The next day, my alarm rang out and my eyes tried to convince my brain to keep them closed. I could feel the pure exhaustion and heaviness in my eyelids. I instantly hoped it was all just a nightmare as I scrolled through my phone through a swollen filter. A “Happy Anniversary” text was a welcome distraction from my husband, but just one scroll confirmed the reality of the situation. This September 28th was already proving to be very different than our wedding just 4 years prior.
Attempting to work from home, I logged on with some coffee. I’d work as long as I could, then head to the hospital. But with one text from my mom, that coffee became a second thought.
Your dad has made a decision, I think you should come now. He’s stopping everything…
I tried catching my breath, I knew what that meant. Dad elected no surgery, he’d given everything his best shot. Dialysis didn’t make him feel great, so he was stopping instantly. Why prolong the infection and waste the time in isolation that could be spent with others? It took no time to get out the door, going on autopilot as I drove the 30 minutes to the hospital and joined my family. We agreed with his decision, but that didn’t make supporting it any easier.
Dad was his usual self, not letting on that he’d just made the first step towards our worst fear. He had seen my earlier post on Facebook, the video of his speech at my wedding, dedicating my anniversary to him. Outside of family, no one, let alone social media, was even aware of the happenings in the last 24 hours. So when he requested to hear the comments, he knew they were genuine and enjoyed hearing the high accolades that were written. Most included the word EPIC and they were so right.
At that time, a coworker of Mom and Dad’s, Mike, walked into the room. We were all taken by surprise. Their employer knew Dad was in the hospital, but not the seriousness and the decisions that were just made. Mike said he didn’t know why, but felt he was needed this morning and what a blessing it was that he listened to God’s direction. We broke the news to him, we prayed together, and he helped Mom with telling the office the news so the stress was removed from her. Dad requested lunchtime visitors and to spread the word. And that began the steady stream of love that came through the step-down unit doors for the next couple of days.
I watched as groups of coworkers and friends took turns to laugh with Dad and listen to his words of advice. I snapped a picture of his smile as he told the young guys from his office to not take life so seriously and enjoy the days in the office, someday they’ll miss it. Just as he had since he’d been out sick for mainly all of 2017. We let anyone who wanted a chance to come in and visit. While it was easy to give everyone their time, in reflection that was a much harder decision than we thought. While Dad was in his prime with others, we were losing our own precious moments. Ours were shared with doctors and nurses and often with his energy tank running on fumes.
My alone time came on Friday morning. Until this moment, I had only truly cried in the waiting room, trying to be strong for Dad. We had been waiting for a nurse to come in for a bath and shave and I broke down sitting beside him.
“I hope you know how much I love you,” I sobbed.
Dad, reaching to hold my hand, “Of course I do. Do you know how much I love you?”
I nodded yes.
“But you don’t, Kara. I couldn’t ask for a better daughter. You make me so proud. The way you treat your family and your friends. One of the greatest prides of my life.”
With a lump building in my throat, I squeaked out, “I learned it all from you.”
“Well, we could compliment each other all day, but we’ve got things to do, don’t we?”
I wasn’t surprised with Dad’s response directing away from the sensitive conversation. He assumed we’d have more opportunities to talk, and so did I. He knew more visitors would be coming and he wanted to feel clean and as put together as possible. And just like that, our moment was over. That was the last full conversation I had with him.
That’s a hard thing to realize now, that someone else got the sharp and witty that should’ve belonged to my mom, my sister, and me. But the smile on his face when another person walked in was worth it. I’m not sure if I had to do it all over that I’d do it the same, but for Dad in that moment, we did the right thing. And I hope in reading this, maybe a few of those people will share their private words with us someday. Just so I can have another piece of him. I’ll always wish for more words.
That same night, while touring our chosen hospice facility, Dad was given a pain medication that didn’t sit well with him. It should not have been administered and unfortunately, it stole his clear state of mind and replaced it with confusion or pain and very few words, there was no alternative for the rest of his palliative care. We got word that we’d be moving the next day. Mom, Kelsey, and I buckled down and tried to prepare ourselves for what was certain to be the worst time of our lives.