I looked out the window of the plane thinking, is this it? Will Dad be okay again, or will this heart attack make me face the inevitable? When I arrived, I went straight to the intensive care unit. Dad was hooked up to numerous tubes and machines. He smiled when he saw me, and I took his hand. The look on his face said more than his words. This was going to be a tough one.
The next day, the doctor met with Mom, my sister and me outside Dad’s room. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we got his heart started again. The bad news … his kidneys are failing.” He paused a moment as we tried to figure out what it all meant. “We could put him on dialysis. However, he’d need surgery to implant a shunt in his arm for the treatments. I’m not sure his heart would make it through that surgery. He’s eighty-one and has lived a good life. I suggest you unblock the machines and let him go.”
The doctor’s words floated off into space like clouds passing over. All I could hear was, “Let him go.” I thought I’m not making that decision. My sister can. My mother can.
But Mom didn’t want to. Neither did my sister. They turned to me. I said, “I’m not going to make the decision. Dad should. He’s coherent, and after all, it is his life.”
I went to Dad.
There was a mutual admiration between Dad and me that formed in my infancy and strengthened in me in adulthood. He was my adviser, my counselor, my father, but more important, my friend. I knew the love we had for each other would get us through the experiences ahead.
I walked into his ICU room. “Dad, the doctor, says they got your heart started again, but there is scar tissue, and it’s pretty damaged. And your kidneys are failing. You could go through dialysis to try to keep them going, but the doctor doesn’t feel your heart is in any shape to handle even the initial procedure.”
I stopped talking and waited. I saw him grow still and speculative. He looked up at me and said, “If I do this dialysis thing, will I ever get out of the hospital?”
“I don’t know, Dad.”
“Will I be dependent on a machine for the rest of my life?”
My throat ached during the long pause that followed, and I swallowed back tears. His eyes met mine, and there was a slight smile on his face. He said pointing to the machines. “Then, unhook them.”
We informed the doctor of his decision. Dad was disconnected from all the lifesaving devices and moved to a private room. The doctor told us Dad would last twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Bracing ourselves for the inevitable as best we could, we spent the next two days by his side, falling into bed at night in total emotional exhaustion. The third day, Dad was still hanging on.
Day after day, I drove Mom to the hospital. Fifteen days passed. I was really stressed. Been away from home three weeks now. I was worried about my family, my business, my life. Dad had been in and out of a coma for days, and he seemed oblivious to my presence. As I drove into the parking lot, I talked to the higher power above, trying to negotiate a deal tears streamed down my face as I pulled into the parking space. I had to tell Dad I needed to go home to my family and work.
I walked into his room to find him sleeping with his arms folded across his chest. I looked down at his loving face and hands. This was the man who had supported me in everything I endeavor. This was the man who never missed a concert, athletic event, graduation or the birth of a baby. This was the man who had been there for me every day of my life. How could I even think about going home? He had walked through forty-four years with me. The least I could do was walk the last mile with him.
I held his hand and started humming. My dad loved music and had a beautiful tenor voice. He always sang to me as a child. He’d bounce into my room every morning to wake me. Enthusiastic and happy, he sang, in his most operator tenor voice and to the tune of “Oh My Papa,” these lyrics: “Oh my Suzanne, to me you are so wonderful!” He made sure it reached a decibel that not only woke me but half the neighborhood. I would usually put my pillow over my head and beg for mercy. What an awesome message he gave every morning before I went off to school and work. What a positive reinforcement his songs were.
Now it was my turn. I began humming “You Are My Sunshine” as it was a favorite of ours often sung around the family piano. When I finished, Dad didn’t budge. His eyes remained shut. He didn’t hear a thing. I started to cry.
Dad opened his eyes, “Oh Suzi, I’ll never take your sunshine away.” He closed his eyes and went back into that familiar deep sleep.
Five hours later, he died.
My dad was the sunshine in my life and continues to be so in spirit. There have been dark moments and days since he died, but I always look up and say, “Okay, Dad, send me some sunshine.”
Without fail, the sun always comes out.
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