The last time I wrote, I begged for your prayers for my dad. I humbly asked that, together, we would knock on heaven’s door and ask God to take my dad home. As I write this, I realize God answered that prayer less than one day later. Less. than. one. day. later.
My mom, sisters, and I spent the last day by his side. I took photos of Dad’s hands with mine. I contemplated taking photos of him and with him, but decided against it. He didn’t look like himself anymore. There was no reason to record that image of him in my mind. He wouldn’t have wanted that. I also didn’t want my children to accidentally stumble upon those images. So, pictures of his hands it was.
We had stayed with him until 2 am. Mom snuck in bed with him for the first time, and I covered her up before we left. My sisters and I drove the ten minutes home and I fell asleep immediately, exhausted from the long day. Then, the phone rang at 5:40am. I didn’t even know whose phone it was. Monica came out of the bedroom and told us we had to go quick. It was time.
Panic set in. All four of us felt the buzz in the air. It was fear, excitement, butterflies in my stomach. I rushed to put on the clothes I had taken off only three hours earlier. They were the first I saw. They would do. Marcela was ready. So was I. The two of us got in my car and drove.
Less than ten minutes later we pulled into the parking lot of Pax Villa Hospice. Mom was sitting on the ground leaning on the building. “How is he? What happened?” I asked.
“He’s gone.” Her face was calm, but her eyes were red. Her hand shook as she held the cigarette to her lips.
I ran in. What I experienced when I walked into his room will forever be etched into my memory. The room was quiet, quite opposite of what it had been for the last nine days. The oxygen machine had been turned off. It seemed brighter in there, too. On the bed lay the still, lifeless body of the man who loved me my whole life. His hands had been placed on his chest. It looked wrong for them to be there because all the days before that they rested by his side. Without thinking, I touched them with my right hand. They were not warm anymore. Tears filled my eyes. I then slid my hand to his side. I felt his chest just under his arms. Still warm. I barely missed it, I thought.
I looked at his face. This, too, looked wrong. This face didn’t belong to my dad. His skin was much too smooth. The color wasn’t right. His jaw was open. I realized then that Marcela was standing next to me. She, for some reason, was trying to close his mouth and it wasn’t working. After many days of being this way, it couldn’t be moved. She found a small washcloth or some other small white towel and, again, tried to force it shut. “No,” I said. “You will break it.” I heard my own voice and realized how frantic I sounded.
Monica and Jessica showed up at some point. Mom came back in, too. Before I knew it, we were all gathered around him, holding hands, and praying. I prayed aloud, thanking God for taking him home. Thanking him for ending his pain. Thanking him for loving him and for the life Dad lived. My sisters prayed, too. Then mom pulled out a small black pouch from under his pillow. One by one, she pulled out beautiful crystal keychains and handed each of us one. I noticed the crystals were shaped like angels. I had noticed the black pouch before. Once when the chaplain had come to pray with us Mom had put the pouch in dad’s hands. I didn’t know the pouch had been under dad’s pillow all along. Mom explained that these little keychains were a gift to us. They had been with dad, in his hands, and blessed by the chaplain while he had prayed. Now we could have a little piece of him. We were all so thankful for the little gift.
Dad didn’t want anyone to see him after he died. He had asked mom and all his daughters to please have him cremated immediately. Thankfully I had made the arrangements for that earlier in the week and we didn’t have to think about that. The staff at hospice called the funeral home and they came. They showed up with a stretcher and went in his room once we were all out. After a few minutes they came out again. The bed obviously had my dad’s body on it, but it was covered with a navy blue blanket. When I saw them wheeling it out I caught myself in that frantic state again. Tears and a crazy voice. This was the last time I would ever be around my daddy here on earth. I couldn’t keep it together. It was too much. I watched as the stretcher was taken out to the parking lot and then loaded into the hearse.
And that was it.
My dear father-in-law pulled into the parking lot just then. He lovingly held my mom as she cried in his arms. Then he did the same with me. The sweet nurse who had cared for dad for the last nine days embraced us all. He was just arriving for his daytime shift at 7am. We will forever be grateful to him for his kindness. Hospice nurses are wonderful.
Monica asked Mom where Dad’s favorite place to eat breakfast was. It was a small Mexican restaurant close by. I remembered he had asked me to pick up tacos from there when he was at rehab not long ago. I couldn’t find the place and never did. Tears filled my eyes at that thought. We decided to go there. Someone mentioned Dad must be enjoying his first morning in heaven. Surely he was having his coffee and cookies right about then. The thought brought a smile to my face.
Dad passed away on June 23. He had his first stroke on March 23. His medical battle was exactly 3 months long. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I believe God had his hand in Dad’s life. Although he struggled those three months, I am thankful for the extra time with him. If God had taken him after the first stroke on March 23, we would have been so much more devastated. It would have been a shock to our family to have him taken so suddenly. Instead, God, in his loving kindness, prepared us and showed us his hand all along the way. We watched Dad decline. We watched him lose his abilities. We understood that, when the time came, he needed to go home. We didn’t want him to suffer. We didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. And goodness, how hard to be in a body that didn’t work and without being able to speak! My poor daddy!
I miss him very much. I’m grateful for the times in the hospital and rehab those last 3 months. I spent more time with him then than I had in the last several years.
And my mom, well, she is amazing. I watched her during the 3 months, too. She loved Dad unconditionally. She was always there for him. Although she continued to work, she stayed with him overnight in hospitals, spend all her time in rehab, and took care of him that entire time. I have beautiful memories of her selflessly helping him dress, walk, and eat. One time she was walking him to the bathroom and sang a song as if they were dancing the whole way. The two of them were always happy and positive. And yet, when he suffered, she suffered right alongside him. These days, she is the one hurting. She is the one who misses him every second of every day. Please pray for her. Pray that God would comfort her and guide her as she moves forward. I miss my dad, but I can’t imagine how much she must miss him. I know Dad is in heaven, rejoicing, with no more pain or suffering, but Mom is still here. She is suffering the loss of her husband and the life she had. I hurt for her more than I hurt for myself.
Lord, comfort her. Guide her. In Jesus’ name.
We had a beautiful celebration for Dad. His motorcycle friends reserved the Chapel by the Sea at South Padre Island and over fifty bikes drove the hour and a half to give their dear Arturito his last ride. After a sweet service in which people shared funny stories and memories of him, we released his ashes out on the open road at the beach. It was what he would have wanted. Maybe I’ll write about that another day.
I could go on forever. I’ve been typing for over an hour and my face and eyes are red from all the crying. This is the most I’ve cried since June 23. I guess I needed to get this out. (I apologize for grammatical errors. I’m not going to reread this one!) Thanks for the prayers for our family. We love and appreciate every one of you!