I recently blogged about end-life choices and decisions made by families in regards to dementia patients. It seems that some of my readers were offended by my lack of “sensitivity” to not only death and dying, but also to the feelings of the family members making those medical decisions. One such reader express her disdain by exclaiming that I “could not relate to the situations” family member must cope with, and “it was unfair” for me ” to make judgments when clearly, I had never been in her shoes”. True. I have never worn anyone’s shoes but my own. However, I have walked the same road that every family member faced with making life decisions/choices for a loved one.
My father was, still is, and always will be my greatest hero. He was an amazing man, who loved everyone he ever met, and not once did he meet a stranger. He was a simple man with a Ph.D and a Bible. He preached of a glorious Heaven to gain, and a fire burning Hell to shun and Jesus was the only Way, Truth and Life. He was a Pastor, Evangelist, husband and father of six children. To me, he was “daddy”.
Everywhere my father went, I was his shadow. I waited in hospital waiting rooms all over the state, while he visited the sick. I went to every home of the sick and shut in, that he visited. I sat by his side as he prayed for the sick, dying and aged. I learned the art of caring and compassion from his teachings and his actions.
My father attended every academic award ceremony, every sports match and every school event that I was involved in. He drove me to college, and watched as I stepped out on my own for the first time. He walked me down the aisle and presented his “baby girl” to be married. Minutes later, he was officiating the ceremony. He was at every airport, hugging me good-bye as my new life as a military wife was beginning. He was waiting at JFK airport when I returned home from overseas, heartbroken over a failed marriage. He had driven 1300 miles to be there. Not a man who believed in divorce, he lectured, counseled, explained and defended his position on marriage during the 20 hour drive home. As we pulled into the driveway, he turned to me and said, “Life is one choice and decision after another. The best any of us can do, is to do what we believe is right and honorable.If you do that, you will be alright in the eyes of God, and that’s what matters.” Wise. My father was a wise man.
Later on, I remarried and moved away from home to start my new life.
It was a cold, bitter day, on February 18, 2000. I raced inside from sledding to answer the phone.
“Hi baby-girl, it’s daddy.I need you to fly home two weeks from today. Family meeting here at home. All of your brothers and your sister are coming as well.” Family meetings were the meeting held by our parents, in the living room of our house. It was more of a jury trial type situation, typically held when 1 of the 6 had done something wrong and no one would admit to it. For instance, one of my brother’s threw a baseball which accidentally broke a window in the church. To this day, none of us admit to doing it, nor will we reveal what we know about who did it. My father called a family meeting. He lectured on honestly, admitting wrongdoing, ownership of wrongdoings, correcting wrongdoing……on and on he went. None of us tattled on the other. For punishment, my father made us all work at the church for three months, pulling weeds, moving brush piles and carefully wiping off the tombstones in the grave-yard until each headstone looked new again. Once he felt that we had paid for the window, our sin and debt, were forgiven. The same punishment came again when someone, I won’t name any names here, jumped off a fast-moving skateboard, leaving the skateboard to fly into an exterior door, leaving pain scuffed, and a dent. Back to graveyard we went with our rags, buckets of warm water and bottles of Fantastic.
We all flew home. We all wondered who had done what, or what we collectively, had done, or who was blaming who for what. I can still recall landing at the airport, walking through the gate and see him. There he was, my daddy. His hair was more “salt than pepper” than it used to be, and he had lost a bit of weight. He hugged me close as we waited for my sister’s plane to arrive.
My father always counted us at the dinner table before he said the blessing or “said grace”. “Let me count my sheep, 1, 2, 3, 4,…4 sheep. 1…2….2 lambs. Total 6, Let’s pray.” ( My brother and I were twins and the babies of the family, hence, the lambs.)
He opened the family meeting in the same fashion….. “Let me count the sheep. 1..2..3..4… 4 Sheep. 1...1.lamb. ( My brother was in killed in 1986 in a car accident). Ok ,let’s pray.” After prayer, my father stood in the center of our family circle, and said, ” I am a blessed man. Look at my beautiful family. I went to the doctor a while back, and I have cancer. It was in the prostate, but it has spread and it looks like I am going to die here sooner or later. Probably sooner than I would like, but to see each of you grown up and beautiful adults, I feel it is okay for me to die now. This is not open for discussion. I have made your mother aware of my end of life wishes. I have made my decisions. I have made what I feel are the right choices. The best any of us can do, is to do what we believe is right and honorable .If you do that, you will be alright in the eyes of God, and that’s what matters.”
We stood in silence. We stood in silence again, on August 28, 2000 ,as we stood over his bed listening as he drew his last breath. If it had been my choice, I probably would have never let him go. I would have forced him into every possible treatment, clinical trial and experimental phase I could have. Losing my father was the hardest thing I ever faced in my life. The most difficult decision I made was standing at his bedside, watching him gasp for his next breath. The nursing home staff asked us to let them know when we were “ready” for them to begin pushing morphine. My sister and I had a stare-off as to what “ready” meant. She was an RN, and knew the time was right then. Walking around to where I standing, she said to me, “We have to do this. We can’t watch him suffer. We don’t want him to suffer. We do what we believe is right and honorable, and do what daddy needs us to. Time stopped at 9:28 PM. He slipped away quietly as the morphine settled his discomfort. He would no longer be there to solve my mid-life crisis situations, meet me at the airport, or send me off every time with a hug, kiss and 20 dollar bill ( in case you see something you want). My hero had left me. My daddy was gone.
Here it is now, 2013. More than a decade has passed since my father’s death. Yet, I feel the pain of every son or daughter that walks into my office to place their mom or dad in the facility. I know their parent will more than likely die here. I have worn that daughter’s shoes. I have felt that son’s pain. The son that never comes to visit his father annoys me. The daughter who chooses not to place a feeding tube in her mother frets me. The grand-daughter who doesn’t visit because “he doesn’t know me anyway” boils my blood…the grandson who wants to know about how “death insurance” works causes me to feel ill. So maybe I do seem abrasive and maybe I do pass judgement on those who seem unmoved by the decline of their parent……
But here’s the thing. I have to do what I believe is right and honorable.If I do that, I will be alright in the eyes of God, and that’s what matters.”