Helping Daddy Die

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. 

 

42 thoughts on “Helping Daddy Die

  1. How bittersweet it is to travel this path with you. We have the best teammates ever. I love how loving and caring for him comes to us so naturally. A testament to how he and mom raised us. Love always.

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  2. Your words are so beautiful, Kathy (as I’m a blubbering mess after reading it). Your love for your dad is so evident in all that you say and do. My heart hurts for you as I can only imagine how difficult this is …and yet beautiful at the same time that you get this precious time with him. Hugs, love and many prayers for you as you walk through this with your dad. Wish I could be there to hug you and sit with you. Love you my dear friend!

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  3. My heart breaks for you and my heart rejoices with you. I am honored to be a witness, however slight, to the delicate and difficult journey you are on. Thank you for your family’s loving example. I love you, dear friend.

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  4. I was so sorry to hear this just a few weeks ago. Sorry for all of you girls and your families. He has been a success in every way. A good man. Keeping you in my prayers and thoughts.

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  5. The resonating faith and love in each of your words touches the heart. Your father is a beautiful example for all of us. I wish for all of you to have peaceful minds as the divine touches you. Lots of love.

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  6. Katherine, I just had the honor of being with my Dad through his last days. I do not regret a moment spent with him. He was cognoscenti mist of the time and I cherish those last bits of wisdom I received. May his passing be as my Dad’s “Falling Asleep in the Lord”.

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  7. I love this man as deeply as a friend can. His love of music and how he loves to share his knowledge of it has been a blessing to me. Larry has walked across my heart and left a foot print. Thank you for your stories and sharing them with me. My prayers are with his beautiful family. 💖 Teresa and Rich

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  8. Your Dad is everything you said, Katherine. I have immensely enjoyed talking with him, going to Mass with him, and doing whatever I can to pay him back for his years of example in leading my faith and mind deeper each day!! What a tremendous man, father, and dear friend!!

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  9. Beautiful, Katherine. I can see each moment and hear each word. Your Dad is so special to me and to each of his fellow siblings. But there can be no more special bond than that of which you have written. Thank you for sharing these moments with us. God be with you and with H. Larry Penning, M.D. No one could have a greater brother and guide.

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  10. My brother, sister and I finished this very same walk with our precious father just 6 months ago. Prayers and peace to you and your family. There are still many days I wish for one more conversation, one more phone call, or just one more hug. Thank you for sharing.

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  11. Beautiful words for a difficult time as I am currently going through this same journey. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. May God provide your father, you and your family with peace and comfort as you travel
    In this journey.

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  12. I worked for your Dad (forever Dr. Penning to me) in the Lab at St. Mary’s. During my time there, he was a mentor, a friend, a teacher, a cheerleader….and indelibly marked me with his integrity, work ethic, and focus on quality. He loved his lab employees and would stand toe to toe with any physician to defend us. I could see his quiet resignation when you described him seeing his films… he saw so many through his career and probably already knew what to expect. He always spoke so fondly of his girls. Being with him at this time is a privilege and a gift (I have taken that journey with my father-in-law, mom and husband). I pray for peace and some moments of joy as you take this journey. Know that he is loved by so many

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  13. How beautiful and inspiring to us all. Wishing you all peaceful minds as your father moves forward with the divine. May God shower your whole family with blessings xo

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  14. What a lovely tribute to your dad Katherine. He is so many things to so many. He has touched the hearts of so many in so many ways. His love of life, love of family, love of music, love of travel and of course the most important, love of God! Oh and I can’t forget story teller!!! He is leaving so much to so many in the years God has given him. Although we will be so sad when he passes, know that he will be so happy to be with his maker and his loving wife again. My loving prayers Katherine to you and your family.

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  15. Thanks very much for sharing the road you and your dad are taking in his last days. May each of us share joy and sorrow as beautifully. Tomorrow and the day after I will pray for him and for you. Nick Penniman’s Springfield friend, Reg Ankrom

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  16. Your Father’s, Father- the great Dr. Penning- delivered me into this world almost 60 years ago! My Mother’s ( Jeanne Koch Franz) fondness and admiration of him is a part of her history and my own. His son sounds to have carried on the Penning tradition of great doctors and great men. My thoughts and prayers are with you, and him.

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  17. What a honor to accompany a loved in this journey!!! Our Catholic faith is so beautiful. My thoughts are with you all. Will miss that strong beautiful voice at Mass!!!

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  18. Carolyn and I have enjoyed a 6o year relationship with your father and with your mother until her demise . He and I have been talking to each other for the last 6 weeks after Beverly Brumaster called and informed us of his declining health and I last talked to him about a week ago. . We have thought of him every day and night. We interned together at Decatur and Macon County Hospital and after 2 years in the Army(me)and Public HealthSevice(your Dad) found ourselves in residency programs at Wayne County General Hospital. We ended up with 4 girls as did your parents. We have maintained contact over the last 50 years with cards and letters and an occasional visit. We last visited with Larry about a year ago—he insisted on fixing lunch. His intellect and penchant for has always amazed me and was the basis for his profession in Pathology. His deep faith has always been a source of strength for you and your family and for us. The picture you sent taken Sept.16 was on the day of Carolyn’s 82nd family birthday party. Since then we have been sharing and reminiscing of all the good times that we have had together. If we could extend our hands 2000 miles to his home we would be there holding his hands with you.

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  19. Katherine – I do not know a kinder person. Both of my parents are gone and my mother was a saint . Without her I don’t know how any of us could have survived. It is bittersweet and there are tears of sadness in letting them go from us and joy in knowing their faith is with them. Bless you and your family. I know you will feel the prayers as the days continues. You are already receiving what you need.

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About the honest girl

40ish wife, mother, sister, cousin, friend, Christian, Catholic, sinner, writer and singer. Just trying to be honest about it all.