Waiting, Waiting by Steve Clemens, March 12, 2017
“We are waiting, waiting, restless but waiting” was a refrain our faith community sang each week during Advent. It is not the kind of refrain one would normally sing during the season of Lent. But in my family, it has been now about 6 weeks of watching my father, 95 years old, slip closer and closer to his death. Having fallen and fractured both his pelvis and a hip socket, his decline health-wise seemed precipitous as he needed two blood transfusions and then increasing amounts of pain medications, slipping into signs of dementia or confusion.
Knowing his healthcare directive wishes expressed to my brother, I heeded his advice and flew into eastern Pennsylvania to say my goodbyes. He was very glad to see me and for the four days I spent there he was relatively responsive for part of each day but lapsing further downward as the day progressed. Phil told me dad called him “Frank” and he often made references to things or places that made no sense to us. Other times he responded gratefully to hearing my son Micah talk to him via Facetime from Afghanistan when I thought he might not survive that day.
It is difficult to admit to wishing for someone’s demise but seeing my dad’s continuing deterioration with virtually no medical hope of recovery, I don’t want to see his suffering prolonged. In the hospital just after he fell, when being positioned for x-rays or MRIs, my brother told me he screamed, “Jesus take me now!” When I visited several weeks ago, he tells me and my brothers of “seeing Jesus and his disciples” in his dreams and clearly expresses his desire to “be with Him”.
His hospice nurses have been puzzled by how he remains alive each of the past several mornings, having expected that he would pass over during the night. He stopped eating more than a week ago and doesn’t even accept a drink of water or juice when offered. It has been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. My brothers, sister-in-laws, or nieces bring my mom upstairs to see him and sometimes he knows her but other times he just keeps his eyes closed. He hasn’t spoken in the past three days and my mom, despite her Alzheimer’s where she rarely initiates any conversation said to him, “Les, why won’t you talk to me?”
Dad has lived a full, productive life. Despite three strokes in the past few years which has confused some of his language – especially mixing up his pronouns – he has been relatively physically and mentally healthy for his age. To see him recently with his wrists so skinny that his watch goes almost to his elbow is painful for me to see. I feel his pain as he winces when he tried to sit up in his hospital-type bed. More than a week ago, along with his cessation of eating, he started removing all of his clothing. The hospice nurse reassured us that both of these behaviors were signs that he was ready to pass. Yet each morning since I’ve returned to Minnesota after telling him I loved him and that he should “rest in the arms of Jesus” and that we would “take care of mom for him”, I have received a text message from one or both of my brothers telling me that dad has survived the night and updated me on his continued status among the living.
I love you, Dad. Your work is done. Please go to your eternal reward and rest in the loving embrace of the Jesus you tried to follow and emulate for the past 70 years or so. Yes, we will miss you and mourn your passing but part of you lives on in all of those your life has touched.