I have never known one person that can say they don’t have regrets. Its part of decisions we make throughout life and the consequences that result. The cliché of “hindsight is 20/20” is as true a statement as it gets. So much time and energy is spent on wishful thinking if you could go back again and do things differently. Occasionally, a situation unfolds that gives the opportunity to have no regrets. I write this not as a reflection of myself, but for the importance and actions of honor and respect.
In 2010, June 1st to be exact, I had plans to take my daddy to the doctor for a routine visit. The previous couple of weeks I had noticed he seemed less energetic and even a bit unsteady. I had asked him about my observations several times, even offering to come and stay during the day, as well as the night with him, to make sure he had help if he was feeling poorly. His response was always, “There will be plenty of time for you to stay with me…..sooner or later.” I was suspicious he wasn’t telling me everything, but I let it go, trusting he would tell me when he needed to. It happened this day.
As I approached the driveway in my car, a neighbor and friend was standing beside the front porch waving his hands frantically. Lying at his feet on the porch was my daddy. I was suddenly thrown into a motion I find it hard to describe in one word. It was fear, panic, confusion, a rush of adrenaline to help him, all wrapped into seconds that seemed to have a gripping effect like quicksand. I was suddenly running and couldn’t get there fast enough. Daddy had planned to sit on the front porch to wait for me and had fallen while coming out the door. The neighbor had been sitting on his own front porch, saw it happen, and immediately came to his aid.
I called an ambulance, as daddy was only semi-conscious. He had hit his head on the concrete, so I assumed the problem was from the injury. It wasn’t. Daddy had congestive heart failure and COPD. I never went back home.
He spent seven days and nights in the hospital and I spent seven days and nights in the hospital, too. I slept in a chair beside his bed, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. It came time to be discharged and the doctors took me aside and gave me information and choices. The information was that he would be placed in palliative care…..Hospice….and he could not stay alone anymore. He could be put in “rehab” for a period of two to four weeks and then he would become a resident of extended stay, a nursing home, or if I took him home, he would stay with me or I would move in with him. That was a lot to digest because my heart was hurt. For me, I understood what Hospice meant. My daddy would not be with me much longer. As for how to proceed, that was a no-brainer; he was going home that day to his own home and I was moving in with him.
He accepted the situation with grace. After living by himself for 16 years after the death of my mother, he handled all the attention pretty well. It was a big adjustment, I’m sure, as he was very independent. But even before this happened, daddy and I saw each other most every day and talked on the phone several times a day. We never went to sleep at night without a phone call. I had always been his little girl and it was no different now. He was my hero and it was time for me to step up and take a different role.
At first, he was able to do a lot of things himself. Although weak, he was determined to do for himself as long as he could. I embraced basic responsibilities of preparing his meals, giving his medications, helping him put on his socks and shoes, standing outside the bathroom door while he showered in case something happened and he needed help, and following him around to make sure he was ok. I’m sure there were times he would have liked to tell me to get lost for a bit, but he never did. He dubbed me “The Helicopter” and rightfully so. However, he appreciated it all and knew it was out of love.
We spent time together and talked and laughed through the heartache. He was always a wonderful storyteller and would delight anyone that listened to him with his tales. He retold stories I had heard many times before and told me some things I had no idea about. Sometimes I would take notes on any piece of paper I could find and would scribble as fast as I could so not to miss a word. It was such an enjoyable time to just be with him, even though we both knew his time was nearing the end.
I slept on the floor beside his bed, in the waiting room and in his room at the hospital during the next few inpatient periods, and on the couch and in the recliner when it came time for a hospital bed. I had it placed in the living room so he could see outside the big window and still enjoy nature’s changing season. It was going through the colorful motions embracing Fall and it was his favorite time of year.
The last six weeks he was totally dependent. He could no longer hold a spoon, the television remote, sit up by himself, or do anything to help himself. So I fed him; I turned him as he lay unable to move; I bathed him and always respected his privacy….always keeping him covered; always; I read to him; I held his hand; I talked with him; I prayed with him. I didn’t go out of the house for those last six weeks, by my choice. I did not want to take any chances he would need help and I wasn’t there.
I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, but I would not have done anything differently. I was never burdened by the responsibilities. Instead my heart was full of joy that I had the opportunity to extend love to my father and honor him in such ways when he needed help and had to rely on someone; I chose and wanted that someone to be me. No one, but me. Those 4 ½ months were the most humbling and treasured experiences of my life. I would have taken care of him from now on if God had allowed.
There are many memories during this time I will always hold dear. But one stands out to me as I write this now. It was about ten days before he passed and there was a Medal of Honor ceremony on television. As the Medal of Honor recipient was named, in a bedfast state, daddy raised his feeble hand to his brow in a salute. He was very patriotic and understood the sacrifices of war and turmoil. He was a member of the Greatest Generation; a decorated WWII Veteran; recipient of the Purple Heart and twice recipient of the Bronze Star. How I would love to have a photo of that moment now, but, at the time, it would have been a disrespect to his gesture, so I hold it in my memory and close to my heart.
I was taught through his guidance and example what it is to live in the land of the free. It is a privilege enjoyed because of service and sacrifice by those in our United States military and the families that share their journeys. It is written on a granite wall in Washington, D.C. that “Freedom Is Not Free”. The right to vote is a privilege American citizens enjoy because those before us fought and stood for our nation, paying the price so we could enjoy many liberties.
I made a promise I would do everything I could to extend my love and care to my father during his time of need and I would have no regrets. I have none. I know he was grateful for my servant’s heart and I am thankful he allowed me the honor and privilege to care for him, just as he had cared for me my entire life. During this election year, I will honor him and all others who have served and continue to serve by exercising my right to vote. Like caring for him, this is a privilege, not a burden.
In Loving Memory and Honor of my Father. Always Loved; Always Missed; Forever in My Heart…..until we meet again.