I almost want to say, "Yes!" My youngest brother and I flew on May 8th from Minneapolis to Atlanta where our youngest sister picked us up in a rental car. We already had our route planned out to drive from there to Birmingham, through Memphis, on to Little Rock and possibly make it to Oklahoma City. We finally arrived in OK City at 3:30AM on Thursday morning where we got a hotel room, slept 4 hours, ate breakfast, and headed as fast as we could to Texas to make it to our parents and our childhood home. While on the road, we prayed an hourly novena to the Infant of Prague to see our dad one last time before he passed away.
We arrived in plenty of time. But it was what followed that was the most grace-filled and inspiring. Our dad and mom called us together to pray a rosary before bedtime every night until dad could pray no more. It was incredibly beautiful to hear him pray in Spanish from memory with his eyes closed because he was so tired. We knew that not undergoing dialysis for a week, at that time, was only building up more toxins in his body that his one kidney could not filter and eliminate. We found out later from his hospice nurse that the kidney was only functioning at a GFR of 11. This meant he was at Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease. You can read more about that here. Without dialysis to help filter his blood, it would only be a matter of days or weeks before he would fall asleep and slip away from us.
Every time he closed his eyes or took a nap, we worried if he would wake up. I kept reading online for signs I should look for. We watched and waited all weekend after we arrived until Monday evening when he was so very tired. I encouraged him to sleep and rest, but he wanted to be awake as long as possible. He said it was so hard to get up after sleeping. I told him it was ok. He should rest his body. Tuesday afternoon he slept continuously so we decided to stay up and keep watch over him. His breathing had changed and I was concerned that he was finally transitioning. I could only relate to what was going on by comparing it to labor and delivery. I almost knew intuitively that he would need us to help him in his final moments and usher him through with what he ultimately wanted.
So what did he want? He wanted so badly to be with Jesus. His body was so tired that he wanted to rest. He seemed to be so torn though between those desires and leaving us behind. He seemed worried that we would be too sad to go on. He seemed to want to make sure that we had each other and would be there for one another after he left. He seemed to not want to leave our mom alone.
So we set out to reassure him. At the moment I thought he was transitioning, I called my mom, sister, and brother. He waved goodbye to us, cried, and wanted each of us. He blessed us, told us he loved us, and blessed us one last time. We really thought it was the end. I called my other sister and oldest brother who were back at their homes. My sister came quickly an hour and a half away. Our oldest brother lives 3 hours away so it was harder for him to get to us. He and I decided he should wait it out to see what would be the outcome.
But then, Dad rallied. He wanted to get up and out of bed. He wanted something to drink and to go the bathroom. He wanted to change his clothes. We were so surprised at this sudden change. Then came the frustration. He started to fall back to sleep once in his bed. We could tell he was groggy and needed to sleep. But he was still talking to us. He was so frustrated that Jesus didn't take him. He was angry that he had received confession, communion, and was anointed; but still Jesus wouldn't take him. I told him Jesus was trying to teach him patience. He was so frustrated. So he began to sing, "How Great Thou Art." He wanted us to sing, too! He wouldn't let us stop singing. He told us what he wanted to sing and what he didn't want to sing. We sang, "One Bread, One Body," "Gentle Woman," "Here I Am, "Amazing Grace." We sounded like a bunch of drunks singing at 3AM! But that's what he wanted. He finally fell asleep, and that was the last time he spoke to us. Later on, I read the following that made me think of that time we spent with him at the wee hours of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning:
Dad slept all day Wednesday so we kept watch over him stroking his head and arms with a washcloth. We would change up the cloth and place it on his forehead. We talked to him, prayed at his side, and ate in his room. We relieved each other for naps and just to get away for a bit. Meanwhile, visitors were still coming to see him, pray for him, and drop off food for us. It was exhausting.There may be a surge of energy as they get nearer. They may want to get out of bed and talk to loved ones, or ask for food after days of no appetite. This surge of energy may be quite a bit less noticeable but is usually used as a dying person's final physical expression before moving on.The surge of energy is usually short....
That night, we decided to keep vigil in shifts. We would not leave his side. We kept his little light on over his bed just to keep the room lit for reading and praying. I did a horrible job of keeping watch. I fell asleep twice and finally slept from 2-6AM . Thursday morning, I woke up, showered, and made my breakfast. I ate half of it with my mother. My oatmeal, I ate at my dad's bedside. I prayed and cried and prayed some more. I finally decided to take a nap at 9AM. I put my headphones on and napped in a recliner in the living room. Two hours later, I was up and my sisters called me to dad's room. We were all there. He was having a harder time breathing as more mucus and now a tinge of blood was building up in his mouth. We knew it would be no use to aspirate him. My sister and I took turns wiping his mouth. Finally, I told her I couldn't do it anymore. I was in so much mental anguish over seeing my daddy slip away. I grabbed his prayer book and started to pray his prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I kept praying and praying through all those shallow breaths....gasps really as he was slowly suffocating. We cried and stroked his arms and head. He looked just like a little boy sleeping on his pillow shallowly breathing. His body was working so hard. I kept talking to him telling him what a good job he was doing and how proud I was of him. I tried to hold him and stroke his head. We all did many affectionate things to let him know how much he was loved. They say hearing is the last sense to go so we made sure he heard nothing but positive things as he went away.
Finally, he was gone. We cried, held each other, made calls, and sobbed. I felt so crushed....like I would lie down on the ground and never get up again. I was seriously overwhelmed. But I had to get up and go to my mom. She was so devastated. She felt so alone so we had to reassure her that she wasn't. We were now at recovery.
You finally get tired of crying so you stop. It was then that we sat in the room watching dad and just being still. We started to talk and laugh and just watch him. We were waiting for the hospice nurse to get there. She was an hour and a half away. She would be the one to pronounce dad. The time that will stay burned in our minds is only significant to us. No certificate reflects that time. That is our gift. We were there when he passed. That is our gift.
These are the things he knew that I thought I did and probably didn't. Dad knew that this life is only temporary. He lived that belief and died believing it. He knew what it would be like, and he embraced it. He went bravely and never fought against it. Some may say that he couldn't fight the inevitable based on what was happening with his body. But I think he didn't fight because he knew Jesus was waiting for him. After a life of studying Scripture, prayer and meditation, and knowing God personally; Dad knew this could not be the end. I want to know that reality. I want to embrace eternity with my feet in the world, but my heart in heaven. Oh, that I could know what he knew. How I long for that grace.