I Said Goodbye to My Father Today
It was a gorgeous winter Sunday in Seattle. One of those days, you are grateful that you live in this wonderful city and that on this day, this moment you are here and nowhere else. The sun was bright, sky blue and air crisp. The city was vibrant and alive. Lake Washington sparkled, shimmered and danced with hope. Although chilly, the flooding of sunlight brought nurturing warmth to the earth and with it the promise of spring to come, new beginnings.
I had been at church that morning, reflecting on my dying father. I had been so blessed to have him a meaningful part of my entire life. Now at ninety and one-half (he was particularly proud of the one-half, a landmark attained just a week before) he had days to live, or so we thought. The date was January 4, 2004. My mind wandered. This would be a perfect day for Dad to transcend into the spiritual world. He did not do well during the long winter months. His world had been confined to "his chair" for years strategically placed in front of the family room window, TV clicker at his fingertips, prominently situated where he could keep his skilled eye on the happenings of all who would gather around, what else? The kitchen. But back to long winters. The time of year between the end of football and beginning of baseball had grown to be the most difficult for him. We were approaching that cycle of time. But today, had he been able to be aware of the weather, his spirits would have soared. He would have found the comfort and hope that only sunshine can bring, if only for a moment.
And, I suggested to God in a form of prayer, the actual date would keep the number four consistent with Mom's death soon to be ten years before. Mom had died on February 2nd, 1994. I remember the association game I played in order that I would always be able to go back to the strangeness and beauty of that day, her final moments of life. If today, were to be the day that Dad would join the spiritual realm in eternal peace and be reunited with Mom, family and friends the number four connection would be consistent. A blessing of sorts for me as I advance into my aging years. I have long since accepted the reality that my mind is just not as sharp as it used to be. From a purely numbers perspective, today would work:
Mom: 2 (February) + 2 (day of month) = 1994
Dad: 1 (January) + 4 (day of month) = 2004
After mass, I headed straight for Dad's. A routine I would make as often as possible. Frequently on Sunday's, my nephew, Tom, would journey from Marysville to spend quality time with Grandpa. Dad's children and grandchildren have embraced his love for cooking. Tom is no exception. He delighted in making his grandfather a big country-style breakfast including all of Dad's favorites, paper thin, from scratch pancakes with plenty of butter and warmed syrup, fried potatoes, over easy eggs, bacon, toast and homemade strawberry freezer jam. I would arrive in time to witness their mindless chatter and peels of laughter often times wondering what was so funny. At times, I am convinced they did not even know. It was merely grandfather and grandson bonding. I always felt as if they welcomed me into their world allowing me to share these moments with them as I rummaged through the fridge looking for leftovers usually settling on either bon-bons, chocolate chip mint ice cream or both.
Today, Tom was on "dad duty" an expression we all used when backing up my younger brother, Jim, who had been Dad's caregiver since Mom's death. It was also the big day all loyal, local football fans had been waiting for, the playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay. Although Dad was physically missing the game, he was with us in spirit as Tom and I teamed to monitor his care that afternoon. Mom and Dad had been childhood sweethearts born and raised in West Bend, Wisconsin a sleepy community a stone's throw from Green Bay where Dad's family had a cottage. In my childhood years, long before the formation of the Seahawks, many a lazy Sunday afternoon was spent gathered around the television eating freshly popped, buttered popcorn as the family rooted for the Green Bay Packers and Vince Lombardi. After spending years of Sunday afternoons with his grandfather, Tom was well aware of the significance this game would have had on Dad. And, the game did not disappoint. It was a thriller!!! The Seahawks came roaring back and tied the game sending it into overtime. Tom and I were beside our selves. Awesome! Dad's face would have lit up like a Christmas tree, a twinkle in his eye, smiling from ear to ear. And then, Tom quietly turned off the television and gently walked me into Dad's bedroom. There was no mistaking it. Dad's heavy, labored breathing had been silenced. The only sounds were the hypnotic whirling of the oxygen and air mattress machines. In the midst of football excitement a few moments before, Dad, Grandpa, had joined his God and childhood sweetheart. His earthly journey had ended. He had joined the spiritual realm. Gratefully, he was at peace. Free.
Dad had faced the last weeks of life on his terms. Once he made the decision that, he could no longer get up and get going everyday his demeanor changed. He accepted being bed ridden and his fate. His fear and anxiety lifted. He approached his remaining days with humor, gentleness and a profound sense of peace. Although Dad's physical health had failed him years ago, his mind was sharp. As he summoned his children and grandchildren around him, he was further comforted in knowing his prayers to die in the safety of his home were being answered. The final vigil had begun.
Tom and I hugged, celebrating in Dad's victory. Freedom. This gentle giant was in a better place. He had been called home. Our vigil had come to an end. It was a bittersweet moment. Disbelief. Joy. Gratitude. Loss. Relief. Grief. As Tom began the process of calling family, I relished the moments alone with my father to whisper my final goodbyes, lovingly sing the family lullaby and humbly offering my rosary prayer for his safe passage. And on that clear, bright, sunny afternoon, the family came together to honor the man we all loved.
The remaining afternoon was a tribute to Dad's life. Support machines were disconnected. Hospice was called. Family arrived. A big meal was prepared. As the light of day turned to dusk, candlelight warmed Dad's bedroom and our hearts with a soft glow. We joined our hands in prayer, raised our voices in song, lifted our glasses in tribute and laughed reliving times gone bye. It was a deeply personal, touching moment, a once in a lifetime experience.
And then it was time. It was time for his final departure from his home. A farewell to this man, my father, whose smile would light up his face and a room. Dad was gently and respectfully wrapped in a homemade, blue quilt and carried by five of his grandsons, two being my children, out into the cold starry, moon lit night. Goodbye, Dad. Your love will shine brightly in my heart.
Later that evening as I snuggled into the safety of my bed, comforted by the warmth of flannel, I was proud of the sensitivity and expression of love from my sons and daughter-in-law. It had been my son Brian's suggestion, in the midst of grief, to suggest the family gather together for prayer in the soft glow of grandpa's bedroom, which, after all was our divine purpose and what Dad and God would have wanted to happen.
Although I knew the end was near and had begun the grieving process long before Dad's death, the reality was I was not fully prepared for the loneliness and sorrow. I have lost my cheerleader, my nucleus, and my father.
Good-bye, Dad, I love you.