Five years ago today, at 4:10 a.m. I held the hand of my father, John, and watched him take his last breath. Where has the time gone? I still look for him in the house: in his favorite chair waiting to watch the football or basketball game; at the table where he read the newspaper every day after breakfast; in the room where he used to sleep that now functions as my office.A few years ago I wrote down my memories about the moments leading up to Dad’s passing. Today, I share them as a loving tribute to my father, my hero.
I had been waiting for two weeks to receive the call. Still, hearing the words was difficult. “Lisa, this is Joanie from Lakeside. Your dad is not responding.”
“We tried to wake him up for breakfast and he did not answer us.”
“Do you think I need to come now,” I asked.
“That’s up to you,” she replied, “But it would probably be a good idea.” “I just wanted you to know.”
I put down the phone.
“Michael, I have to go to Lakeside NOW.” I said excitedly to my husband. “My dad is not responding.”
“I’m sorry, Lis.” he replied.
I had been up since 6:00 a.m. cooking. For some crazy reason, even though it was the day after Thanksgiving and I had just spent two days preparing turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes that we shared the day before with my dad. But that morning I felt the irrepressible need to cook. I was looking ahead to Christmas, specifically Christmas Eve. I had this awful feeling that my father would not make it until Christmas so I wanted to prepare a few of his favorite Slovak foods for him to have that weekend.
But he never got to eat them.
When I arrived at Lakeside that afternoon Dad was unconscious. He was breathing but his eyes were closed tight and not matter what I said to him he would not wake up or respond. I wasn’t prepared.
When we left him the night before, which just happened to be Thanksgiving night, he was laughing and joking with us. His final words included, “Put the Pitt game on Lis,” and “okay honey, I’ll see you.”
Joanie, the nursing supervisor gave me two books: “My Friend, I Care. The Grief Experience,” and “Gone from my Sight: The Dying Experience,” by Barbara Karnes to help me prepare for what was about to happen.
Thoughts about Dad
Losing a parent is never easy. Even when you are told the time is near—6 months, 1 month, or a few days or hours. But when I think back about the full life my father has lived to the age of 80, I take comfort in something I heard Basketball great Michael Jordan say during a 60 Minutes interview regarding the untimely death of his father who was killed in 1993. Jordan said, “But I had him for 32 years and he taught me a lot in 32 years. You know how many kids get that opportunity? Very few in today’s society get the chance to spend that much time with their parents, and get that type of influence,” I feel the same way about the 40 years I had with my father.
Not long before Dad was hospitalized, we shared a special moment one night that upon reflection I think was Dad’s way of letting me know that he would soon be leaving this earth. He remarked how the Lord had been good to him his whole life, but then the illnesses knocked him down and he was no longer able to do the things he used to do. Dad said that his only regret was that he wasn’t able to do the “Lord’s work” in the ways he desired. But the truth his, my father was a steadfast and faithful servant to the Lord—right up until his last days he was still showing love and kindness to those who cared for him—thanking his nurses and me for helping him, smiling even though his heart was weak and his body shutting down, without ever uttering an unkind word. I believe it was fitting that he died on a Sunday–the Lord’s day–and also on the first Sunday of Advent, when the scriptures told us we all need to be “alert and watchful for the Lord.” My father did not once indicate to me that he was afraid of dying. The truth is I was more fearful of the moment for him than he was.
I stayed two nights with dad in his room. Sitting in the recliner chair—keeping watch. I must have dozed off, but at 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning I awakened and saw that the nurse was by his side. I knew, but asked her anyway. “Is it time?” She looked at me and just nodded. I stood up and held Dad’s hand. “I love you, Dad” I whispered, “Go in peace.” Dad took one final breath. He didn’t gasp and it did not last for long. The nurse stroked his forehead. She said she would give me a few minutes and then would make the necessary phone calls. I threw my arms around Dad and sobbed. He had finally let go. And from that moment on, I knew I would have to let go too.
I love and miss you, Dad. Eternal rest!
Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo
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