Dad was entering his final days having battled cancer and a stroke for the past several months. My wife was having a lump removed and examined for cancer. And I was scheduled to lead the most important meeting my company had ever had in a city several hours a way.
How could I have known?
I got the call on March 12th around 4:30 in the afternoon as I with a caravan of other cars were making our way to Seattle for the big meeting. I remember pulling over on the highway just south of Fort Lewis in Washington state as several of my co workers vehicles pulled over behind me.
They had to take it from here. I had to go home and say goodbye to dad.
All alone in that car I rushed back to Portland and to the nursing home where dad was. When they had called, he had taken a turn for the worse and lapsed into a coma state. “You need to come.” they told me.
I knew it was time to face what I didn’t want to face let alone the stress of not yet knowing as well the results for my wife’s test, I in looking back, was in a complete world of shock. Why on earth did I ever decide to leave home for such a meeting? Certainly, I was the one behind the entire agenda, but what was I thinking? To be honest, I think I was just numb. With dad, you never knew. Sometimes it could be a step backward followed by a few steps forward. With my wife, all you could do was wait. Though I knew I had their blessing to go, to this day, I feel horrible that I even did. I should have been there even to just sit in silence to be company to my wife’s inner anxiety. For dad, perhaps for one more time to say I love you.
The entire drive back to Portland was one big rehearsal of what I thought I was going to expect. Over and over I thought about what it would be like when dad took his final breath.
When I arrived to his room, my family was with him as he laid motionless on the bed with an oxygen mask on helping him to breathe. By then, he was of course still in a coma state. His body was starting to shut down. You could literally both see it and feel it as the end of life began to move upward towards his head from his feet.
After my family went home for the night, it was just myself, my brother, and mom as we stood by dad’s side as he began his final journey from this world. It was surreal.
The nursing home had an eery feeling that night as the dark hallways were lit up outside of each room’s open door by the bright light of the TV’s playing within. It was like every TV in the building was tuned to the same channel. I can’t explain it.
Inside room 42 we shared stories of days gone past and laughed then cried. At one moment sometime in the middle of the night, we said the Lord’s Prayer. At some point early in the morning I walked out to one of the common areas with a couch in front of a window to attempt to grab a quick nap.
What was I thinking? It was only a matter of time.
Back in the room, it was 8am and mom stepped out for a few minutes as I sat bedside next to my brother. I said a quick prayer for my company employees as they were literally just beginning that meeting we had planned so hard for.
When I said amen, I looked up as the nursing home staff had come in to change my dad’s shirt. He was motionless all night except for the oxygen mask assisting his breathing. We were grateful for them to do that.
As they lifted off for a moment dad’s oxygen mask to remove his shirt, it happened.
I can’t explain it other than I felt life leave the room.
Immediately looking at my brother, we knew he was gone. My dad’s journey through this world was over. As I type this even now eleven years later, I pause at the keyboard and exhale.
Five minutes later my family arrived.
Standing outside room 42 visiting with some close friends who had stopped by to say goodbye, my dad’s lifeless body laid still on his bed. I looked up and saw my daughter on the chair next to dad’s bed. To this moment, I’m not sure how she slipped away and got in there all alone. She was only 5 at the time.
“Bye-bye Poppa Bill.” she said as she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Life. It goes by in the blink of an eye. Looking back on my life, I wonder where time has gone.
I miss dad. I miss his sense of humor. I miss his patience. I miss his ability to tune everything out and just listen. I miss how much he loved listening to jazz.
This week eleven years ago was like no other.
Dad left us. My wife fortunately did not have cancer. And my company put on an incredibly successful meeting.
Thinking back on this day eleven years ago, I wrote in my journal that I had for the first time broke down in front of him. I just hated to see him in such a state. It was just a few days before he passed and the stroke combined with is cancer had forever altered his faculties.
It was just me and dad in that room.
One never know’s when that next breath will be their last. With this, how then shall someone say goodbye without the usual taking for granted that there will indeed be another hello?
It’s simple. I learned it on this night eleven years ago. It’s four words.
Let love be known.
On Tuesday March 11, 2003 I spent my last moments with dad while he was still conscious…
“I will always treasure the last moments I had with him on Tuesday evening. It was the last I saw of him when he was conscious. From 4pm and on yesterday he was in a “coma” like state. My last moments with dad were praying with him, him waving bye to my daughter and I as well as doing that “eyebrow” thing and finally his final words to me…
I love you too.” – from my journal
Two days later, he was gone.