What If Today…You Knew?

Identical view from my dad’s nursing home window on Friday morning.

“Bets?”

I’d just crawled back under the blankets in the bed a few feet from him after calming him down the best I could, both of us waiting for the last dose of morphine to kick in.

“Yeah, Dad?”

“Where’s Lauren’s pig?” Now there’s a question! We had a lot of animals growing up, and I’d always wanted a pig. But I never got one. Why did Lauren get to have one in his hallucinations?

“Her pig?”

“Yeah. Where’d her pig go?”

“I don’t know, Dad. Where do you think it went?”

“I guess somebody ate it.”

Is it okay to giggle when your dad is dying?

Turns out that would be the last of his ramblings. It was 3 am. He’d worn himself out the night before as my best friend and I sat and marveled at how much energy he had. The stories were pouring out of him. He couldn’t help himself. He had all three of us – me, my friend, and Bo, the Hospice nurse, shaking our heads and laughing.

As I lay there, wondering if he was ever going to settle down I was reminded of all my babies and how I’d watch them to make sure they were breathing. I’d jump up at the first sign of discomfort or need. Oh my goodness, I thought. This is what it would be like if babies could talk!

“Help me. Please somebody help me!” over and over and over again. He just needed to say it. It had become his calming mantra. There was nothing I could do. So I kept massaging his head – he’d say, “Thanks, Bets. That feels so good. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” every once in a while.

I prayed for him to go. I knew I had no power to make that happen. But I asked because Bo had said that his last days would be scary and hard on him. And I wasn’t sure that I had the physical strength to last much longer. But I was resigned. I was at the mercy of heaven’s will being done. I was at peace with the course we’d be traveling together.

A couple of hours later I woke up and watched the sunrise. One of his favorite nurses brought me some breakfast and I flashed back to the love and attention I got when I was recovering from childbirth. I laughed to myself. Maybe that’s why I kept having babies??

I wasn’t hungry, so I got cleaned up and dressed, made my bed, and wrestled with whether I should leave my bag of stuff  for when I returned later.

I took it with me.

I caught myself a couple of times questioning why I felt the need to leave him. But I knew it was the right thing to do.

For a split second I was reminded of the song on the radio the night before:

Here I am waiting, I’ll have to leave soon, why am I holdin’ on
We knew this day would come, we knew it all along
How did it come so fast
This is our last night, but it’s late and I’m tryin’ not to sleep
‘Cuz I know, when I wake I will have to slip away

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

Here I am starring, at your perfection in my arms; so beautiful.
The sky is getting bright, the stars are burnin’ out.
Somebody slow it down.
This is way too hard, ‘cuz I know when the sun comes up I will leave
This is my last glance that will soon be memories

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

I never wanted to stop, because I don’t want to start all over, start all over
I was afraid of the dark, but now it’s all that I want, all that I want, all that I want

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

“Betsy? You just left? Are you home, yet?” asked the beautiful voice on the other end of the phone.

I didn’t know who it was. How did she know my name? I started to pace. I’d walked through my front door moments earlier and had assigned my daughter the kitchen while I said I’d do the living room, bathroom and laundry. I was baffled with the serenity in my house. Two sons were somewhere and the other five were where they should be at 8 am on any given Friday morning.

“Yes. I’m home…” and I started to ramble. “Wait, is he okay? Does he need me…?”

“He passed a few minutes ago.”

I cried and laughed with my daughter as I told her some of the stories he’d told. Then, believe it or not, I finished cleaning. Once I was alone I started the phone calls. I posted  What If Today…You Had to Go? because I couldn’t imagine not sharing what was going on with my friends, but I didn’t really feel like talking.

And then I sat.

That’s when I knew.

I was in shock, and numb. And my dad knew it. I sensed him there and Kathy, too. He was happy and already having fun.

But he stopped and came to comfort me. And Kathy watched.

It was then that I knew that every time I would grieve, which has been a few times since then, that he would come. It hit me that I was okay. I’d never been better. And he was fine, too. He was happier there than here and I was good with that.

It’s a wonderful feeling knowing where he is and what he’s doing. And it’s comforting that he knows that I’ll come when it’s my time. And until then he has a lot of catching up to do. He’ll hold his baby boy, Kenneth, for the first time. He might avoid his parents for a while. There’s a lot of healing to be done. But he doesn’t have to worry about time anymore. It’ll happen when they’re ready.

I’m standing straighter for some reason because of this experience. I feel like they’re very thankful and happy to have me keep the conduit to their world open. They are very concerned about our happiness and are paying attention to things that matter to us and them. They so much want to make a difference in our lives.

But they are also busy. They’ll stop to comfort me, and I appreciate that. But they are okay with me doing my life.

So, I continued to clean, listen to music, read, and even to take the kids sledding, all the while making arrangements for his body’s ashes to make the trek cross country to the Spokane River where Butch and Sundance’s were scattered.

I’m sure they are enjoying every minute of my life and are regretful for any burden that these remaining tasks might be.

But now I know. And that has made all the difference.

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16 thoughts on “What If Today…You Knew?

  1. When my grandfather passed, two summers ago, he had seen 96 years of life. The summer before, he had attended the Jones County fair, for the 86th consecutive year. I went with him and my father and it was delightful to see all the guys in their 70′s and 80′s coming up and acting like kids around him. He won the grand champion steer in 1938, and in Iowa, people remember such things.

    I live in his house. Before I gave the eulogy, I did some research and the year my grandfather was born, the life expectancy was 57, so he did pretty well. I’m not sure if I have a point, but it was hard to feel sad when I knew how much he had enjoyed his 96 years. All I could remember was that he had done it right. For that, one can’t be sad.

    It was a really nice post. I’m sure he enjoyed it.

    • I was driving home from the hospital when he was first admitted, 2 weeks before he died. He was so scared and tired. I remember saying out loud, “He did it. He lived his life. He finished.” I was so happy for him that he finished, bumps, bruises, imperfections and all. At the moment it seemed a great feat that he’d finished but also that I got it.
      I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
      I can picture the scene of the old friends with your older grandfather. Made me giggle…

  2. I remember how we took care of Grams. She waited until my mom and aunt had left the house and passed with my sister and I. That you had such a hoot with your dad the evening prior is so loving. He gave you a gift to remember, and I know you will cherish it. Your strength and courage are amazing. Thanks for sharing this.

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