On Sunday, as Steve and I often do, we wrote on a writing prompt for ten minutes. The prompt was “Days Gone By.” With thoughts of my father still wrapped around my mind, here’s what I wrote:
Tomorrow will be one week since my father died. My father died. The words still feel like a hammer to me, an unreal, cold, hard hammer.
Days gone by. One might think I’d write about the last few days, the days since his death, but they are a blur, an ongoing feeling that a part of me missing, like my breath has been sucked into a place of never and forever.
The bigger, more meaningful days gone by are of my father’s final days, as he left us in increments, hour-by-hour. We prayed he’d let go to end his suffering, yet wanted him to cling to life, knowing that once he crossed over, he’d be gone from our lives forever, leaving the very gaping hole I’ve felt over the last week.
I remember saying to my siblings early on in the week, “He’s already gone.” We were no longer seeing definite signs of response, of his knowledge that we were there with him. Perhaps he squeezed our hand, or raised an eyebrow when a familiar song played, or we said something that might stimulate his thoughts—“Dad, Chuck is here now,” or “Andi is on the phone,” or “Aunt Carol wants to talk to you,” or “We love you very much, Dad.”
But was it just a coincidence that his eyebrow raised? An involuntary twitch that made him squeeze our hands? We clung to hope that he knew, but we simply don’t know.
I chose to believe that as his soul began to depart in his last few days, it hovered over all of us, even as it lingered inside his pain-filled body, as unsure it wanted to depart as we were of our preparedness to let him go, and he saw our tears and felt our love mixed with pain, and he knew.
For the last few days, I’ve continued to think about the dichotomy of holding on and letting go, and it brought to mind what 20/20 hindsight has taught me about parenthood:
The hardest part is finding the line between holding on and letting go.
In my father’s final days, we all experienced this tug-of-war, even my father.
On Monday morning, after giving my father his pain medication, my brother, sister and father’s wife, stepped out of his bedroom to have a quick breakfast in the dining room, only 20 feet away.
After my brother said a beautiful prayer before eating, my dad’s wife went back to check on him.
In those few short minutes, my father had passed away quietly.
I hadn’t yet made it to his house that morning, so when my brother called to tell me, I was heartbroken and filled with guilt that I hadn’t been there. When I learned the details of the morning, that my father had passed alone, I suddenly realized that was exactly how he wanted it.
We loved my father and didn’t want to let go. Most of all, we feared seeing him struggle at the end.
After months of fighting every minute to hold on to a life he loved, on the morning of February 1, 2021, in his few minutes of solitude, he crossed the line between holding on and letting go.
I believe it was his final act of love.
My mom did the same. I had a baby monitor so I could check on her anywhere I happened to be. After I gave morning meds to her I sat with her a bit. Then left to pick something up at Walmart. I checked several times to see her chest rise and fall. On the way home, just 3 minutes away, I checked while waiting at a stop light. I didn’t see any signs of breathing. Neal met me at the door and said, you need to check on your mom. I did. She had entered into new life. When she first came to live with me, she wept saying she knew how hard this was going to be on me. I told her it was my turn and my honor to care for her. It was.
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Committing to be with a parent at the end, knowing how difficult it will be, is also a final act of love. Our parents are in a better place, resting in peace. ❤
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And we are here for each other my sweet friend.