The Day My Dad Died
My parents are 19 years apart in age, and since I was in 5th grade, my dad had been in poor health. I recall sitting at the foot of his hospital bed after his first stroke (a major one), bawling–praying my dad would make it to see me graduate. Then, I prayed he would walk me down the aisle. I can’t recall how many, but my dad has had over five strokes and heart attacks each. Two years ago this spring he coded twice–once at Allen Hospital, and then again after they flew him to St. Mary’s at Mayo in Rochester. He had diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, anxiety, gout, arteriovenous malformation, among many other conditions/diseases. He was sent home on hospice, and lived with me. My husband, Kirk, would get him his pills and food every day. It was our new “normal.”
Dad was on hospice over a year and a half in our home–and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. He was on hospice for his congestive heart failure. He was loved, and well-cared-for. On the 16th of January, dad fell. He was in a lot of pain that weekend when finally hospice asked if he wanted to go to the ER to see if he broke anything. We found out he didn’t, but found out there was pneumonia as well as metastatic cancer in his hip bones–which explains the frequent falls and his inability to walk. Dad said he wanted to go home–he didn’t want any further tests.
I was crushed. After all my dad had been through–he was such a fighter! He was always getting sick but recovering–for YEARS! But then to find there was pneumonia AND advanced cancer, it all felt so real. That Monday I had errands to run and asked dad if he wanted me to pick him up anything at Walmart when I got his prescriptions. He said no. That was the FIRST time my dad had ever said no–he always wanted either a pack of gum or some candy or something. I knew he wasn’t feeling well then. I picked him up one of those small heart-shaped boxes that had candy in it. I brought it in to him, asking if he would be my Valentine. It was like he didn’t comprehend what I had asked him–and then I asked again. He took the box, and I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.
Kirk had a doctor’s appointment, so we called hospice to see if they could have Grant, a volunteer dad liked, come and sit with him while we went. I recall reading something on my phone while nursing Christian just before we left. Dad’s oxygen concentrator kept beeping, and Kirk had to monkey with it a bit. That sat right outside dad’s door, and he called out, “who’s out there???” because of all of the noise. I said to him we didn’t have to leave for the appointment for another ten minutes or so. I can’t remember whether or not I had told him goodbye or if I loved him–I usually did, but I honestly can’t remember…After Kirk’s appointment, I stopped at my friend’s house because she had flowers and food for us because of dad’s condition. I spent about 20 minutes there before calling home to let dad know we were on our way, but Grant answered and I told him.
When I got in the house, I was beaming–excited to show dad the beautiful orchids our friends gave us! Grant was in the entryway to the dining room and I thought he was mad at first–thinking it was because we were about 20 minutes later than what I had anticipated we would be gone. Then, I realized it was a look of absolute sadness. He put his hands up as in defeat, and said, “He’s gone.”
Sheer panic. “What?! NO! NO NO NO NO NO!!!” I half-sobbed, half-screamed, as Kirk ran to dad’s room and I frantically got Christian out of his carseat while he screamed. I threw myself to my knees in front of dad’s recliner, with Christian on one hip and my arm wrapped around one of dad’s legs. I thought, no–this can’t be happening–he always gets better! This is just a mistake. An honest mistake. Dad’s not really dead. He’s going to lift up his head any second now and I’ll see his chest rise–I just know it!
The realization my dad was gone was insurmountable grief. I knew this day was coming, but it was unexpected in timing. I expected to get home from the appointment to show dad the flowers and heat up the food we got. I had planned on having Christian sit on his lap to make him feel better.
The amount of guilt I felt–and still do–is tremendous. Apparently my dad had passed away just a few minutes after I called to say I was on my way. This meant that had I not stopped at my friend’s house to get the food and flowers, I would have been home just in time to tell him goodbye. My dad had been saying the Lord’s Prayer, and called out to Jesus a few times. He said it was cold, and very bright. One of the last things he asked is if Kirk and I were in the driveway yet. He also said there were marshmallows?? I’m not sure if this meant he got marshmallows in heaven, or if he was referring to clouds? Either way–some day, I’ll find out.
My dad was my best friend. The grief I feel right now is incomprehensible. I find comfort and solace in the fact that my dad is no longer suffering, but am deeply saddened to have lost my daddy. I was his baby.
RIP Jerry D. Tiedt
I pray that you can all live each day as though it were your last.