I have the honor of helping my Dad die. Now that I read that sentence, I realize it may seem like I am talking about assisted suicide or something of that nature. I assure you, I am most definitely not. My Dad (and I) believes that God is the only one who knows the day, the hour, the minute that we are to depart this earth. Just as he knows every hair on our heads, he knows when it is the exact perfect time for us to take leave of this home and go on to our final destination.
By helping him die, I simply mean I’m here, with him, journeying through the greatest uncertainty one can ever experience. Loving him. Helping him. Giving back to him one grain of service at a time as he has given to me throughout my entire lifetime. And as we walk through this together, I feel the need to write – to let out this emotion that is built up an incredible ache.
We found out on July 27 that Dad had cancer. Only 3 days after he and my sister returned from touring the vineyards of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. His breathlessness had led him, for the first time ever, to request a wheelchair to get to the departure gate of the airport. Something was definitely not right. This was the man who has push-mowed over an acre of lawn for more than 40 years. As he stood in the doctor’s office reviewing his own X-ray that revealed a chest cavity full of “mets” as he would call them (cancer metastases to you and me), with closed lips, a faint grin of resignation washed across his face, he raised his eyebrows and said, “well looky there…” Ever the physician, he turned from patient to medical investigator as he took time to review the clinical details of his own demise.
Forty-two days later, he and I both know the end is nearing quickly. Today was yet another milestone of loss. My Dad is a daily Mass attendee. This morning, after spending the night with him, he got up and we made the trek to Church. We were among the first three people to arrive at 6:45 am. Prior to Mass, we joined in the beautiful prayer of the rosary. He made it through all five decades, but not without great effort. These darn mets are filling his lungs and pressing on his heart. With no fat on left on his body and very little energy, he doesn’t have the stamina to hold himself up to get a good gasp of air in a sitting position. So after the final amen of the rosary, I asked him if he was ok. “You better take me home.” And with that quiet resignation, I rolled him out of church for what he and I both knew to be his last visit there.
And my heart hurts. I’m sure his does too. He is so bravely, gracefully and faithfully letting go and trusting God. I don’t know how you do this without God as your rock of trust. He says he is ready to die but at the same time he is still squeezing every ounce of experience from each day. He continues to teach us, encourage us to learn and instill in us a love for our heritage, science, anatomy, food, wine, inventions, travel, and most of all our faith.
There are so many things I want to capture during these days together. My sisters and I along with his youngest brother Matt, have been keeping watch of him. Taking turns of days and nights just as we all did with mom. But Dad is different. His mind is sharp and he continues to be the smartest man I have ever met. I am trying to soak up every word. Dad is a great story teller. He is our clan historian and has built the ancestary.com genealogy back to the 1200s. He can recite tales of our family members of hundred of years before. He talks about each of these people as though he knows them personally; as if he was in Camp Supply along with that young single mother during the war or had met the grave digger who would never marry. And I know even writing those short snippets of family lore, I have gotten the details wrong. And I worry – who will correct me? Who will know this information? Who will I call when I need to hear that low, calm voice that gives me peace in my heart on a bad day? Who will remind me of and restore my faith when I have lost sight? Who will keep watch on the news that no one pays attention to but everyone should?
Each day that he wakes, we all know that it’s because he has a purpose here that God wants him to fulfill today. And these purposes are now more centered around us, the ones he will leave behind, than they are about him.
It’s really an honor to spend these days with him, to walk with him and help in any way to carry the cross on his road to eternal glory.