Over the course if the next several weeks, I will be publishing my story, as wife, mother, sister and daughter. This is the evolution of how a little girl can change the course of her mother’s story, can change the course of her heart. If your new to this blog, please begin here.
Chapter 20 ~ 5/24/2001 – Saying Goodbye
My father entered the hospital for the last time two weeks after our little chat on the back porch. His last day home he gathered everyone in the family that lived close by, to spend the day with him and my Mom. He would be checking into the hospital the next morning for one last chemo. One more chance to beat back the beast of cancer that was stealing his life. My Uncle Kevin was in town as well. He was my Dad’s younger brother and they had shared a special bond growing up.
A group from my parent’s church came to pray over my Dad, to help prepare him for the fight ahead. We knew things would be tough but you never underestimated my Daddy. NEVER! After the team prayed, they asked each of us to say our own prayer. My youngest brother Andrew is someone who keeps his emotions very close to the vest. He is like my mother that way. When it came time for him to pray he broke down. I had not seen him cry since he was in grade school.
My father came over to him and took him in his arms. He said “Every lesson I had to teach you is already here.” and pointed to his heart. “You trust God with the rest. Be the man God has called you to be. Make me proud Andy. I love you son.”
I couldn’t speak. I had had my time with daddy and spoke from my heart. He was the first man I ever loved and I prayed with all my might that he would make it through.
I watched my parents that day. My mother’s gaze never left my father. She was always by his side or close by. My Uncle Kevin spent some one on one time with him and I am sure it was profound for each of them. I asked my younger brother Tim what we would do if he didn’t make it. He was the center of our family, it’s sun, burning bright–sustaining life. He assured me that we would be OK.
“Mary, we are all pieces of a puzzle. When you put us all together we reflect the love of Mom and Dad. Everything we need from him we have received. Now we need to tuck it away and never forget.”
I had spent many years preparing for my daughter’s death before fully entering into living life with her as fully as we could. I was NOT prepared to lose my Dad. There was NEVER a fight he didn’t win.
I watched my father say goodbye to Courtney and Jonathan. He knelt down in front of Jonathan and gave him the biggest bear hug. He told him to behave and work hard. He told him he loved him. Jonathan held onto his neck like he was a life preserver in the midst of the ocean.
I had a hard time watching him with Courtney. He whispered something into her ear and she smiled for him. He kissed her curly head and then he gave her a blessing. He traced the sign of the cross on her forehead. “You are a fighter,” he said. “Never give up my girl. Be strong and trust.”
He hugged me and told me how much he loved me. He hugged Jerry and told him how proud he was of him. He had overcome so much. He told him to trust his heart and God would lead him always.
I told my mother I would visit in the hospital. She smiled and hugged me.
On the way home that evening, I realized that my Dad was saying goodbye the only way he knew how. He never left anything to chance since his diagnosis. He was far more free with his feeling and encouragements. He was telling us to trust God and His plan. To be the people God had called each of us to be. He had nothing left to teach us…or so he thought.
The next two weeks brought many ups and downs for all of us. My father had responded well at the beginning of the treatment. Courtney was fighting seizures everyday. I swear the two were linked, suffering for suffering.
On Wednesday, May 23, I visited my father in the hospital. He looked tired and really bad. We had to wear face masks in order to protect his non existent immune system. He asked how everyone was doing. How Courtney was? How was she handling the seizures? I assured him we would be OK. He was getting tired so I knew it would be a short visit.
While I was in the room I received several messages from Jerry on my cell phone. I was annoyed that the evening plans had changed and I would need to adjust. My father watched me handle the situation with less grace than a hippopotamus. He laughed.
“What?” I said, almost grumbling.
“Your screwed. You have your mother’s need to control and my extremely short and volatile temper. You have your work cut out for you sweetheart. I am so sorry. You got the worst of both of us.”
“Wow. Thanks Dad. That’s just great.” I laughed, knowing he was speaking the truth.
“I gotta go. I love you.”
“Hug my girl for me and tell it will be OK very soon. She just needs to hold on.”
Would it be so hard to say those three little words “I love you”…sigh…
“OK Dad. I will. Sleep well tonight.”
I left. They would be the last words my father would ever say to me.
The next day was Ascension Thursday, May 24. It was also my Grandmother Green’s birthday, my father’s mother. She had died many years prior but my Dad always did something special in her memory on this day. He woke up and seemed a little groggy to my mother. He couldn’t move his right arm.
He was frustrated. “Bunny, if I can’t move this arm, they will never let me out of here.”
My mom just tried to keep him calm, not realizing what was happening. My brother Joe is an EMT and he happened to call about 10 minutes later. My mother told him what was happening and he heard the concern in her voice. Upon her description of his symptoms, he understood more than she on what was happening.
“Mom, go get the nurse and have them take him down for an MRI. I think he’s having a brain bleed. They need to check this right now so they can try to stop it. Go now Mom. I am on the way.”
My mother followed his instructions. She never left my father’s side.
Joe called my elder brother Chris and told him to get to the hospital right away. Dad was in trouble. Make the calls to the family and GO.
By the time my Dad made it back to his room he couldn’t speak. His eyes found my mothers and she never looked away until he closed them for the last time. She assured him of her love. That he was strong and courageous. He was not alone. God was with him. Our Lady was by his side. She told him how honored she was to be his wife. She shared her heart with him as it was breaking into tiny pieces. This man she loved and had made her a mother nine times over, was not soon for this world.
By the time I got to the hospital he was already in the ICU. I ran through that hospital. As I went through the double doors to the ICU hallway, Chris was standing there. I almost plowed into him.
“Mary Beth. Stop. Calm down. We need to talk first.” he grabbed my arm.
“What happened? I don’t understand. He was doing OK when I saw him yesterday. I don’t understand.”
“They found a significant brain bleed Mary Beth. Probably caused by the intense chemo. They couldn’t stop it Mary Beth. Do you understand? He will not survive this. It is a matter of hours until he’s gone.”
I yelled “Shit” and I kicked the wall. “Have you called everyone? I left a message for Marianne. Does she know? Is she on her way? Oh God, what about David and Rich. Will they get here in time from California? What if they don’t get here Christopher? What then?”
“OK, you need to calm down right now. You can’t go in there like this. Mom does not need it. The priest has already been here to give him last rites. Tim and Alex, Joe and Pam and Andy are on their way. Shelly will be here as soon as she can. Where’s Jerry?”
“He’s getting Jonathan and Courtney settled at a friend of ours house. He will be here as soon as he can. How much time?” I was beginning to hyperventilate and cry. I needed to get my shit together and fast.
“He could die at any moment. Go see him. Tell him it’s OK to go. He needs to know that.”
“OK. OK. OK.” I took some deep breathes, hugged him and went through the doors.
My mother was sitting next to the bed, holding her rosary in one hand and my Dad’s hand in the other. I quickly kissed her on the head and then went immediately to my fathers bedside. I looked up at the monitors to see what was happening.
For once I thanked God for all the hospital time I had with Courtney. I knew that monitor and what every line meant. His heart was strong, his oxygen levels were good, and his brain waves were in the middle and not as strong as they should be.
Crap…time is short…
I knew from all my research on the brain that the last sense a person loses is their hearing. I knew what I needed to do and quickly.
“Daddy, it’s me Mary Beth.” I said right next to his ear.
“I love you Daddy. I love you so much. I am so proud to be your daughter. Mommy is here Dad. She’s holding your hand. It’s OK Daddy, I’ll take care of her. We all will. You did what you promised you’d do. It’s OK to go to God, Daddy. I love you so much.”
I was crying now but I went on.
“We’re all here Daddy. Chris loves you Dad, Shelly, Ryan, Erin and Kiley they love you so much Daddy. Jonathan loves you, Jerry loves you and so does your Courtney, Dad.”
A single tear slipped down his face. He heard me. I knew he heard me. I went on.
“Daddy, your not alone. We’re here. Joey loves you Daddy. Pam, Samantha and Jessica, Alex and Timmy, Matthew…they love you so much. David and Ruby, Andy and Nancy, Rich and Jen…they all love you.”
Another tear slipped down.
“We will be here Dad. You will not be alone…EVER!” I placed my head on his shoulder and stayed there as long as my back held out.
My brothers began to arrive with their wives. My mother never took her eyes from my father. It was as if no one else was in the room. Just the two of them. Each member of the family took turns at his bedside. The rest of us would hang back and join my mother in a different litany of prayer.
Finally about three hours later…the line that monitored his brain waves began to fluctuate rather significantly. I met my brother Joey’s eyes across the room and he nodded his head. I knew. He knew. Crap, crap, crap. This couldn’t be the end.
The nurse came in and said they would move him back to a larger room upstairs so the family would be more comfortable. It would be a little more time before his body stopped functioning and they wanted to make sure the family could all be in with him. They needed a bigger room. My mother agreed and held my father’s hand as they went into the elevator.
We arrived on the cancer floor and all the nurses who had cared for my Dad over the last nine years came and gave him a kiss and said their goodbyes. My father had impacted so many lives. Jerry arrived and I didn’t leave his side. My father’s physician arrived and asked to speak with all the children together.
He told us that dad would be gone in a very short period of time and walked us through what dying looked like so we wouldn’t be surprised. He had tears rolling down his face as he told us how much my dad meant to him. “He never quit. He always had a joke ready. He fought every single day and found joy in everything. I am better for knowing him.” He hugged each of us and then went to see my Mom.
The next hour brought more prayers, more phone calls from extended family and friends. My father was surrounded by love until his final breath. It happened in the blink of an eye. I remember my mother sitting forward and looking intently at him. It got quiet in the room and we all watched. She bent over and kissed him full on the lips and then on the head. She began to weep quietly. “I love you Joe Green. I will love you forever.”
She kissed him again then knelt on the ground. “We will pray him into heaven,” and began to pray the Rosary aloud. We all knelt and joined in just like we did as kids. They had been married for 36 years and their love had been tested by fire many times. They were not perfect but they never gave up on each other or God.
They had proved worthy of the task and raised eight children to know and love God. My Dad would soon be holding their ninth child, who waited in heaven to meet her Papa.
This was a hard loss. One more thing to accept. Daddy was gone and it was time to say goodbye.
My heart would never be the same.
Copyright 2011 ~ Mary E. Lenaburg
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