This morning the phone rang just before 10am. It was my Grandma calling to see how I was.
Last year on this day, at around 10am after a long weekend spent next to my Dad's bed at his care home, I had been awoken by the sound of the telephone ringing. It was my Mom with the shortest and heaviest phone message I have ever experienced.
My Dad was gone.
As odd is it may be, that following week was one of the most blissful weeks of my life. Dad's awful journey had begun on June 1, 2010 and the following years - particularly the last three months of his life were nothing less than horrific.
The last conversation I had with him was in spring of 2012, and I documented it here on my blog, because I had asked him to allow me to interview him about parenthood. Only days later, I wrote this update on his situation. It was the beginning of the end, for my Dad. Soon afterward, he was moved into a care home, and while he was there it felt as though our world was falling apart. My family was devastated, and everyone mourned differently - in the process we were tearing each other apart. The emotional toll on all of us was huge, and I was trying to juggle being a new mother while pregnant, helping to advocate for my Dad amongst the healthcare system as well as in our family and not lose my mind in the process.
When my Mom called to tell me that Dad was gone, my only thought for a number of hours was that it was 'finally over'. This was even the text message I sent to many people that day who had been prayerful and supportive of us, and were constantly awaiting updates.
I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders - as though I was free for the first time in a long time. I spent that week thinking about my future - because although Dad didn't have one, I still did, and it was as though my life had suddenly begun again. After spending months trying to sort out the appropriate amount of time to spend with my Dad - not knowing if each time might be the last, or if he were to live in his near-vegetative state for years to come - and juggle this with all of my other roles and responsibilities, my time was suddenly my own again. It was thrilling.
I wrote this tribute to him and read it at his funeral, and although I cried on the morning he died as I stood and looked at the body he no longer inhabited, I didn't cry again until after I had finished reading it.
I felt guilty, and I was certainly sad, but I knew that my Dad would have been glad to know that I was ok. That he would want me to be ok. I had a really great week.
The next week was ok, as were a few after that, but soon after I think the truth of losing my Dad - forever - really hit me. I would sit on the bathroom floor and cry until I couldn't breathe, feeling more pain than I thought was possible. And because I had been handling it so 'well' for weeks already, I didn't want anyone to know that I was suddenly struggling with dealing with the situation.
Then, gradually, things got somewhat better, although I chose to ignore my faith completely. I certainly still believed in God, but I was too angry to talk to him. For the most part, I avoided thinking about Dad.
When Audrey was born, I was flooded with memories of Dad when Clara was born. When I called to tell my parents that they had a granddaughter, it was my Dad who answered, and I'm so glad for that because this time, he wouldn't answer the phone. I struggled again, because this was an event that Dad was supposed to be there for. He was supposed to see the births of all of his grandchildren - that was simply the way it was supposed to be.
Christmas was a blur, and I again struggled with all of the moments that my Dad should have been there to share.
Shortly after Christmas I started talking to God again. I was still angry, and I still struggle with not knowing why he took my Dad from me, but I knew that simply not liking my situation or what God had done didn't mean that God had changed. If he existed before my Dad died, God still existed now. If God was a loving God before my Dad died, he was still a loving God now. If everything in my life so far had given me reason to believe that God was a God who 'had my back' and knew better about everything than I did - then I had to trust that all of this was still true. I know there are times when my daughter will think my choices as a parent are horribly unfair because she won't be able to see the big picture, and I believe in a God who is far greater from me than I am from my daughter, so I know there will be times when I can't see the big picture.
Lately my biggest struggle has not been anger at God, but at other people. I am angry when someone slights my Dad, or my feelings about my Dad, in any way. I am angry when someone feels sorry for themselves about anything less than dying young. I want to scream "Just be glad you're still alive!!!" Lately a family member voiced their pity for someone who's birthday had been ignored at this time last year - because of my Dad's death - and I want to shake that person and yell "Do you understand how blessed they are to even HAVE another birthday??? Because my Dad doesn't. My Dad's mother spent her birthday last year watching her son die. I have a long list of people I can feel sorry for in reference to last June, and someone who didn't really get a birthday party doesn't quite make that list."
I know I need to deal with my anger, because it only hurts me and I can't control what anyone else says or does. As time goes by the tragedy of my Dad dying seems to lessen - when I say my Dad died last year, I am met with calm 'Sorry to hear that's, and 'oh, that's too bad' instead of the gasps of shock and hugs I got at this time last year - and it's funny because then I thought it was an overreaction because I thought I was fine. Now I feel less fine, and could use a hug.
I don't know how long it takes to mourn the death of a close family member, and I don't know how my stages of mourning will play out from now on. This is how my last year has been, emotionally, and although I know it's slowly getting better, it's still very hard.
My daughters will never know the man who gave me my life - in more ways than one - and that tears me apart.
But there's nothing I can do about it.
“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
This year has been emotionally volatile for me and my family. From February when we were elated to discover we were expecting another baby, to the tragedy and sorrow of my Dad's final months, to the awe and excitement of welcoming another child into our family to the exasperation that comes with adapting to a new normal.
My pattern of grief this year has intrigued me. I remember the shock and disbelief of getting the phone call that woke me at 10 on that Monday morning, and not fully comprehending what it meant that he was 'gone'. The weeks leading up to this were filled with sleepless nights waiting at his bedside, listening to his breathing and finding myself hoping each time it altered even slightly that it would finally be over. I cried that day, after seeing him lying there, but as I drove home from the care home that afternoon I felt only relief. My thoughts became filled with all of the things in my life that I had been neglecting, like my husband and daughter, and was looking forward to returning to - for life to become 'normal' again.
Part of me considered that I should be feeling sadness, not gladness, but I felt in the reality of that moment - alive. My Dad was dead, but I wasn't. I was still healthy and strong, and able to enjoy life, and suddenly I felt free again to do just that. I felt as though my Dad would have been proud of me for feeling this way. I had told him days before he died that I was happy, and that if he needed to leave, I would be ok. I didn't cry again until after I read his tribute at his funeral that Friday night. I was numb. After that, the pain came and went and I experienced gut wrenching agony unlike anything I have ever felt before. Nights when I would cry in the shower until I could hardly breathe - I cried alone, because as time went by I felt more and more embarrassed by my tears. So much time had gone by, so it shouldn't still hurt, should it?
Between the tears, and times of pain, I have also experienced great joy. Despite the pain, I have so much to enjoy and be thankful for and I think my Dad would be glad for that.
This Christmas will be wonderful as Clara is old enough to understand much of what we do, and as our first Christmas as a family of four, but it will also be bittersweet as it will be the first Christmas I spend without my Dad. It is hard for me to understand that my Dad will not be an integral part of my daughters' lives, when he was so much more than 'Dad' to me - he was all I had.
My Dad died on Monday morning. I wrote this to read at his Memorial Service on Friday evening. I am relieved that his suffering is over, but I hate that the end of his suffering required the end of his life. My life will never be the same without him - he is gone, and a big part of me is missing.
In June of 2005, my Dad was diagnosed with Cancer. His response to his family was this: “I’m so glad it’s me – and not you.”
As the oldest of four, he often played that protective ‘big brother’ role. His siblings might tell you that he wasn’t always gentle – like the time when he hit his 6 year old sister Roxanne over the head with a shovel on her birthday. And he was certainly not always patient …. And I’m quite sure there was a stretch of time when he and his brother Rick couldn’t be in the same room together without Rox being quite sure one was going to kill the other.
But despite any of that, he was always ready to gladly accept the most difficult challenges that life threw at him – even if he knew he might not survive them – knowing that he would rather experience them himself than watch someone he loved in pain.
My Dad was my hero. I’ve said that to a lot of people over the years, and I think I forgot to ever say it to him. I was born at a time in Dad’s life when becoming a father was not in his immediate plans, and yet if he was ever afraid of becoming a father, or if he ever had regrets, never for a second did I know about it. He chose to be a single Dad, and he stepped up to parenthood – which I’ve learned can be one of the most challenging and thankless experiences – like he stepped up to everything in life – with the determination to excel. He always encouraged me in everything I did to put every ounce of effort into being the best. He taught me how to read when I was four years old. He taught me how to play the guitar when I was ten. When I was fourteen, I worked alongside him in his woodshop and he taught me how to build a hurdy gurdy among other things.
Dad worked at the Saskatchewan Abilities Council for 26 years, but his real passion was carpentry. I remember the summer he spent building a house for a friend – he came home every day sweaty, tired, and so darkly tanned you would never guess he was white – yet I don’t remember ever seeing him as happy as he was that summer. He loved creating, and he loved stepping back and admiring what he had created. He built and repaired musical instruments, and had plans for creating more. I believe a harpsichord was on his to do list – and if you know what that is, you'll know he had ambition.
One of my Dad's greatest traits was his humility. Despite what he had accomplished, he was never arrogant. He was ready to learn from others' experiences, and sought out those who had skills he hadn't yet mastered so he could learn from them. Dad was also always ready to laugh at himself. He had a number of... eccentricities... and was often doing or saying funny little things that were very distinctly 'Randy'. Like when he got our car stuck in the parkade, or when he walked into a hardware store and demanded to know where they kept the hardware, or when our order at a restaurant was taking too long and he went next door to the grocery store and bought chocolate milk -bringing it back into the restaurant to serve his impatient children. He also had a very distinct aversion to going 'in' the 'in' door, or 'out' the 'out' door. But he laughed at himself even more than the rest of us did, and despite how much he embarrassed me when I was a teenager, it sure made our lives more interesting.
My Dad constantly challenged me to learn more about everything, and to get better at everything. He taught me that I could never control how another person acted in a given situation, but that I was still responsible for how I acted so I could make no excuses. I am who I am because of who he was, and who he taught me to be – in that way, at least, he will never be gone.
Last week Tuesday, after my Dad had 'woken up' from his near-dying moments the previous weekend, I was in his room talking to him.
He wasn't able to speak, but he could look at me and raise his eyebrows, as though understanding. I told him that he was going to have another Granddaughter, and I even told him what we were probably going to name her. He raised his eyebrows, as if he understood what I was saying. I told him not to tell Mom. :)
Since I was his only child, and my husband has decided we must stop at two, all of my Dad's descendants seem destined to be female. I don't think he would have minded too much.
I promise I will get back to the 'is this baby a boy or a girl' thing, but I must seque momentarily as our weekend was a little bit... well...
On Saturday, Brian played the piano in his uncle's wedding which was about half an hour out of town. It was a great day, but the wedding was short, and by 6:30pm everyone was packing up to go home. In the area I live in, 'Mennonite' weddings don't have dances, so we all just ate and were going to leave.
Brian handed me my cell phone at 6:30, saying that my Mom had been trying to reach me and had left a message saying to call her back immediately.
I called. She was in tears. She told me that my Dad had taken another 'turn' for the worse, and the nurse had said he wouldn't expect him to survive the night as he was. I cried, and told her I loved her and that I'd be there as soon as I could.
Brian and I left Clara with his parents and drove as fast as we could - reasonably - back to the city.
On our way, I learned that my Dad's 'little' sister from another province was hopping a flight and would also be with us in a few hours.
A couple of years ago, I was at the deathbed of my husband's Grandpa after the family had been called around him. My Dad looked exactly the same as he had then. My Dad was completely motionless, except for the machine-like breathing that came at jerky but regular intervals. He was not moving at all. He didn't open his eyes, and he was making no noises except for the sound of his breath, which also sounded mechanical.
There were a number of reasons the nurses said he could not survive long and from that moment we posted vigil at his bedside. Waiting.
My aunt showed up at almost midnight and my Dad's other brother came then as well.
He survived that night.
The next day was Father's Day. We had initially planned to be at the home with my Dad and were going to have a meal together - even though he isn't able to actually 'eat', we try to surround him as much as possible for the company and entertainment. It wasn't the 'happy' Father's Day we would have liked it to be.
In between getting our food, my Mom and I stayed beside Dad as much as possible. I was alone in the room with Brian when my other uncle came in. Now, I understand that everyone is feeling emotional and that everyone deals with this sort of stress differently, but I don't believe this fact excuses all behaviour. My Uncle informed me that the choices made regarding my Dad's care were wrong and that he would be better off if different choices were made for him. I politely said I disagreed, but that it didn't really matter. He went on to essentially blame me and my Mom for my Dad's current state, saying that he hoped 'someone felt guilty' because not enough was done in the beginning to help my Dad.
My Dad believed from the beginning that the doctor's were doing everything they knew how. He remained convinced of this, and so have we. I don't believe we could honour his wishes any more than to respect the way he would have handled things. Ultimately, though - it doesn't matter. Whatever has been done has been done.
I told my uncle that his anger did nothing but hurt himself, and me - and I pointedly told him that I didn't really think I needed that while waiting for my Dad to die - and everyone else in the family. I know that my uncle doesn't want to hurt me. I don't think he actually wants to hurt anyone, but he has been feeding everyone in our family with hurtful thoughts and emotions, and I am so beyond sick of it. We both managed to stay relatively calm, and after a few minutes of silence my uncle started to reminisce about when my Dad was a child. This was a good thing. This is a good way to think.
That evening my Dad started responding slightly. If anyone spoke loudly while standing close to him, his eyes would open for a split second, like he had been startled.
The next day he woke up.
He opened his eyes and looked around. He wanted to be put into his chair again. He moved his body at least as much as he had been able to move it a couple of weeks ago. Again, he did exactly what the doctor's didn't expect him to do. Because that seems to be what he does.
I have no idea what to think of all this, except that the next time I'm told my Dad is dying I will probably be even more skeptical than I was this time. (Because, honestly, by the end of the first night I started thinking this wasn't 'it' after all...). I really want this to all be over for him, but so far he's not letting go... yet.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything...
Lately I feel as though I'm spinning in a vortex of anxiousness - and much of it isn't my own. In the past few days I have spent upwards of 3 hours each day talking on the phone, and at least another hour a day texting various family members. I'm exhausted.
In many ways we have lost my Dad, but he is still living and breathing among us. He still requires care and companionship and 'stuff'. His brain is almost entirely gone, however, due to massive blood pressure that could be cured by nothing short of a miracle from God. No doctor has suggested a cure, because they know there isn't one. Some members of my family, however, are convinced that there must be a solution - the doctors are simply not looking far enough or trying hard enough. These same family members also seem convinced that we - as immediate family - are therefore not doing enough to push the issue with doctors and medical staff.
This is causing an unbelievable amount of stress on the immediate family - some of whom have spent a great deal of energy trying to make everyone happy - as well as an irrational amount of stress and anxiety on themselves. It's time for me to step back and breathe.
I have a husband, a daughter, a house to keep, friends who's support and love I truly need at this juncture, a job... I also need to be a daughter, and a granddaughter and a niece, but these things must come second to my roles in my immediate family - which includes my husband, daughter and unborn child. My Dad may remain as he is now for many years into the future, and I can not allow my children to suffer for this. My Dad would be completely offended to know that I had allowed this situation to harm my family - and it's time that I make the conscious decision to not let that happen.
I love my Dad. I will always love my Dad. My Dad has been my hero, and for many years of my life I felt as though he was all I had in the world. None of this changes. But when his life ends - and it will, eventually - my life will (God willing) continue.
I believe in a loving God who is in control of this and every other situation. I may not understand His methods, but I understand that it is not my efforts, or doctors, keeping my Dad alive right now. It is only God. And only by the Grace of God will my Dad be healed if God so chooses, and I believe it would be the Grace of God that would eventually take my Dad home. I am not in control.
One particular family member - someone who has always seemed so strong to me, spiritually upright and faithful - has suddenly begun to let bitterness and anger rule in her life. She has become mean and condescending, and is allowing herself to believe that she is the only one who feels pain in this situation. She is letting the enemy into her thoughts and her mind, and allowing it to take control. I have found myself hurt and confused by this. When I so desperately need her help and support, I am feeling the need to take on the role of helping her as well as my Dad.
We all need so much prayer.
I am quitting for tonight. No more phone calling, and no more texting. I will retire to my basement and sit in front of the TV and allow my brain to turn off.
I need a rest.
My Dad was moved into a care home - or 'nursing home' as some might call it, or the even less accurate and more depressing 'old folk's home' - this week. While it is true that my Dad is living among many people with similar physical abilities and disabilities, they are almost all about 40 years older than he is. That would be pretty 'damn' depressing (as one nurse of his has commented to me).
Today we came prepared to entertain both my Dad and our toddler - I had collected a number of small 'crafty' type things as well as paper and glue, and Clara and I set to work on her first art project to hang in Dad's room. It turned out quite nicely, and I was impressed at her level of interest. Of course, we filled one sheet of paper and got halfway through a second before she had had enough, but it was certainly nice to sit and do 'busy work' while my Dad watched instead of trying to carry on a one-sided conversation.
Then I brought out my guitar. I could see when it came through the door that my Dad's eyes were continually darting to it. I was afraid to play for him. When I was younger - and he was well - he would always cry when I played for him. He was that kind of Dad - SOOO proud :) And very emotional.
I had practiced at home while trying to let the image of my Dad's face cross my mind and it never took more than a few seconds for my eyes to well up with tears and my voice to catch in my throat. I thought playing in front of him would be impossible.
There were other people in the room, though, and I used my nervousness to distract me from the fact that I was playing for my Dad. I could even look him in the eye while I played, and when Clara started getting fussy because this large wooden object was on HER mommy's knee, this actually provided a welcome distraction for me to continue playing - unemotionally.
I only got through one song, and it was time for Clara to go home to bed. I may not be that successful the next time, but I will try again.
I hope this doesn't come across as arrogant, but I know that playing and singing for my Dad, on the guitar that he spent four years designing and building especially for me, is the greatest thing I could do for him right now.
I feel completely unprepared for advocating for my Dad in this situation. I know almost nothing about how homes such as these are run, and extremely little about the type of care he should be receiving and what to expect - or even demand - from his many nurses. In many ways the Canadian health care system can be considered great - because much of it is free - but at the same time in our area the workers are in high demand and paid the same regardless of their work ethic. So, there is no guarantee you will have nurses or doctors who take their jobs as seriously as they should, and if you don't know any better, there is a chance you - or your loved one - could be taken advantage of.
I was given a long list today by a family member of things I should be demanding of my Dad's care workers. I wrote everything down, because I knew I wouldn't remember half of it.
I'm nervous about asserting myself to the nurses. Partially, I think I'm afraid I won't be brave enough to demand the level of care that my Dad needs - and he will suffer because of it.
I know that many people have gone here before me, and it helps to talk to these people about their experiences. It gives me strength. I need strength right now.
Does it ever feel like 'bad' things in life pile up? Sometimes they seem to all gang up on you and hit you at once...
Two nights ago, I received a call from an Aunt about one of my Grandpa's. I knew he was dealing with cancer, but evidently he has become much worse and they are expecting him to die any day now.
Last night, while I was teaching piano, suddenly my husband runs up the stairs and asks 'How long have we not had hot water?'. I said I hadn't been aware we were without hot water. It turns out, he had just been downstairs to see the basement flooding with water from the water heater, and he was wondering how long it had been pouring out. The plumber showed up and said we needed a new water heater, and it would cost him $1400 plus tax to do it. We don't have $1400. We don't even have $400 right now, so we will be without hot water until we can find a cheaper alternative or can come up with $1400.
While we were waiting for the plumber last night, Brian got a call about his Grandpa saying that he had just received news of a potentially life-threatening health concern. Nothing confirmed in this regard, but it's a scary situation for the family nonetheless.
Top all of this off with the fact that my Dad remains in his bed at the hospital, unable to really communicate with us and unable to do really anything, including eat real food. The doctors have advised us that he should have a feeding tube 'installed' directly into his stomach, and that we should discuss our 'wishes' about resuscitation, etc.
Someone told me that bad things always happen in three's, and although the water heater isn't nearly as big a deal as the other three things, it still seems to tip the scales in the 'too many bad things happening' direction.
I love Amy Grant. I have loved her since I was 9 years old, when I was given 'House of Love' on cassette as a Christmas gift. As a self-proclaimed atheist at the time, I had no idea of Amy's Christian music background, and as I desperately tried to make her fill my 'Mom-shaped-hole', I gathered up every recording of hers I could find. God spoke to me through her music, and I came back to a passionate faith in Him - guided largely by Amy's music.
I will admit that my 'love' for her was often more of an obsession when I was an adolescent, and my desperate need for a female role-model in my life made me imagine a connection to her that for obvious reasons was not there. I've grown up a bit now, however, and although I don't obsessively wait for every album release, I still buy them all eventually.
I was just sitting in my kitchen, listening to a collection of music on shuffle play, and 'Somewhere Down the Road' by Amy started playing. Considering everything going on with my Dad lately, I felt it was so appropriate...
Somewhere Down the Road
So much pain and no good reason why
You've cried until the tears run dry
And nothing here can make you understand
The one thing that you held so dear
Is slipping from your hands
And you say
Why, why, why
Does it go this way
Why, why, why
And all I can say is
Somewhere down the road
There'll be answers to the questions
Somewhere down the road
Though we cannot see it now
Somewhere down the road
You will find mighty arms reaching for you
And they will hold the answers at the end of the road
I was talking to my Uncle last night, who is also a Christian, about the fact that my Dad (who was not a believer before) has started to give us reason to believe he has come to a faith in Jesus Christ after everything (because my Dad is no longer speaking, he is unable to tell us this for sure).
I voiced my confusion about what God was doing - it seemed to me as though my Dad would give such an incredible ministry if he could only talk about how and why he has come to faith (if he in fact has), and I don't understand why he would not get a chance to do this. If it is not to God's glory, then why would God do this?
I understand the naivete of this question - I know that I can't determine how and when something is to 'the Glory of God', but I felt confused nonetheless.
My Uncle responded by saying what a testament it was to God's incredible love for us - in this case, particularly my Dad - that He would go to such lengths to bring my Dad to Him when it might never result in Dad's personal story being told to anyone. That God would love him so much, that it was worth bringing my Dad through all of this to be with God, even if His message was never shared through it.
It's been a long week, and I still don't have any idea what the next few weeks will look like where my Dad is concerned. He is still in the hospital, and not much improved since he arrived there over a week ago. My aunt was here for the weekend, and I was able to spend some time with her as well as the rest of my family - at the hospital and at home, supporting my Dad and each other.
Poor Celia spent so much time out in her stroller and not able to crawl around and play, that I've decided to stay home today and let her have a 'normal' day instead of trying to find a ride to the hospital again. My mom has the day off today, so at least my Dad won't be alone.
And try to get back to blogging, even though it's hard to think about anything besides my Dad at the moment, I'll give it a try...
Thanks for all of your prayers and support for me and my family during this time.
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