Second have slipped to moments, moments to minutes, to hours and to days, and I still can’t truly believe that my dad is not going to walk around the corner and smile at me. If it is possible to miss anyone more completely, I really don’t know how.
The night my dad went to his eternal home was exhausting. My extended family was at a wedding a few hours away, my brother was in Tennessee, and his wife in Alabama attending a separate wedding. My father’s breathing changed dramatically over the course of the day, so I made a few phone calls. I called my sister-in-law concerned that my brother was alone. We all agreed to ask Rob (my brother) to come home the next day, once Leighia (his wife) was with him again. I also called my uncle Stephen, a physician, to find out when he was getting back into town. He left the wedding and drove directly to my house, arriving a little after midnight. I had tried checking my dad’s pulse, but it was so faint that I could barely feel it. I had tried checking his blood pressure, but I couldn’t hear it. My mother laid down and held my dad for a few hours while we waited on Stephen to arrive. When he got here, he checked my dad’s blood pressure only to find after several attempts that it was 60 over some unknown low number. (Normal is 120/80.) No wonder I couldn’t hear it; I never even dreamed of checking so low. His blood oxygen level was at 72 when it was high enough to even give a reading. My uncle sat with me in the kitchen around 1 o’clock in the morning and told me that my dad at worst had hours and at best had 10 days. He then sent me back to my dad, and my mother crawled out of my dad’s bedside to go listen to Stephen’s medical assessment, an unbearable message. With the words of the end hanging over my mother and me, my uncle left to go to his house.
Around 1:30 am, mom held dad’s hand and told him she loved him. She made a choice that I know she will always struggle with, and decided to sleep in a bed beside him about 3 feet away. She told Dad that she was going to sleep beside him because he needed a good night’s rest and the bed was so cramped when she compacted herself into it. She did it in hopes that he would rest better, but she had not idea that the end was so near us. I slept in a chair about a foot from my dad. We all slept fitfully. At 2:30, I got up to check on dad. He was still fighting for oxygen, but seemed about the same. Then around 4 am, mom and I both heard him stop breathing. I wasn’t sure really because mom wears a noisy c-pap to help her sleep. Mom finally said, “Is your dad okay?” I got out of my chair, knowing he was not okay. I checked his pulse. It was gone. I held my hand near his nose and mouth. The feel of his breath was gone. I lifted his comforter from his bed to see if his chest rose and fell. He was gone. I held his hand so warm, and turned to my face my mother. I told her that I thought she should come check him too. I don’t know if I regret not telling her. She watched my assessment, as I calmly and deliberately went through steps that would demonstrate near death, very near death and death. It was 4:10 am. Mom’s assessment confirmed mine, and she looked up and said, “I believe he’s gone.”
The next hours are a blur. I called my uncle immediately and began calling other appropriate people after dawn had broken. My uncle came back over, despite a full dose of Ambien to help him sleep. We waited for my grandparents to return from the wedding. My grandmother collapsed on my dad crying out that no mother should loose her son. Our friends descended on the house, and we prayed as a group. My uncle flew out to go pick up my brother in Tennessee. My sister-in-law and nephew began driving to us from Alabama.
When they came to take my daddy away from me, I held him in my arms and reiterated the last words each of us had spoken to one another, “I love you.” I leaned over the bed, laying over him, held him, and wept and wept. That was the hardest moment I have ever faced in my life.
In the coming days, we held both private and public receivings and funerals as well as a large reception after the public funeral. We were surrounded by well over a thousand people, and the two receivings lasted about 6 hours total. My heart was heavy, but showered with love shared from a life well lived. My ears welcomed the fond stories of my dad, and ached from the number of people who spoke to me. I felt anger with the people who used their phones to video tape the services and who stole flowers from the funeral. I felt joy when my dearest friends quietly held my hand as I walked through the most difficult goodbyes of my life. I don’t exactly know where I go from here. Soon I will have to leave my mother, and return to the hustle of a more metropolitan lifestyle. I will long for the days when the nearest memories of my father are not all from the struggle of the last few months, but are intermingled with memories of happier, easier times and tales. There will not be a day in my life, however, that I regret being here with my father; I just wish it had been longer.
Other tributes. Darin Aldridge. Ted Lehmann. The Shelby Star.