Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It really is a circle. Life.

The night my dad died was strange. He'd been in the hospital for a couple of days for a stomach flu that his frail body was having trouble managing. His health had been deteriorating slowly for the year before that, though. It's a long story but the nutshell goes like this: he took a bad fall and busted his neck, had surgery and got it fixed, but old scar tissue in his lungs made his recovery after surgery difficult and he struggled to breathe and eat normally. By the time this flu hit, he was down to only just over a hundred pounds. And he was tired. Very tired.

In hindsight, it's obvious he'd been dying for a couple of months, but my dad was a bit of a miracle and he'd defied several medical death sentences since I was a kid. But this time, by Saturday morning of that weekend, we knew he would not pull through. Even then, it took a little while to sink in. He was still lucid that morning, answering a call about a baptism in his branch. (He was the president of the deaf branch of our church, which is like being the pastor of a small congregation). But an hour later, when a member of the stake presidency stopped by to visit, I couldn't get my dad to answer anything. He wasn't asleep. He just....wasn't there. He looked without seeing.

That evening at his nurse's urging, we brought my mom to visit him and say goodbye. She sat there, wiped out from her own battle with cancer and chemo, her little lace cap covering her bald head, and she talked to him. She talked and talked. Quietly, and mostly by putting his hands on hers while she signed, maybe thinking he would "hear" her better that way. She mostly told him how she loved him and thanked him for the life they had together. Then she was exhausted and we took her home and put her to bed.

I had been at the hospital most of the day and my brother volunteered to stay the night. My fiancee and I tried to get some sleep, with him squishing onto the red couch in my room, unwilling to leave me alone for the night.

I tried to sleep, knowing I would need the energy for a hospital vigil the next day. But every time I would nearly drift off, I felt a physical tug jerking me awake. I started up each time, but there was never anything there. This happened several times, until finally, I drifted to sleep and stayed there. The next thing that woke me was my phone. It was five in the morning and still dark, and in my disorientation I scrambled in a panic to find it while it rang. It was the hospital, telling me my dad had died a few minutes before. The rest of the morning is a mixture of blurs and total clarity and they are special moments I'll one day tell my children about.

But my brother was home, and I was surprised to find he was not still with my dad. Then he explained why he left. He said that he had read that many times, a loved one is reluctant to leave their body and often won't when family is around. He told my dad several times, "Go home, it's okay," signing and voicing it. But he felt a kind of reluctance from my dad. He tried leaving the room for long minutes at a time, but when he returned, my dad was still there. He worried that my dad might be hanging around for him. So finally my brother told my dad to go home and that it was okay one last time, and he left. We got the call an hour or so later, I think.

I'm not a theologian. I have only a theory about that night. Members of our church believe in the ordinance of sealing, which binds our families forever, even through death. I am sealed to my parents. I believe the tugging sensation I felt each time I dozed was the tug of my father's spirit on that sealing bond as he ventured to his spiritual home, and the snap back when my brother would re-enter the room. I think when I finally slept, it was because my dad had slipped away. This is just what I believe and I have a testimony of the sealing power.

The next several days are a whirlwind of stories and experiences in my memory both too tender and too sad to recount right now, compounded by my mother's death two months later. But eventually, in the excitement of my new marriage, and a few months later, the news that we were expecting a baby in mid-December, my heart healed and things settled down.

There was so much to do. We had a condo to prettify and convert from a bachelor pad, we had a European trip to take, we had a new school to ease my older son into. But as last fall wore on, November 12 began to loom larger and larger for me. I didn't know what to expect on the anniversary of my father's death. I had had a year to reflect and distill some lessons, but it was still fresh and strange to be orphaned and without my parents, especially because their second grandchild was due soon and they wouldn't be there.

A couple of days before that somber anniversary, my husband and I spent the evening at an Argentine tango performance. Somewhere during the evening, I began to suspect my water had broken, five weeks early. I went home and went to sleep, only to wake up after midnight, sure now that my baby was coming, ready or not. We went to the hospital and I spent the next twenty-four hours in resigned labor. Grant arrived at one o'clock a.m. on November 12, a year to the day that my dad died.

It might be a coincidence that my baby showed up five weeks early on the anniversary of my dad's death. It might be.

I don't know about such things, but I suspect Grant was sent down with an embrace from his grandfather fresh around him, because my dad...he was still looking after me. He gave me a happy day on what could have been a forever sad one.

He lived a huge life, packed full of far more challenges and acheivements in his sixty years than most people ever dream of. And that's what I remember today, in between raining birthday kisses down on baby G to the point that he's beginning to crawl away when he sees me coming.

My father left baby G a gift, through me. I hope that some of the best parts of my father live in me still and that those are the things that I teach to my sons. The power and joy of words, fierce family loyalty, respect for my elders, the love of a well-told story, big smiles, hard work, and the unflagging advocacy of those that systems and institutions too often overlook.

This is not a sad day. But it's a good day to remember.


Kristina P. said...

Melanie, thank you for sharing this. He sounds like a very special man.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this story.

My brother and I were both born on my maternal grandma's birthday. When I was two-and-a-half and my mom was pregnant (in the days before ultrasounds) I would always say "It's my birthday brother" -- so when my mom went into labor on my birthday, she figured it was a boy. And another brother has my maternal grandfather's birthday.

Also, your notebook-paper background is working for me now!

The Crash Test Dummy said...

That was beatiful. I got major chicken skin when you said that your baby came 5 weeks early. WOW!

HUGS! And much aloha!

Josi said...

Ah man, why didn't I read this before I came to the library. Beautiful words, thanks for sharing.

Heidi Ashworth said...

This is so beautiful--thanks for sharing. You look so much like your dad, don't you?

Sue said...

What an amazing post. Touching and beautiful.

I'm such a dork, I totally want to give you a hug right now.

Alison Wonderland said...

I generally try my hardest not to be serious but sometimes it just sneaks up on me. And it's sitting on my shoulder right now.
That's a beautiful, sad and touching story. Thanks for sharing it.

*MARY* said...

My son keeps asking me if I'm cold because I've got goosebumps on my arms from reading this beautiful post.
What a great way to look at this day. Both of your Fathers in Heaven wanted you to be happy on this day, instead of mourning on it. So they sent you a gift.

I love that picture, they look as sweet as you describe.

LisAway said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. You have me crying.

On Christmas Eve 8 years ago I took a pregnancy test. After the 5 minute wait, I only saw one line. I was a little disappointed but not too much. An hour or two later I looked at the test again and was pretty sure there was a super super faint second line. Yes! It was there. I knew I was pregnant. Right after I found out the phone rang. It was my dad. I told him my news. He was happy for me, but kind of started crying. He said the reason he was calling was to tell me that my grandpa had died that day. It looks like they were trading places. That was such a bittersweet night for me.

Susan said...

I'm glad Lisa linked to this post, I'm so glad I read about your Dad and your experiences here, though I don't usually like to read such moving things so early in the morning, my insides feel full and funny. Thanks for sharing this.

Annette Lyon said...

You've got me in tears. What a difficult but special day this will always be for you.

cookingsherri said...

That was an absolutely beautiful tribute.

Kimberly said...

That was so incredibly beautiful, Melanie.

Nancy said...

Wonderful story - loved the photo too. I am glad I knew them.

Julie said...

What a sweet story! Thank you for sharing it. I have a little one who was born nine months after my mom passed away. He came just when I needed him. He turned my heart from grief to hope. It was a great blessing. I'm so glad you have this great blessing in your life too.

Melanie's Sister said...

Seriously, in honor of Dad's passing shouldn't we hear more about the romance books? You're readers are dying to hear! (um, no pun intended - but since it's there...maybe you should post about the unnerving relationship us siblings have with death and humor i.e. the comment you made at a pre-wedding dinner that ended with "...dead and dying" since we're talking about a circle and all that)

Shellie said...

Melanie- thank you so much for this post. I loved it and cried during the whole thing. Cancer is a crazy crappy thing but life/death/heaven aren't and its nice to focus on the beauty of life and family instead.