A tormenting final night with Dad
My father is going to die today.
It was 6:30 a.m. and Grand Junction was about to be bathed with sunshine. I’m sipping coffee in the hospital cafeteria.
My dad and I just spent a tormenting night together in hospital room 302. We reminisced.
I smiled and laughed a little at a story or two. And I cried.
A painful night.
My dad never opened his eyes and never regained consciousness from a car accident the day before.
I dozed a little. Nurses came and went. Checking Dad’s vitals and poking his legs to see if there was any response.
I enjoyed our final night together. Enjoyed it as much as a son could who was about to see his father die.
I remembered fishing trips and one hunting story, where he coached me as a huge buck turned and stared us down.
“Sit down and take aim,” he said in his calm and soothing voice. The buck was enormous. “Take a breath, let it out.”
The buck turned and bounded away.
I leveled the 30.06 and the deer was in my crosshairs. I pulled the tigger as the animal was just about to disappear over a small ridge.
The dust flew and the buck did too.
After another hunting season when I again showed my lack of hunting and shooting skills, my dad smiled as we returned home.
“You really aren’t much of a hunter. But that’s OK,” he chuckled.
That’s the way he was — kind, understanding, supportive.
When I woke from an uncomfortable nap at 3:47 a.m. in room 302, I looked at the man who helped mold my character, integrity and work ethic. The day would be difficult. Probably the hardest of my life. My brother and other family members would have to make a tormenting decision.
I had already made the decision. My dad was in a coma and he was paralyzed. At 82, Dad had rarely taken a day off, rarely relaxed. He was always on the go. From working my grandfather’s ranch to always working too much, that was his character.
He was the most supportive dad. He never missed a football and basketball game, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to see me, a slightly-better-than-mediocre high school athlete play.
He was a scout leader, a shuttle driver, a referee when my brother and I tangled … He was whatever he needed to be to his two sons.
As family gathered around Dad’s bed in room 302, I took a walk. Again reminiscing about his life and the impact he had on my life. I’d said my goodbyes.
Seven years earlier, my mother was dying of cancer. During the 140-mile round trip for her cancer treatments, we had great conversations.
I wanted to talk about growing up, but she hadn’t come to terms with the fact that she was dying. I wanted to have that heart-to-heart discussion about troubling subjects. But I didn’t and was happy I didn’t.
I’d come to terms with certain things years before and it left me satisfied.
With Dad, I wanted to say things that are difficult between a father and a son. Personal things.
We always had amazing conversations, and he was a splendid storyteller. He’d talk about his teenage years herding sheep at 10,000 feet. His days in the Army and in Korea. Hunting stories, high school tales.
Growing up, he rode his horse several miles to school. When the snow got too deep, he’d be forced to take a few months off and catch up on his school work when the snows receded.
In room 302, I had talked about all those things and the more personal things.
My father was tough guy. I’d always thought that he was destined for life well into his 90s, maybe even 100.
Now, I knew there was no hope. He would be gone in a few hours. He wouldn’t want to live his remaining years paralyzed, I told myself.
The doctor was blunt. Surgery “might” save him and bring him out of the coma. “Might.” But it was doubtful, very doubtful.
About 6 a.m., I held his hand once more and stroked his forehead. This would be my final goodbye.
I’d been able to tell Dad that I loved him before and it always sound uncomfortable. That’s just the way it was. I knew my dad loved me, he just wasn’t raised to say the words.
During those final private moments, as the memories rushed back, tears flooded my eyes, I told him thanks.
Thanks for the lessons he provided, mostly through his actions. Lessons in integrity, work ethic, character, respect, honesty, trust and life. Lessons in life. How to live it and live if correctly.
Thanks for his support and encouragement.
Thanks for being a great dad.
Thanks for being my dad.
I’m a better person because of you.
With that, I left room 302, and hoped that I made my dad proud.
I think I did. After all, I am my father’s son.