Sunday, June 14, 2020

Happy Father's Day... p.s. Thank You God

The Headlines:

How Do You Celebrate Father's Day...

When He's Gone?

The other day my daughter asked my husband what he wanted for Father's Day... he simply replied, "My Dad back"

This Father's Day Is Going to be Hard
Not because it's the first Father's Day without my Dad but because it's another one.

Wow, does time fly.

3-3-2019 was my Dad's last day on Earth.

It was one of the most painful days for me.  As it is for anyone who loses someone.  Now, as we go through this crazy time of our lives... (COVID)  I, all of us actually, have more time to think about the way life used to be.  Before his death.  Ironic how a person's death can change your life.

I've wanted to write this post since he passed.  I first started doing so within a day of him being gone.
I planned on writing it more for me than anything else.  My hope is the words that come out here will set them free from me forever.  Perhaps it will lessen the stabbing pain that, over time, turned into a dull hurt that just exists within...

But maybe not.  I have cried many tears.  I'm almost fresh out.

Crushing News
It was February, 2019.  My Father called to tell me they suspected he had lung cancer.   I was gutted.  But thought... this will be a long battle we can take on.  See, my Mother In Law had just dealt with lung cancer herself and she had made it through the storm.  A "survivor" for just shy of 3 years now.

Two weeks later, as my Father was scheduling his appointments and making his plans, his breathing suddenly got worse.  Now, mind you, he already had the chronic condition of COPD so breathing trouble was something we were all familiar with.   But this was different and I was worried so I told him to go to urgent care.  He didn't want to... until later that day when he had no choice.  He landed in the ICU with Pneumonia.  We all figured he would be given a walking breathing machine which he'd have to lug around the rest of his life but that was not the case.  He was in ICU for 4-5 nights before they moved him into a regular hospital room.  I didn't know it yet, but this was because doctors felt between the COPD, Pneumonia and Cancer (which had metastasized to his adrenal glands and bones)... they didn't suspect he'd live very long.

They were right.

I'm an only child.  We were a close family of 3.  Life never gave my parents anything they didn't work for.  Dad went to night school to earn his BA, while he was working full time and a father to a newborn.  My mother quit her job to raise me.  She didn't buy special purses.  They didn't go on tons of big trips.  There were no huge peaks and no deep valleys.  I felt safe, secure and very loved.  Until now... for some reason I felt that safety slipping away.

While my Father was in the hospital, I was in Arizona being a Mom.  My daughter had a dance competition and had gotten sick with the flu during it.  I caught that flu so I couldn't rush to my Dads side when I was needed.  Finally, when I did reach the hospital I was quickly given the news.

There was nothing else they could do.

Those are words that crush you.  You feel powerless, devestated and maybe a little mad all at once.   Doctors believed the best option was hospice.  My Father felt so bad... not for himself.  For me and my Mom.  He felt responsible for this horrible predicament we were in because he was the one who didn't stop smoking even after I repeatedly begged him for years as a child, teen and adult.  I wished I wasn't right.  Or maybe I just wished he had listened to me.  Not because I knew better but because he did.  My Dad had always taken care of my Mom and I and suddenly he would no longer be able to do so.  I would lose the biggest cheerleader of my life.

"Are you happy?" he asked after I received the dire news.  A sweet homage to something I used to say all the time as a child when people seemed down... "NO Dad," I said, "No I am really really not happy" and neither was he.  But, as he clutched the stuffed animal from his granddaughter and the blanket from his grandson (below), the man kept a brave face the whole time.  He would "keep pounding" for as long as he could.

The next day was spent laughing and talking, discussing and crying.  The decision had been made to go home so the preparation began.  The doctors gave him a couple weeks.  I was focused on those weeks... appreciating the time I had ahead to love on him as much as I could.

He was released to go home on a Friday and when he got there he adamantly told my Mom "it wouldn't be long,"  I thought that was his way of trying to ease her mind.  He always tried to do that... but now I'm not sure.  I now think he knew something the doctors didn't.

He perked up when he got home.  I was surprised but encouraged.  It was on this day he relayed the last stories he would ever tell.  I had heard the same stories at least 333 times before... about how I got my middle name and how all 3 of our birthdays and my parents anniversary lined up in a very sweet, coincidental way.  But this time, as he spoke, I knew it was different.  Because I had a feeling those proud stories would never be heard, from his lips, again.

Now I longed to hear the stories I dreaded over the years.

You know, the ones where you roll your eyes as they're being told?  He would talk endlessly about me to anyone who would listen.  Stories about the day I was born - when the raced from Corona Del Mar to the Newport Beach Hospital - where my Mom almost had me in the car.  Or the first time I tasted ice cream or chocolate or when another pre-schooler thought I was a boy.  I'd never hear about the best friend he named Begonia (her name was Tanya) or the time one of his clients kept calling to hear the voicemail I had left on the machine because it was so funny,  or when I called him from college crying about having no money in my checking account,  or the time he dropped me off in Kennewick, Washington for my first TV job in the dead of Winter and feared for my life.

I would never hear any of that any more... and it was crushing.

I cherished those stories for that brief and final time.  It meant he was in a good spot.  But I was not.  My sickness had come roaring back in.  I needed to rest.  So we all went to sleep.

I thought we could pick up where we left off the next day.  But he couldn't talk very well.  His breathing had gotten worse and he wanted nothing to do with food... though he let me slowly stuff an Italian Ice down his throat.  It was during this time that he said to me, "this is taking too long."  Dad never wanted to be hooked up to stuff lying in a bed waiting to pass away.  He had made that abundantly clear over the years.  Shortly after that through his hoarse voice he said, "I want to go home" to which I replied, "You are home Dad."   But he was not in the home he was speaking of... he was ready to go to Heaven.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving  
That was the greatest gift he ever gave me,  teaching me, that home was always where your Lord lived.  It was a lesson that some may take for granted.  I have not.  I never will.

I said goodbye to Dad that night.  Nothing poetic or special... I just tearfully gave him a kiss and told him I'd be back.  I had to leave California and go to my Arizona house because I needed to repack, see my children, get healthier and come back to him.  I would be gone a little more than 24 hours.  As I knew it... he had weeks.  I spent the next day calling friends, getting his Pastor to make one last visit (Dad's request) and arranging for around the clock care.  Care we would have to pay for... I was happy to do it.  Dad was not.

No matter, he didn't have to pay for that care.

They called me that day and said he was barely responding.  The 4 breathing machines we had learned on Friday were no longer needed by Sunday.  He was one step above life support.  Hospice would not be leaving his side.  My Dad would be happy to know we wouldn't have to pay a nurse $25 an hour.  I think he pulled some strings with God for that one.  In the middle of the night, the day after I left, they called to say he was gone.  It was his 3rd day on hospice.   March 3rd.  I wasn't there.  Greatest regret.

You'd think the story would end there.  But you'd be wrong.

God was Not Finished Yet
My 8 year old son sent the above text to my Dad's phone a couple days after he passed.  I'm not sure why.  Grandpa Gordon wasn't going to answer.  Apparently it was his way of trying to reach out to someone he loved and missed dearly.  If only he could answer.

During the time my Father was sick, our family dog, Maverick, who also had his share of breathing problems, declined.  His favorite person on earth (besides us)... was my Dad.  He was on some meds but they didn't seem to be working.  Maverick was old, 16 years old.  That's like a serious senior Labrador.  But the decline was too hard to ignore.  His breathing was more labored than ever before.  Oddly, similar to my Fathers.  But he carried on.

It was about 3 weeks later after my Dad died that my husband called to tell me some horrible news about his Father.  After dinner and a brief celebration of his Mom's recent Cancer "clear" news - his Dad had some sort of stroke (hemorrhage) in his home, was found unconscious and was rushed to the ER.

The news was grim.

He never woke up after that.  Doctors soon explained there was no hope for any positive recovery.  I got on a plane a day later to say goodbye to the man who had raised the person I have to come to know as one of the strongest, most loyal and caring individuals I have ever met and it was excruciating.  But we did it.  Together.

We then came home to tell our children the shocking news, their Grandpa Gary had passed, and watch our daughter in a dance competition. I remember being so worried about our dog, Mav, as his decline was incredibly noticeable.  When we went to bed that night we were both emotionally exhausted.  I tried to feed Maverick but he wasn't much interested in his food.  That was odd but after what we'd been through I didn't push it.  He laid in a corner of our bathroom I'd never seen him in before, while that too was odd, I just let him be.

Goodbye Again 
It was in the middle of that night that he wailed in a way I'd never heard before.  It was like a howl.  I immediately woke up and turned on the light.  Before me was a dog who could no longer move the bottom half of his body.  It looked as though he was paralyzed from the waist down.

 Fortunately, due to the cicumstances,  my husband was home.  He was supposed to be in Florida.
We gave him a portion of a tranquilizer to calm him down and in the morning I told my kids they should say goodbye to the only pet they've ever known.  When we got back to the house after taking the kids to school Maverick was in yet another corner.  I'm sure he shimmied himself there since his bottom half was not working at all.  We retreated to the office to talk about what to do and the same yelp wailed from his gut.

I couldn't believe this was happening.  For a third time in almost as many weeks.

We rushed him to the vet and he gave us some choices.  None of them good.  All of them almost cruel.  So I asked him about the last choice... the one no one wanted to mention.  He agreed that was the best option.  That dog looked right into my eyes - almost begging for me to let him go.  I had just seen those same eyes in my Father.

The next step was peaceful and painful at the same time.

If you ever have to do it you'll know what I mean.  We left and I'm pretty sure I had a panic attack in the car.  Once home I walked in to the house and because it was so silent - I walked right back out.  I just couldn't do it.  I needed to sit outside and cry.  But as I did my husband came over, comforted me and said... "You're not gonna believe what I'm looking at..."

Sign From Above 

As I sat on the wall, the sun high above my head, my shadow was a spitting image of our dog's silhouette.  How could that be I asked?  It just was... the shape of my shadow was him.

It was all I needed.  Those 3 were in Heaven looking down on us.  Together.

They were happy.  We were devastated.  So much sadness.  So many tears.  All of it a coincidence yet none of it a coincidence. God was certainly talking to us.

The Power of 3's
People always say things happen in 3's.

Even though I didn't know it - it has always been significant in my life.  Why?  I think it's to remind us of God's presence.  The number 3 holds huge significance in the bible.  Think about it.

Father/Son/Holy Ghost.  There were 3 crucified when Jesus was up on that cross.  He rose on the 3rd day.  Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus.  3 Wiseman (or at least 3 gifts).  The list goes on.  So I'm pretty sure this was all part of a plan.

The Greatest Lessons
I have never experienced death like I did in 2019.  I hope I don't have to again anytime soon but I did learn some things.  I learned in the weeks before death everything you do are mountains, not mole hills.  Every word said, step taken, picture snapped.  They all matter more.  So soak them in... take your time.  You will never get that moment back.  Ever.  And the loss will be felt.  Some time.  Either right then, or when you're driving down the street.  Perhaps when you're at a park or watching a commercial.  It will hit you when you least expect it.

So in order to avoid having any regrets... take your time while going through this time.

I also learned life after death, for the living, is just like the movies.  You wake up in the home that used to be filled with noise of that person no longer there and the silence is deafening.  It is an unreal, new reality.

In my case, I learned that when your parent dies you finally and officially grow up.  I think this is true for everyone.  You can be 70, 50, 30 or 13.... but under no circumstances can you run to them anymore and ask for help.  It is totally and completely up to you now and forever more.

I should mention my Father left behind not only me but the woman he loved for years.  My Mom was his responsibility.  He (maybe sometimes begrudgingly) loved caring for her.  But he had been telling me in the years leading up to his last day that her memory was fading.  He was right.  She is now officially diagnosed with Alzheimers.

So we will celebrate this Father's Day together.

God is speaking to you.
Perhaps most importantly, this whole experience left me with one glaring and blaring message.  I believe it's the most important lesson I learned during this time.

That is simply this... God speaks to each and everyone of us throughout our lives.

But in order to hear him we have to be listening.  Because he's not picking up the phone.  There are no door bells ringing.  No one's coming over an intercom saying "Nicole, God's on line one!"  We have to be looking and willing to hear his voice.

On my last Birthday while my Dad was alive, he wrote me a letter.  He had never once done that before in his life.  Just wasn't his style.  

My daughter asked him to... she knew words mattered very much to me.  In it he said that he was proud.  That it had been such a joy to see me grow.  He said, "You wear many hats.  You are a daughter, wife and mother.  All hats look very good on you which means you are doing things right."

Dad made me believe I was the best.  Not the best Realtor or Journalist or Party Planner.  But I was simply the best daughter and person he could ever know.  He always made that abundantly clear.  And that filled me up.  I can only hope that I am doing that for my children.   At the end of the letter he reminded me, "all of us our blessed" and closed with "p.s. Thank You God"

Through this process the good Lord was shouting at me all of those things.  And he's constantly seeking my attention now.  He still has more to say.

Yes, I miss my Dad.  More than anything.  But when I look back on the time I wrote about here it's like I was living out a good, long Novel written just for me (and my family).  Each and every move orchestrated by someone from above.  I wish he was still here today but (among many things) God was telling me he was needed more in heaven.

Today, our life continues to be blessed, even through the madness that has followed us as well as the entire country in which we live right now.  Since Dad left I now manage all aspects of Mom's life.  I am happy to do so... because she has always taken care of me and my family right back.  For that matter, in some ways, so too does my Dad.  Directly and indirectly, he is still there.  

That... all part of God's plan.  Glad I was listening.  

So what may God be telling you?  Because I promise he's trying to get your attention.  Somehow.

Finally tonight, 
A week ago, more than a year after we lost our dog Maverick, my Dad and Father In Law.... we decided it was time to get a new puppy.  A Silver Lab.  Seen one of those?  Many have these gorgeous blue eyes when they're young.  They're kind of rare.  This, we believed, was the perfect Summer to get a pup.  Not much sports or traveling happening so... we drove all the way to a small town called Pearsall in the SouthWest part of Texas to pick up the new addition.  As we made our way to the Ranch where he was born... we turned the corner only to see a big sign that read: "Maverick Self Storage".

Turns out Pearsall, Texas is home of the "Mavericks"... now isn't that a coincidence?

Actually... no it's not.  It's really not a coincidence at all.

Happy Father's Day Dad.  Thanks for still being there... even when you're not.
P.S. Thank you God.

© One Picky Chick. Made with love by The Dutch Lady Designs.