My mother and I promised Dad he could stay at home. As long as God gave me the strength to lift him from the floor as the cancer eroded his strength, Dad would take his last breath at home surrounded by family. And he did. Mom, now 83, is aging in place at home with my help. And thanks to efforts at making their home safe and senior friendly, she maintains a tremendous amount of independence. And I have also been blessed to help my father-in-law, who became a widower over eleven years ago and is now 83, continue to age in place.
This dedication is for my beloved father, Richard N Lawrence.
He has always been my hero. From my earliest memories, I wanted nothing more than to marry him. The words are vivid in my mind, “When I am old enough, I’m going to marry you”. This man could do no wrong. From his stamp collecting to his family devotion to his love of our blessed Lord, he was perfection in my eyes. And I would marry this man one day.
Yes, he is my dad. And he will always be my hero. He has taught me how to love, forgive, and enjoy life to its fullest. My memories are full of our happy times together. And they are also full of the frustrating lessons I faced with the safety and security of a loving father at my side.
Early memories are packed with fun-filled days of Frisbee and croquet in our backyard. And as I aged, every childhood event was attended by a nervous and proud father. What more could a little girl ask for?
The days turned into weeks, months, and then years. My father’s energy waned as his body began to show the wear and tear that comes with old age. Father Time was catching up.
More challenging for myself was the evolution of our relationship. There was no question he was still and will always be my hero. There was no difference in the depth of my love and devotion to the man who taught me the most valuable lessons life has to offer. But it was an enormous challenge to see age eat away the strong exterior of my beloved dad, knowing that with each and every day we were that much closer to the unthinkable.
It was not until the final diagnosis came that realization hit. Pancreatic Cancer is not a disease anyone wants to face. Its prognosis is horrific on a good day. What scared me the most, however, was the potential pain he was likely to endure as the final day neared. He had already suffered so much in his senior years. It seemed unfair that he be dealt yet another, and even more daunting, diagnosis.
Who said life was fair. But Dad was the energizer bunny. He just kept going on and on despite the obstacles and physical damage.
Upon final diagnosis, our lives changed. The days of my girlish crush were far behind me. I was now taking care of my Dad. Realizing how difficult it must be for me, he still knew just what to say; “I saw you naked coming into this world and I guess you are going to see me naked going out”.
I have learned so much. The man that I leaned on all of my life was now dependent upon others, including myself. And we now had to help Dad die with dignity, at home, and with as little pain and fear as possible.
How do you help someone die? I kept asking myself that question. I’ve heard people talk about their own situation. Maybe I haven’t really been listening. Or maybe it is just something so painful that people do not verbalize their torment; finding a way to get through it in silence and privacy. Perhaps there isn’t anything anyone can do but listen and pray. After all, it is a very personal thing and is so different from person to person that trying to standardize the experience is an unsurmountable task.
But every time I looked at my Dad all I could think was he will be gone soon. How can that life, my hero, ever be gone? He was still with me although a shadow of the man he used to be physically. But he was still unknowingly providing me with so much strength and confidence.
“I don’t want to know when it’s time”, he told me. “I don’t even want to know when it is getting close”. He did not have to tell me why. He was scared. What was it going to be like to die? Was it going to hurt? He is so strong in his faith so I know he wasn’t scared of what he would encounter later. It was the getting there that scared him. And I had absolutely nothing to relieve that type of fear.
I wanted to be strong for him. It was the least I could do for him, right? My Dad needed our strength and love like we never provided before. He needed reassurance and the peace of mind that we will be okay when he is gone.
How do you do that when you are screaming inside? Then I would get mad at myself for feeling that way. After all, I would die one day. My kids will likely face the same challenge. So I had the responsibility of serving as a role model for them. I also hoped to serve as an inspiration to others; that if I can do this, you can too. You can actually help, not just watch, someone you love die.
God came to my aide as he always had before. Early one morning as I was awakening from a night’s sleep, I saw flares of beautiful light. And then I saw him. It was Jesus. His indistinct but identifiable figure was lifting souls into heaven creating bright flares of colorful light as they were transformed into angels. It was amazing; another one of those experiences that cannot be adequately described in mortal terms. But I was no longer scared. Still unspeakably sad, but not scared. And so, with new found peace of mind and strength, I helped my hero leave this world and let him join that beautiful light with the loving support of his number one fan, me.