Home > Family, Life > On losing my father: a personal journey – part I

On losing my father: a personal journey – part I

My father just passed away. On Friday, November 30th, to be exact. Though he was suffering from lung cancer and undergoing chemo, his passing was still unexpected, because the actual cause of death was double pneumonia. It came on quick and it came on strong. They never were able to determine for sure whether it was bacterial, viral, or just the fact that his lungs were so damaged they simply filled up with fluid. But it’s all academic now, because he’s gone and we are now left to adjust to life without him.

What follows are the words I wrote along the way, along the path that led me from home to his bedside in Fort Smith, Arkansas and back. There’s not been much in the way of editing. It’s pretty much the way it came out. None of what you’ll read here was easy to write, so it may not be easy to read. But if you are interested in my journey in dealing with my father’s death, read on. If not, that’s okay, because ultimately all that I’ve written has simply been my catharsis.

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I’m sitting in aisle seat 22c on an American Airlines flight to Dallas that left SFO at 6am on 11/26. It’s 7:16am as I type, and we’re at 39,000 feet. I thought I would be sleeping after being up all night driving to the airport. But I’m not, because all I can think about is my dad and whether he is alive in an ICU at Mercy hospital in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I don’t know if he is, but my prayer is that if he is not to be completely healed by God before I get there that at least I might have the opportunity to say goodbye before the Lord takes him home.

The last that I heard, shortly before I left, was that his heart had stopped and he had to be resuscitated. This after having had double pneumonia, which led to a need for oxygen, which led to intubation when he could no longer get enough oxygen in his bloodstream to survive. So I head to a destination from which I will likely return no longer having a father. That is a sobering thought.

I feel alone in a plane packed with people. I am cut off from the world, from Debbie, from my family, from everyone that matters. Yet at the very time I feel the most distant from them I feel the greatest need for them to be close. I would give anything for Debbie to be sitting at my side, holding my hand, and whispering to me that it would be all right, even though we both would know that it would not be.

The only presence I feel is that of the One I know will never leave me, even in my darkest moments. God is with me now, as He has always been, and He will be with me throughout the remainder of this journey. My prayers have been for my dad, for his comfort and for his healing, yet I pray them knowing that by the time I reach Fort Smith that he will have passed away. Perhaps feeling this is my own way of preparing myself for what seems to be the inevitable. Or perhaps it is God’s hand upon me, moving me towards Him and allowing me to rest in the knowledge that whatever may happen, He is ultimately in control of it all.

My other prayer is that God can use me at this time to be a comfort to my family. But I feel wholly unprepared for such a thing. I suddenly find myself at a loss as to what to offer them other than the knowledge of the saving grace of our Heavenly Father and His gift of everlasting life, which should be sufficient given the belief that my dad was, indeed, saved. I think he was, though I regret now not having fully confirmed that during my last visit. I made the mistake of believing I would see him at least one more time. But this is proof that we can’t ever assume such a thing will be true.

I suppose it’s normal at such a time to feel as if all the joy in life has escaped, like the air from a balloon, leaving me to wonder what exactly will matter anymore after it’s all said and done. My God I will cling to, my faith in Him never wavering. My wife, my children, my siblings … All of them I hold dearer with each passing moment. I want to hold them all, hug them tight, and tell them over and over how much I love them. But I can’t, at least not now.

How does one go on as normal after losing a parent? I don’t know. But worse, it makes me wonder how one can carry on after losing a husband of almost sixty years? How does one deal with that much pain? That much loss? What will become of my mom when the only man she has ever loved passes away? She is not a strong woman, and never has been. I worry that she won’t be able to deal with something so devastating, and I worry that I will be useless in helping her to cope. Of course, how can I when I don’t even know how I will hold up. I’ve not cried much over the last eight months or so since this journey began. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s waiting in the wings, waiting to overwhelm me at a moment’s notice.

Life seems gray today, as gray as the dense fog we drove through in the middle of the night to make it to the airport on time. Though I’m sure the colors will return, I just don’t know when that will happen. When will the things that before seemed so important to me become significant again? Other than God and my family, not much really seems to mean much anymore. But perhaps that’s the way it is supposed to be. Maybe all that other stuff is really all that small stuff of life that isn’t supposed to matter anyway. For now, it doesn’t. Time will tell if it ever does again.

As a final thought, since I found out that my dad was most likely dying, I’ve been consumed by regrets, both small and large. It’s sad that I will never have the opportunity to do anything about them, but I will have a lifetime to remember them. For all those things I did and did not do, dad, I’m sorry. Know that I have always loved you and always will. You were a wonderful father to all us kids and a caring husband who, until the day you passed away, loved my mother dearly. You placed her up so high on a pedestal, even after all the years together, that you still didn’t believe you deserved a woman like her. Well, you did, dad. You did.

A song has been echoing through my mind over the last several hours. It fits this moment in my life perfectly. It’s entitled Everything I Own by Bread. Upon a first listen, most people easily dismiss the song as a typical “guy loses girl” tune. But the truth is, it has a much deeper meaning. As explained by the man who wrote the song, David Gates, it was written for his father after he passed away. Listen to the song and, if your dad is still alive, give him a call and let him know that you love him and that you were thinking about him. If your father has passed away, remember him, and share his memory with your children so that he can, in some simple way, live on in the hearts and minds of those of which he is such a fundamental part.

I love you, Dad. Your “dash” counted for way more than you’ll ever know.

–dp

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