Tuesday, September 21, 2021 was one of the worst days of my life.
Yesterday, my dad died.
While he had been suffering from mucosis-fungeoid (a very rare full-body skin cancer) for several years, he took an unexpected turn. Suddenly, he was gone.
Kari, the kids, and I had just spent Labor Day weekend with my folks. Dad and I fried up some fish and other goodies. The eight of us had a round-robin cornhole/bags tournament. We played several games of six-handed euchre. It was a lovely weekend.
Just this past Friday, mom and dad had come over to Morton for the pumpkin fest. Dad was doing much worse than he had just a few weeks prior. All of his skin was so dry, including his throat—making it really hard for him to eat, drink, or even speak.
He had stayed at my house that afternoon while my mom, Kari, and the kids went uptown to the Pumpkin Festival. I got home not long after they had left. I had been at a funeral in Springfield that morning.
I spoke to dad and was surprised at how hard it was for him to speak because of his dry throat. He was sipping water from a bottle. I saw down on the couch opposite of him to watch some TV with him and I fell asleep—I was exhausted from the morning. When I woke up, he had moved from the chair to the couch opposite the one I was laying on. When I woke up, he was just watching me. He said “Little nap!” as I woke up and I chuckled saying I was apparently more tired than I realized.
Shortly after, everyone else came back home. Dad seemed tired too, and quietly got up and walked to my room and fell asleep in my spot on my bed. We woke him a little later when Mom was ready to head home. Dad was so tired and weak I had to hold him up by the arm to walk him to the car and lift and turn his legs in for him. I buckled his seatbelt for him and told him I loved him and he told me he loved me. Those were the last words we exchanged.
Mom called me at six yesterday morning in a panic saying she was at the ER and they were asking whether to intubate Dad. She said they told her he wouldn’t survive regardless. I know my dad had always said he wished for a quick death. The idea of life as an invalid, or suffering from a long-term disease, or being in a nursing home were personal hells for him, but I couldn’t bear to just let him go so quickly, so I told me to have them get him on a ventilator.
He had fallen unconscious before the ambulance had arrived at their house and he never regained consciousness. Chrissy got the call from Mom at 1:00 a.m. local time in Honolulu and took the earliest flight available to Chicago. She wouldn’t land until about 10:30 that night. We tried to keep Dad alive until she could get there to say goodbye in person. We had held the phone to his ear later that morning for her to talk with him.
As the morning moved into afternoon, even the medicine being used to artificially prop up his blood pressure was becoming ineffective. Mom and I each had some time alone with Dad, and not long after, his blood pressure began rapidly falling and his pulse when from a steady 115 bpm to an irregular 60, then single digits, then none. He died at 2:42 p.m. with Mom and me at his side.
I haven’t fully processed all of this yet. My grief comes in fits and starts. There have been moments of overwhelming sadness and moments of strength and determination. I suppose I will oscillate between these two poles for a while.
While I am fully confident in the resurrection promised to us in our baptisms in the death of Christ, it does not relieve one’s grief. It does not relieve one of the empathy they feel when a loved one breaks down as their grief shreds their heart and they cry with guttural sobs. It doesn’t stop the overwhelming emotion one feels when they see a beloved relative they haven’t seen in some time walk up with open arms offering a strong and comforting bear hug. It doesn’t take away the today-pain. It lessons it, and gives me comfort conceptually and spiritually, but it doesn’t fill that void that has been riven open in my heart. Those wounds are still real and they are miserable.
I have sadly received my membership card to the club that no one wishes to join, that of people who have lost a parent. I know there are so many people who share this experience—and that almost all people will eventually, but it doesn’t make my own experience any less painful.
But as my dad would say, “it is what it is. See you when you get here.”