At 18, I wanted it all…the job, the money, the home, the boyfriend. In essence, I wanted to fast forward through life and snatch everything my heart desired. I figured I was 18, an adult, ready to rule the world!!! In reality, I was still living with my parents, had a job at Wendy’s and was starting college.
During this time, I vaguely remember having an argument with my mom. As our emotions escalated, both of us trying to win, I threw up my hands, disgusted my mom didn’t get me, marched to my room, slammed the door and quickly burst in a tirade of tears.
In a while, the door opened, and my dad entered. Through the drape of water flooding my eyes, I noticed him quietly and calmly standing in front of me. I don’t remember much of his conversation with the exception of the following words – “Take one day at a time.”
My dad was wise. But at 18, those words meant nothing. However, through the years, they reverberated through my mind and my soul. At 40, I started to grasp the essence of their importance. At 50, I began living them, doing my best to live in the moment, without worrying about the future or regretting the past. It was only, when my dad lay on his deathbed, I totally understood.
My dad was 88 when he contracted pneumonia. After 4 days, he was sent home with antibiotics, a hospital bed and hope the family could step in and rally him back to health.For 4 days, he was home. On the morning of the 5th day, he was returned to the hospital where it was discovered the pneumonia had infiltrated both of his lungs. The doctors did everything they could do help him recover. But when they offered taking him to the ICU, he refused. One week later, he chose to live out the rest of his days with comfort care only.
For ten days, I sat with my mom, watching death slowly suck the life out my dad. First thing death took was my dad’s voice. Because he could still hear and see us, my dad ended up communicating with a nod of his head, a brief smile, a raising of his eyebrows or moving his limbs. Then death took movement, then recognition, then breath.
The hardest parts during this time was witnessing my mom giving up the love of her life as well as my youngest son when he visited one night to say his goodbyes. I explained that my dad could no longer talk but was still responsive and still able to recognize family members. The night we went, my son took a photo of my dad and himself and the bird house they had made together. When we got up to my dad’s room, my son reluctantly approached the bed, greeting my dad with a big grin as he talked about the photo. After a while, he stopped talking, looked at me and said, ‘If I hug him, will I hurt him?’ I shook my head no. My son, who was 22, a rugged military man, threw himself onto my dad, sobbing uncontrollably. Through the sobs, I heard my son say, ‘You are my best friend.’ Right after, my dad smiled. We stayed a short time, then left.
The day before Father’s Day, my brother got remarried. The nurses told my dad, my mom would be up at night instead of her usual day visit. That night, it was my mom, myself and my youngest son. When we walked in my dad’s room, we knew he was 99% out of this earthly world and into the heavenly one. Ten minutes, after we left the hospital, on the way back to my mom’s house, my cell rang. It was the hospital letting us know my dad had died at 9:40 p.m.
Today, despite the fact I have a brother and a sister, I continue to be the main caregiver and help my mom. I have often wondered why I handled my dad’s death so well, how I have continued to prosper without support of family members and how I have continued to be the constant supporting shoulder for my mom.
For sure, faith in God, has played a HUGE part in this journey and continues to gently prod me along, helping me be grateful for the time I had with my dad and the time I have left with my mom. Yet, always, in the back of my mind, I hear my dad say, ‘Take one day at a time.’
My dad will always be a part of my life, in the photos around my home, in the memories I have collected, and in the words he imparted. I have learned time eventually heals the heart’s wounds; faith always provides strength and hope and taking one day at a time teaches gratitude and keeps love alive, even when the one you shared it with is gone.