Race to University Medical Center

The call came from a person I didn’t really know, one afternoon out of the blue.  “You need to get to Tucson; your dad is in the hospital.”  Dad had been in and out of the hospital several times during his chemo treatments.  It was hard on his 83 year old body and his kidneys were scarred.  I knew getting there would not be possible for me, as I was on my own with Adrian.  I said I would see who else could get down there to help mom.  “No,” she said. “You don’t understand.  You all need to get here.  He doesn’t have much longer.”   I couldn’t comprehend the words she was saying.  It didn’t make any sense to me, and I was confused.  I told her I was coming down in 2 weeks time, that it was already planned.  She said again, “You need to come now. He’s dying.”  I told her I would be there.  I didn’t know how, but I would get there.  I still didn’t completely understand, but I went in to action mode and started to make arrangements.

I called my brothers and sisters to let them know.  I contacted work.  I made interim plans for Adrian.  I made a reservation on the first flight out in the morning.  I kept going back over her words and tried to makes sense of it.  He had been fine on Sunday when I talked to him.  He sounded tired, but he was OK.  We talked about the PanCan auction and how I’d spent too much money again.  I told him I wanted to figure out a way to have him continue his treatment up in Seattle so he and mom would have some help nearby.  I had it all planned out.  He said, “You’d be willing to do that for me?”, and I told him I would – I’d thought about it and knew they were struggling by this point.  He said we’d talk more about it when I was visiting in a few weeks.  There was no way I thought he was dying.  I was sure this was an overreaction.

I rushed to the airport that morning and went to buy my ticket at the Southwest counter.  My credit card was declined.  Bank of America had put a hold on my card due to the 2 large charges that were processed from the 2 charity auctions we’d attended over the weekend.  I was irate and paid with my debit card.  It was like a slap in the face – here I was in what felt like a race against time, only to have that happen. 

My flight went through Phoenix on the way there.  It felt like a long lay over, though it probably was less than an hour.  I wanted to be there.  I moved my seat to the most forward row so I could bolt as soon as the doors were open.  My bag was small and at my feet.  I wanted to run once I was off the plane.  I met up with Robin by baggage. We started to head to curb when we saw Shawn.  She was waiting for her checked luggage.  I was stunned. You checked it?  What?  This is race against the clock!  She said she and Jan would follow us – she told us to go now and get to him.

On the way there in the taxi, I told Rob I was worried that we were all over reacting.  I’d called the hospital the night before and the nurse in charge said dad was talking to them and responsive.  It didn’t sound like he was on the verge of anything.  I talked to mom and she said she didn’t know what was happening.  We were thinking ahead to what we needed to do once he was released.  We agreed it was getting to be too much for mom to handle and we had to propose some options. 

Arriving at the hospital, we waited for the elevators.  Again, it felt like it took forever.  We made our way to his room in the ICU.  I saw his oncologist outside his room, and he looked dour, as usual.  I was asking him about dad, and the nurse in the room said, “You need to get in here now.”  Again, I was confused.  The chaplain came out and said to come in.  He’d been sitting with mom, but he said it was important that we come in.  Rob and I went to dad’s bed side and each took a hand.  By now, dad was gasping for breath.  I think he knew we’d arrived because he was more agitated.  Because he did not want any extra measures taken, he had only oxygen, but even with that, breathing was difficult.  I held dad’s hand with one hand and my mom’s with my other.  Dad seemed to listen as Rob and I both told him we loved him, that we were there, and Rob shared how Ryan had pitched a no-hitter the night before.  I told dad we’d take care of mom, and that she would be OK.  Then, he was gone.  It was over in less than 5 minutes from the time we arrived on the floor of the hospital.  Unreal. 

It was haunting.  It felt peaceful, not scary, though.   I thought about how people love being in the room when babies are born, because they experience that singular moment when a new life arrives.  I felt the same way, only at the other end of life.  It felt like a gift to be there with him and to hold his hand while he made his journey.  And, like a baby, dad was stripped of much of his earthly look.  He looked purified and distilled to his true essence.  It felt holy.  I held mom while she cried, and we all held each other up.  We knew that when Jan and Shawn arrived, we’d have to go through it again, for them.  I felt lost in a way that I’d never experienced.  Our big guy was gone and we had to find our way without him. 

It struck me then how truly lucky I’d been to be his daughter all my life.  I knew him for all of my days, and that was something only my siblings could claim.  We were so fortunate to have him in our lives, on our side, and in our hearts.  It was a gift without measure and I didn’t want to ever take it for granted.  Peace came over me then.  No more thinking about plans for his future care, now our focus was on mom and helping her through a difficult transition to widowhood.  In the days that came, we made plans and schedules, we grieved and talked, we cleaned and organized.  But mostly, we held on to each other.  We shared our sadness at a life without our father in it, but reveled in the past and our times with him.  It is a true blessing to have loved a parent without reservation.  I was one of the lucky ones in that regard.  Being my father’s daughter was always a joy.  Racing to his side was almost instinctive.  I had to be there, I knew I could get there, and I made it in time.  Feeling his love through holding his hand, and helping him on his way meant the world to me.  He was one of the first to ever hold my hand as I came in to the world, and holding his as he left it seemed right.

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