Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Going On Ahead – Part One

The following is from the book On Grieving The Death of a Father, by Harold Ivan Smith:

I have long been impressed with the ability of death to make shambles of our carefully ordered priorities.  A single phone call – whether local or long distance – suddenly takes from us one whom we have known, loved, hated, touched, fed, hurt, surprised, photographed, cleaned up after, and bought presents for.  
One early morning phone call left me without a dad.  Without.  That word ricocheted through my heart.  
The phone rang.  A collect call from my niece.  No “How are you?” No “Sorry to be calling so early.”
“We’ve lost Paw-Paw,” she said.
I was annoyed.  “How could you lose Paw-Paw? He’s in Room 302 at Methodist Hospital,” I snapped.
“No,” she said. “We lost him.”
It hit me.  

The author goes on to say, “My father had died. That was the word I insisted on using.  That word had to be used.  Daddy was not ‘lost.’ Daddy had not ‘passed away.’ Daddy had not ‘expired.’ Daddy had died.”

Since my dad died, I have also held this sentiment and have often cringed when I’ve heard his death referred to in one of the many ways in which our society tends to classify it.

Two days before he was scheduled to get his third dose of chemotherapy, Dad ended up back in the hospital because of a severely compromised immune system; he had a raging fever, terrible pain in his head and neck, and such muscle weakness that he couldn’t even reposition himself in the bed or swallow.   At one point, he was given painkillers in an effort to both relieve his pain and allow him to get some much-needed rest.  My mom, my sisters, and I breathed a collective sigh of relief when, about 20 minutes after the medicine had been administered, Dad seemed to relax and closed his eyes to sleep.

When Dad woke up (i.e. when the medication wore off, about 3 hours later), he was wide-eyed and seemed shaken, and he told us that he had had a really bad dream in which he was about to die.  He said in the dream he was fighting and was so scared because he thought that if he died he would be lost and we wouldn’t be able to find him.  

We assured him that it was not his time and that the doctors had told us that they fully expected him to recover from the infection that was making him so sick.  

He had a similar dream about a week later, after which we again told him that he was going to get better, as we believed with 100% certainty at the time.  Dad talked many times about these dreams and how worried he was that if he did die that we wouldn’t be able to find him.  Every time he brought it up, he said, “I just don’t want to be lost!”

Despite predictions and promises made by many physicians in different specialty areas while Dad was in the hospital, he did not get better; in fact, he grew weaker by the day.   Between the time when we took him home with support from hospice on December 31 and the time that he died on Jan. 5, we told him many, many times that he had finished the race, that he had accomplished what he needed to do, and that we knew for sure where he was going and where to find him.  Even when he couldn’t say anything back, we kept telling him that he would not be lost and that we would know right were he was so that we could find him.  This message seemed to help him as he visibly relaxed when we said those words to him at the end.  

One of the things that was said to my family in the days of shock and chaos that followed Dad’s death was that Dad, in the same way he had done in the hundreds of races in which he had competed throughout his life, had “gone on ahead.”  

These words particularly rang true to me because Dad wasn’t just my father; he was my running partner and coach over the 30+ years that I have been running.  

Dad and I ran in over 100 races together, and, in each one, he finished before me and then ran back to find me on the course, to cheer me on and give me advice, especially if he saw me struggling.  Once he had seen that I was ok, he would run ahead to the finish line to wait there for me to make it in.  I like to think that he is doing that same thing right now, encouraging me on after he has gone on ahead.

And, as promised, he isn’t lost; we know right where to find him.

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