It has been more than a week since this visit, but I remember each minute like it was yesterday. It was supposed to be a quick visit. I had five kids with me, but we were going to be driving right past the nursing home, so I decided to stop. Isaiah really wanted to see my dad. And frankly, so did I. I had no way of knowing it would be the last good visit the five kids would have together with their papa.
I decided to leave the kids in the car. One was wearing her soccer gear. The others had games later that day. Isaiah and I jumped out to run in for a quick visit with dad. But when we got into his room, he was awake, alert, and hungry. I helped him order some eggs and toast. Isaiah and dad joked about six-year-old vs. select high school soccer. The quick visit turned into long enough that I sent Isaiah to the truck for the other four. They came willingly. Mostly.
With four kids safely in the waiting room watching a movie, Isaiah and I went back to getting dad fed, talking about track and soccer and football. We talked about the impending rain. What he likes to watch on television. He sent Isaiah for cranberry juice a couple of times. And so much more.
And then Dad asked to see the other kids. I was hesitant. The three youngest were kind of scared because of their last visits with dad. And Isaac just always asks when Papa is coming home. But I thought we should give it a try. So, Isaiah went to the waiting room. He came back with four more kids. We spent a good hour together. Seven of us crammed into Papa's room. Him asking questions. They answered and asked some of their own. We talked and laughed and loved for a long while. At least and hour.
Then my dad prayed like he used to. Like the kids remember. For each child individually. For them as a group. By name. We all held hands. The kids crowded together holding each other. Isaiah with one hand on them and one hand on my dad. I was standing on the other side of the bed with both of my hands in my dad's hand. He lost his train of thought a couple of times. He repeated things a lot. But he prayed for them all. More than once.
These days, it is difficult to keep him awake. I spend my time with him reading Psalms and praying for him. And cherishing every smile, every laugh, every word that he speaks to me. I know he still loves his grandkids. And I know that he would still be praying over them if he could. But these days, it is our turn to pray. Our turn to hold.
I can't say that I'm dealing all that well with the shift. Most days I'm fine. I've accepted what is coming. My mourning is mostly joyful for what my dad will get to experience soon.
But then days like today happen.
When I sit through church and cry the whole time. I just couldn't get it together. We sang a hymn that I've heard my dad sing a thousand times. I heard his powerful voice in my head the whole time. And I couldn't squeak out a word of it. All I had to offer were my tears. And they were plentiful.
We took communion, and I couldn't shake the thought that soon my dad will hear the voice of the Lord he as served his entire life. We sang a song about victory and healing--I couldn't help but think of the complete healing that is just around the corner for my dad. And I just couldn't get it together. I cried the whole service. Tim had to keep retrieving beverage napkins from the coffee stand. And I had to use them even though they were yellow. Because I just couldn't get it together.
My roommate before Tim left me a message that read, "You are allowed to struggle. Let yourself." I know I didn't really need permission, but it was so helpful to hear from someone I love and trust as much as her. So, when I feel the "can't hold it together" feelings coming on, I try to let myself struggle. To grieve. To mourn.
And today, I went to see my dad. He smiled at me a lot. Didn't want for anything but some scripture. So, Tim read to him the scripture from service today, and I read him nearly half of the Psalms. He was wide awake, alert, his gaze fixed on me for most of the time. It was a pleasure to just be with him. With Tim sitting across the room listening as well.
And at one point, Isaiah came into the room and prayed for my dad. Holding his hand. Seeming to understand that my dad did not fall asleep out of disrespect, but of sheer exhaustion. He stayed for a while. Listening to the Psalms. It was the first time today that I felt like I had it together. Like I could praise the same God who my dad has served his entire life without tears. And we did. With Psalms.
I'm not sure my dad knew we left. After about an hour, he fell sound asleep. I could not rouse him even for a farewell. I just kissed his cheek, told him I love him, and slipped out the door to my waiting family.
So far, I've held it together for the rest of the day. Through medical routines, soccer games, garden planning, homework help, and some frustrations. I do not know how many more precious moments I will be allowed with my dad. Or how many more days I'll be able to "keep it together" before I lose it again. But I will continue to cherish every moment with my dad until they are no more.
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