Apple of My Eye
My Father Said Goodbye the Night Before He Died
My father knew it was the last time I would see him. I don’t know how he knew, but he did. He was a pretty stubborn person, so I guess he just decided how he wanted to do the “goodbyes” and he did them. He said his “goodbye” to me even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I believe he had a similar moment with each of my siblings.
Dad died 14 years ago yesterday. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer one day and went into the hospital a couple days later. Because he lived in a small town, he went to the hospital that was a two hour drive from home. I didn’t live too far from my parents at that time. Not the same small town, but a small town two hours from the hospital.
My kids were weeks away from being two years old and five years old. My oldest sister lived in the same city as the hospital. My middle sister and brother lived about three and a half hours away. We all tried to be at the hospital as much as possible that week, though we never dreamed it was the last week of his life. Mom, of course, stayed by his side the entire time.
I had been in the city for the whole week. I talked to Hubby and the kids many times a day. I hated being away from them, but I couldn’t bear to leave Dad either. Friday came and I had not seen the kids in about five days or so. It was 6:00pm and my oldest sister and I were sitting on the polyurethane upholstered sofa in Dad’s hospital room. Mom was sitting in the reclining chair next to his bed.
I felt like my guts had been drawn and quartered. Dad was sleeping most of the time. I was terrified that he would die if I left and I would miss it. I know that is a weird thing to say, but if you have ever had a loved one dying then you know exactly what I mean. You don’t want it to happen, but if it is going to happen anyway, you definitely want to be there when it does.
As I write that, I realize that it is probably not true for everyone. I imagine there are some folks who absolutely do not want to be in the room when their loved one dies. Maybe it is because ministry is the family business and we are accustomed to such moments. Whatever the case, I didn’t want to leave.
On the other hand, I missed my babies so very much. To be grieving the way we were grieving and not be able to hold my children every day was torture. It felt like I would wither away if I didn’t get to hug them soon. So, I made the decision that I would drive home that night, spend the weekend with my kids, and come back to the hospital on Monday morning.
I went to kiss Daddy on the cheek when I was leaving. I was hoping to do it softly and quietly and not wake him. I failed. He woke up and grabbed my hand. I held his hand and said,
“I’m going to see the kids, but I’ll be back Monday morning.”
Daddy squeezed my hand and told me to hug “those babies” for him.
“I will Daddy and I’ll see you Monday morning.”
“You know you have always been the apple of my eye.”
With tears in my eyes, I replied,
“I know Daddy and I’m awfully proud to have you as my father. But, I WILL see you Monday morning.”
I kissed his cheek, hugged my mom and sister and drove home.
The kids should have been in bed, but Hubby knew I was on my way and they wanted to stay up, so of course, he let them. My sister had given me a children’s book about loved ones dying. She was a chaplain and had access to such resources. I knew it was going to be especially hard for Kid #1 and I needed help to help them.
When I came in the back door, both kids ran to me. I sat down in the floor with them. They told me about their week. They asked me about their grandfather. We rolled around, tickled each other, laughed, and hugged. We hugged a lot. After Kid #2 was in bed, I read the book on dying to Kid #1 and explained to him that it wouldn’t be long before his grandfather died, that I didn’t know how long, but that we needed to get ready. He asked his questions, looked at the picture book, and we hugged some more. I read more books to him and lay with him in his bed until he was asleep.
Hubby always goes to sleep before I do. This was true that night just like any other. I watched TV, read, played on the computer, and probably ate a snack. When I was finally settling down to go to sleep, it was close to midnight. I was just about to drift off to sleep when I suddenly realized what had happened at the hospital.
I couldn’t stop myself. I sat up in the bed and burst into sobs. Of course this woke Hubby up. He put his arm around me,
“Are you okay? Did something happen?”
“He said goodbye to me. I think he said ‘goodbye’ to me when I was leaving the hospital.”
I sobbed. He hugged me. Eventually we went to sleep.
My father died about eight hours after that realization. It was just he and my mother. It was exactly the way he wanted it to be.
Mom called. I was standing in Kid #2’s bedroom near the door. I leaned on it.
“Baby, Dad is gone.”
I asked the questions. Questions I don’t remember now. I walked into our den where Hubby and the kids were. She gave me a few details. Details I don’t remember now. As soon as I said, “Goodbye” and hung up the phone, I collapsed into the floor weeping. It was just like on TV! I couldn’t control it. I could not stand. I could not speak. I could not stop sobbing.
In my mind, I was trying to get control because my babies were watching the whole thing. Kid #1 started asking, “Did he already die? Did he die? Did he already die?!” Kid #2 took my face in their sweet little hands and said, “You’re okay Mama. You’re okay.” Hubby just held us all.
My legs are weak just from telling this story. It doesn’t get any better. Anyone telling you it does is a liar. Mom and I talked about this yesterday. It never gets better. It just gets easier to manage the grief.
My legs are weak, but I can stand.