This afternoon mom and I went to visit my dad. When we walked in, I noticed there was a clump of chocolate cake on his table. After we said hello he asked if I would clean it up. I noticed he had some crumbs on his shirt and then found a lump of it under his covers. I also noticed that Rex, his roommate, had a chunk of chocolate cake on the floor in front of him. I asked if the cake was just that good or if they had had a food fight. My dad just smiled and looked a little perplexed as to how it got under his covers.
After cleaning up chocolate cake, he asked if I would get the clippers and trim his nails. I got the clippers, walked over to his bedside, and gently lifted his hand. His nails hadn’t been clipped in awhile, so I asked him if he wanted me to paint them or clip them. He said I better just clip them. As I clipped, I kept getting a whiff of that chocolate cake. Apparently, it was even under his fingernails. That must have been some cake. I thought of all that his hands used to do- writing out lists on yellow tablets, mowing and yard work, putting together car locks, riding his motorcycle, petting a lot of cats, holding his song book while singing in the choir, and so many other things.
While clipping his nails I was also reminded of the night my Nanny died. She had battled cancer for several years. The family had been called in and I was sitting in the room, saying my goodbye but she was unable to respond or communicate. How do you sum up a lifetime of love and thank yous and memories in just a few words? I talked to her as if she could hear me, and I like to think that she could. I told her I had decided to go to Hungary to teach English. I told her about funny things that had happened at work. I told her that I loved her and admired her and respected her more than anyone I had ever or would ever meet. While talking to her, I held her hand. I remember trying to burn the memory of what her hands looked like into my brain. I don’t know why, but in that moment I just wanted to always remember her hands.
I shouldn’t be surprised because I’ve always had a fascination with people’s hands. The way they move them when they talk or fold them when they sit quietly, or like my mom, she twirls her thumbs a lot when she’s uncomfortable. I can think of many friends, some I’ve not seen in years and I can remember what their hands look like and their mannerisms and movements. I don’t think I’ve met any two people who have the same hands and mannerisms.
My dad’s hands aren’t steady now, but he has always sat with his hands folded in his lap and his fingers interlocked. He still sits that way, only now he holds the TV remote. After I finished clipping his nails, I asked if they looked okay and if he had any jagged edges. He said, “Well, they’re OK, but they don’t suit me.” This is not an odd way for my dad to answer. Before he got sick, this is the sort of comment that would frustrate me. I’ve noticed those things don’t even phase me anymore. I remembered that I had a nail file in my purse, so I grabbed that and started filing away. He would sometimes start to fold his hands, forgetting that I still had three fingers to work on. When I had finished filing, he seemed pleased.
I stood by his bedside and fed him an orange and a lot of candy. He chewed quietly, staring off into the distance. Occasionally he would have pain in his stomach, grab the side bar of his bed, and wince. He looked up at me after a bout of that and said matter of factly, “I think I’m going to die.” I asked him if he thought he was going to die right then or sometime soon. He said he thought right then. I asked if he was ready to go and he said yes. The nurse walked in and he looked at me and said, “Ask her if she thinks I’m going to die.” The nurse handled the question very well, not giving him a yes or a no. He then stared off into the distance, his eyes tracking something that we couldn’t see. I really thought in that moment that he was going to die. But, he turned and start talking again.
My dad’s birthday is tomorrow so I told him that he needed to hang on just one more day because he didn’t want to miss out on getting to be 86 or getting banana pudding and sweet tea. He smiled and said OK and it was settled.
If I didn’t believe in God and His promises to His followers about Eternal Life, I think I would be a total mess. If I thought this was it, this is the last time I’ll ever see my dad- I don’t think I could handle it. In fact, I don’t know how people go through day to day life without the Lord. As I get older, I find my need for Him and His truth only increases.
The exact moment my Nanny died I felt like an invisible shield had separated us. I knew that her body was no longer alive, but I knew that she still existed and that one day I would see her again.
I don’t want my dad to die, but I also can’t stand to see him suffering everyday. I think he’s tired too. He has talked a lot this week about being ready to get out of the nursing home, thinking that he is going to die, and a general restlessness. I’ve asked him several times, when he brings it up, if he is ready to be with Jesus and he tells me yes.
So, I guess I have to be ready as well. Ready to let go, ready to say goodbye one final time, ready to trust that this won’t really be goodbye and all that is hard to do.
There is an Avett Brothers’ song that keeps coming to mind. Even before my dad got sick, this song reminded me of him. He and I have had a complicated relationship. The last few years things shifted for both of us and that has been a blessing for which I’m eternally grateful. So as we both prepare for his final journey, I hear these lyrics and think of him making that trip without me or my mom or my sister. But I know we’ll join up later, only he won’t be wincing in pain or confined to a bed.
When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?
Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the Savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
With no hard feelingsNo Hard Feelings– The Avett Brothers