My dad had major heart surgery on December 26th, 1995. His recovery however, went all wrong. Every conceivable bad thing that could happen, did. 10 minutes after being wheeled into the recovery room, all the internal stitches that the doctors placed in his heart burst. They had to do the same surgery twice, but the second time, they did it on a man whose blood pressure was unstable, whose insides were leaking, and eventually, he coded. They resuscitated him, but he was never the same.
He was in serious condition ‘till mid February, and once he was stable, he was discharged and placed in a nursing home. He still had a feeding tube in his stomach, and the lengthy hospital stay took its toll on his legs. He couldn’t walk any more, and just kind of drifted away from life and toward death. At the time, my kids and I were living in Illinois, about an hour north of Chicago. I would visit him several times between December and March.
Daddy was a neat man. Great sense of humor, wonderful slow dancer, he was raised on a farm and ended up becoming a doctor. I was his helper growing up. We built things together- like I helped him wire his office for an intercom/stereo system. I was a cracker-jack hammerer, and I loved using his saw and drill to make bookshelves and stuff. We mowed the lawn together. I made rounds with him going to the various hospitals. He taught me how to bowl, to fish, how to run long distances, how to play badminton, how to shoot pool, and how to play a wicked game of ping pong (I never could beat him, though). We really had a special bond.
When I graduated Magna Cum Laude from high school, I remember, during the post graduation party, someone saying to him, “You must be very proud of your daughter.” And he answered, “I have always been proud of her- not just now- not just because of her grades, but because of who she is.”
Anyway, Tuesday, April 22nd, the nursing home sent him to the hospital because his feeding tube was blocked by something, and he was becoming malnourished. The next day, several doctors stood at the end of his bed, and talked to my mother and him about the need for him to have exploratory surgery in his abdomen to see why the tube was clogged. He refused the surgery. The doctors asked my mom to talk some sense into him, and mom said he was making perfectly good sense. They scheduled some non invasive tests for him, which he went through on April 24th, my birthday.
The next day my sister, Mary, called me around 9am and said, “Patty, Daddy’s dying.”
“Yes, I know. His health is slowly ebbing.”
“No- you don’t understand- he’s dying right now. They think he’s had a major heart attack and/or a stroke. Mom and Jennie (Mary’s daughter) and I are here with him, and we’ve called the chaplain.”
“Well what should I do? Should I drive down right now, or what?” (It is an 8 hour drive from northern Illinois to Columbus, Ohio.) Mary said to hang in there, and she’d call me later on in the day to let me know how he was doing.
So, I went to the junk drawer in my kitchen and found a can full of camping candles of various lengths. I randomly picked one, and went to my bedroom and lit the candle, and said a prayer for him. I opened my Bible, and it just so happened that I opened it to Psalm 23:
The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. Yea- though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. After reading the Psalm and praying some more, I started to blow out the candle, but Christ spoke to my heart. “Wait. As long as the candle is burning, your dad’s alive.”
So, I looked at that candle, and busied myself. I did some laundry, made my bed, did the dishes, etc. Every time I entered or left my bedroom, I’d look at that candle burning, and as long as the candle was burning, I knew Daddy was alive. At noon, I walked into my bedroom, and the candle went out. I stood there, silently for a minute or two. Was he really gone?
Minutes later, the phone rang- it was Mary.“Patty, Daddy died about 5 minutes ago. He went peacefully. Jennie was holding his hand, and read Psalm 23 to him. She told him she’d walk with him toward Jesus, and he could let go once he got there. He let go, and that was it. You can come now. I’m sorry you weren’t with him, though.”
I was with him- we were with him.
Jesus and I were with Daddy when he died.