Today marks the 6th Father’s Day without my dad. I keep waiting for it to get easier, but something tells me it never will.
My dad had lung disease. It started as Emphysema in his 30s and developed in to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) as it progressed. His lung issues were a mixture of childhood illness, genetics and years of smoking. Over the years, he had issues with lung collapses, bronchitis, pneumonia and MRSA. As he got older, the illnesses became more frequent and harder to bounce back from.
Watching him struggle infuriated me. I know that’s not fair; I should have had compassion. I shouldn’t have taken my anger out on him. But I was so frustrated watching him in pain because I had already lived through the heartbreak of watching someone die from COPD. My dad’s dad had died the same way 16 years earlier. I can still remember the concern I felt at 12, watching my grandpa stand over the stove, hands on either side, head bent down as he tried to catch his breath after walking up the stairs from the basement. It hurt to watch him deteriorate like that. I didn’t want to watch the same thing happen to my dad.
But it was. And it was happening with my dad at a much faster rate. My grandpa died at 76 years of age from complications of COPD. My dad passed away just two months past his 54th birthday.
Dad went in to the hospital for the last time shortly before Thanksgiving of 2011. It started out just like any other hospital stay, or so it seemed. He was on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma, which was not necessarily a new experience. He always pulled through and so I think that made it easy for me to not take his illness so seriously. But it became evident after a week or so that this time was different. He was tired. And every time they tried to take him off the ventilator, he fought it. He didn’t want to breathe on his own.
After two weeks of being in the hospital and our inability to get him weened off the ventilator, the decision was made. We would take him off of life support and let him go. On Monday, December 5th, 2011, my sister and I walked in to the hospital to say good-bye to our father.
One of the nurses spoke with us shortly before the breathing tube was removed and warned us that we might hear some distressing sounds, but assured us that out dad would be comfortable and that it would be quick. She was wrong on both counts. It took a lot longer than expected but was so incredibly peaceful. And surprisingly, as soon as the breathing tube was removed from Dad’s mouth, he woke up. It was the first time he had been lucid in the entire time he had been hospitalized.
My sister and I stood on either side of him, surrounded by family and some of his closest friends. I grabbed his hand when he looked at me, and asked him if he knew we loved him. “Yeah”, he whispered. I then asked him if he knew that he made us proud. “Yeah”, he said again. He then put his arms out and we leaned in for our last embrace.
My dad held on for two hours and I don’t think it’s because he was afraid. In fact, I think he was excited at the possibility of being reunited with his parents in the afterlife. I just think he didn’t want to break eye contact with me and my sister. I told him that it was okay; we knew he was tired and it was alright to close his eyes. I told him that I was going to be there the whole way, holding his hand. Dad took his last breath shortly after noon, while “Here Comes the Sun” played in the background. It was such a beautiful and moving moment; one that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
It breaks my heart when I think of all the things Dad has missed over the last 6 years. Since he’s been gone, I’ve bought a house and gotten married. Just yesterday, I walked in my college graduation ceremony. He would have been so proud. And I think, if he were still alive, he would be very involved in learning about my infertility and being an ally in our struggle.
I’ve wanted to find a way to truly memorialize my dad for a few years now and a couple of weeks ago I finally had my chance. A friend of mine who had also recently lost her father, told me about a tattoo that she wanted to get in honor of her dad and encouraged me to do the same. I loved the idea and was determined to design a simple tattoo to celebrate my dad.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the way it turned out. The heartbeat is from an EKG taken the day my dad died. The hospital presented us with his “heart in a bottle” shortly after he passed. They wanted us to know that his heart was strong until the end. I found the sweet saying in a Christmas card he sent me. I placed the tattoo on my right forearm so that it is always in sight; a reminder that even though our relationship wasn’t always easy, the love that we had for each other was strong.
Make sure you call your dad today. Celebrate your parents. Make sure you tell them you love them. Even if you’re not on the best of terms. You’ll never regret what effort you did put into the relationship, but you’ll always regret the effort you didn’t.