recently, his condition grew worse:
Two and a half weeks ago, I flew toward the hospice care center where my father now lay dying, terminal agitation impacting his body. His transport to Lutheran Hospice had been traumatic, for he had been suffering from acute agitation at that time, a phase indicating end of life but a mystery to us until then.
Terminal restlessness/agitation describes a more sudden shift in behaviors at the end of life. It is different from the anger, depression, or other emotions that are common during the stages of dying.
We had been losing him day by day, year after year, but now he was truly and fully leaving us.
My father was mostly unconscious now. My mother cared for him during the day and crawled into his hospital bed to cuddle with him by night. He had entered hospice on the day before their sixty-third anniversary.My father was mostly unconscious now. My mother cared for him during the day and crawled into his hospital bed to cuddle with him by night. He entered hospice on the day before their 63rd anniversary. #bgbg2 #TrueLove #Grief Click To Tweet
I knew my father wouldn’t know me when I arrived, but I wanted to see him, to tell him once more that I love him, that he was a wonderful father, that he did his best to love and to raise us, and that every transgression was forgiven.
I called, speaking as loudly as I could, offering encouraging words, stating my name as usual, even more important now, for he couldn’t open his eyes at this point.
I knew he might not respond, for he had grown increasingly withdrawn with his eyes closed, struggling through terminal agitation and death’s Siren call.
The hospice staff said that “girl dads” usually don’t die until all the girls had arrived. My baby sister flew in from Europe. I was flying in from Texas. And my other sister lives nearby. My voice over the hospice room phone seemed to fulfill that, for the other two sisters were present. And now my phoned-in voice, unseen but present, was added to theirs.
We hoped our gathering would give him the peace he needed to let go, to not be afraid, for we love him.
A writer friend, Linda Lee, pointed out to me later that in my case, even though I hadn’t physically made it there, “you really were there, in so many ways. Your thoughts were there, your love was there. And from your father’s perspective, your voice was there.”
I didn’t expect the loss of a parent to be so exhausting. One thing after another at the airport, one airplane after another needing to be deplaned and then reboarded, each a further delay to even get out of town, hours wasted due to the airline’s negligence, and so I missed saying goodbye.I didn't expect the loss of a parent to be so exhausting. #truelove #grief #mourning #bgbg2 Click To Tweet
In fact, I was still sitting in the terminal of my original location after a second deplaning when my mother texted me that he was gone, poof! Just like that, and he was no longer in his body. His soul was on a different type of journey.
That mad rush to arrive in time to tell my father goodbye had proved to be futile. He was gone.
This was allowed by God. It was God’s will. Our second-born son was nearby, heading toward Lutheran Hospice, knowing I wouldn’t make it. He arrived right in time to comfort my mother and sisters immediately after my father’s death. A great blessing!
Eventually I made it. My son now picked me up, ugly crying, at the airport. He drove me to hospice. There I discovered that my voice when added to theirs had given my father enough relief to let go. All girls were present.
I cupped my father’s forehead and stroked his hair, once I finally arrived, whispering words of love.
Futility, sadness, and a UTI followed, my autoimmune-diseased body overwhelmed by this earthquake of grief and my frustrated inability to reach my destination, all good health barriers destroyed.
However, the hospice staff had waited until I arrived to complete the ceremony of my father’s departure to be prepared for burial, even though it was midnight before I finally walked in. This was a gift from God, to be able to watch him, covered by our country’s flag, taken away with solemn ceremony.
My emotions have been solemn ever since missing my goodbye, sadness overflowing without forethought, tears running down my cheeks while in any location where I happened to be.
And so, some of my children planned a mini-vacation between my father’s death and his burial, gathering to encourage me. I played with my young granddaughter, held the baby, helped an older one with a college paper, and settled squabbling disputes.
We sang together. We laughed. It was glorious!
And yet, it felt as if my father stood behind me, staring over my shoulder in a protective posture.
Here is a super cool part. I regard this as a gift from God.
When the family was discussing the graveside service, I mentioned that I would like to see the coffin lowered, so that we might ponder the resurrection, which is the next time the coffin will be opened. And so that we could have some time to pray as we considered death’s effects on every human being.
No one seemed to hear a word I had said. My mother was right beside me, and it was as if she were deaf.
So I thought, “Well, that’s not gonna happen.”
But then, at the graveside, all of a sudden, once the pallbearers (all of our children and our oldest grandson) set down the casket in position, the mortuary people immediately lowered the coffin down into the crypt.
We all stepped forward and looked down deep upon the coffin in which my father now was at rest until the Lord came back for his body. It was a somber moment, and it was holy. And it had happened without me having to ask again. I felt as if God had done this especially for me. It was/is balm on the wound of not making it in time. God is good.
Praying for the Lord’s help during this time of grieving and loss seemed essential. And yet, I felt numb, nothing to add yet, no words, no strength to plod through the travel and the days of funereal mourning ahead. But, the Lord was with me, nevertheless.
The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.
The funeral was on Monday.
We stood in the snow and watched as my father was buried deep in the earth. I know I will see him again in heaven.
Through all this, the Lord stood beside me. He was with me, no matter how I felt, no matter the pain in my heart and my body. He still stands by me. The same is true of you, beloved. The Lord is always with you when Christ is your Savior.
He, the eternal Father, never leaves me nor forsakes me. Lord, my Father be.We watched as my father was buried deep in the earth. I know I will see him again in heaven. Through all this, the Lord stood beside me. #TrueLove #grief #bgbg2 Click To Tweet
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