Monday, August 21, 2023

The Call About Dad

The call came at quarter past ten, as I stood in the sanctuary of my little church, preparing for our ten thirty service. It was Mom. She was flustered, in a panic. Dad wasn’t breathing. Fidele, their home aide for the morning, couldn’t find a pulse. She didn’t know what to do, and I could hear Fidele trying to settle her down, try to get her to sit.

For the previous two weeks, Dad had declined. Exhaustion came with even the slightest effort, as his advanced terminal congestive heart failure and failing kidneys crumbled out from under him. He had become bedridden, unable to rise on his own, unable to do much but sleep. He grew less and less coherent as his oxygen levels varied, one foot out of the world.

I told Mom to wait for me. He was likely dead, but I would be there as soon as I could to be sure, or so I said. We were already in hospice care. There was no rush. There was nothing to do. Just sit with him for a while, I said.

Generally speaking, there are only a few circumstances in which I would bail on worship minutes before it was due to start. This was one of them. Hymns would be sung. Prayers would be said. Worship would happen. I received the good words and support of church folk as I bustled out, suited up, breathed deep, and hopped on my scooter for the forty five minute ride to the house where I grew up. Don’t rush, I reminded myself. I found myself muttering blessings to the slower moving cars that prevented me from pressing too hard.

Thanks for slowing me down a little, I’d say, and I’d mean it.

When I arrived, I got out of my gear and made my way to my parents’ room. There he was. He was dead. There was no breath in him. I kissed his forehead, to be sure, and it was cool beneath my lips.

Dad had a remarkable life, eighty four years of adventure and music, tennis and travel, the majority of it side by side with the love of his life. He was, as he said often over the last few months, entirely satisfied with how he had lived. “Very few people get to do as much as I did,” he would say, and he was right.

Oh, Dad.