The heart remembers most what it has loved best

It was 3 a.m. when the doctors and nurses convinced my Mom to call her family.

Elise and I were watching my Mom and Dad’s house while they were out of town on a road trip to Pahrump, Nevada to visit my Grandpa. I convinced my Mom a month ago that she needed to go to her Dad for closure, for reassurance, to tell her father that she loved him.

We got to Mom & Dad’s house on Sunday afternoon, in plenty of time before dinner. Dad walked up as I was getting out of the truck and said, “You must’ve smelled the ribeyes marinating!”

Dad grilled four fantastic steaks. Four of his best. One for each of us.

I don’t even remember who was playing but while Mom and Elise talked and watched TV in the living room, Dad and I watched the football game in the den. I sat on the couch and specifically remember looking at Dad in his chair and I chuckled on the inside. He was happy sitting in his chair that I rigged for him and watching football on his TV.

They left at 10:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Dad was in the passenger seat and as they backed out of the driveway and with the driver’s side window down, Dad leaned over and asked me, “What happened to the back of your truck?”

He was asking about the dent. A dent from over a month ago when I accidentally backed into the grill guard of a pickup at Home Depot. I explained to Dad, “Oh, I backed into a truck in the parking lot at Home Depot a while back.”

He nodded and smiled. They drove off as Elise, Maly and I stood on my parents’ driveway and waved goodbye as they headed off on vacation.

Elise and I both woke up in a daze. We heard the phone ring but it wasn’t until I heard my Mom’s voice on the answering machine. “Josh, Dad had a heart attack and a…”

Elise had already run into the living room and I was quickly on her heels. She picked up the phone and handed it to me.

My Dad had a heart attack. He was watching Monday Night Football in their hotel room in Ft. Stockton. He told my Mom that his chest hurt and needed to get help. 9:30 p.m.

They rushed to the emergency room in Ft. Stockton. He was stabilized and recovered from his heart attack. It was then decided that he needed to be transfered to a facility with better cardiac care. Coherent and well my Dad was loaded into an ambulance and on his way to Aliance Hospital in Odessa, Texas. My Mom followed behind in their car.

Dad suffered a stroke shortly after arriving in Odessa. The EMT’s rushed Dad into the hospital. Mom followed on foot. She entered the elevator with Dad and his caregivers. The staff, attempted to keep Dad alert while motioning towards Mom asked, “Who is this?” Dad replied, “Thank you very much. Thank you very much.”

He didn’t know where he was. The stroke had taken him. He wasn’t truly able to acknowledge his wife but he thanked those who were with him.

I remained calm on the phone with Mom. I told her to call me back in the morning when the doctors knew more. I knew Dad would be okay. I tried to embrace my self-conceived notion of having a Dad with a partially paralyzed face caused by a stroke.

I woke up early Tuesday morning and took Maly on a walk to pick up the newspaper. Dad walked the driveway to pick up the newspaper every morning. I held Maly close to my chest and I cried. I begged. I hoped. I prayed for my Dad.

Mom called shortly after I returned with the newspaper. She said he was gone. The stroke caused a brain hemorrhage. Mom made the toughest decision of her life — she had the doctors keep Dad alive with a breathing machine so his children could say goodbye to him.

I called my sisters. They screamed and cried and asked me what we were to do. I told them that we were all going to get on airplanes, go to Dad, tell him we love him and tell him good bye.

Elise booked tickets for us to Odessa. Everything after that is still a haze. I remember breaking down as we walked the corridor of the critical care unit. My head dropped and my eyes found the floor. My heart sank and I sobbed as I continued to walk toward what would be the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever experienced.

I saw my Dad and I immediately collapsed in the doorway of his room. I barely braced myself on a chair while on my knees. My Mom fell on top of me and sobbed. She held me. She enveloped me and tried to protect me. She wanted to take away the hurt. She couldn’t. Dad was there in front of us. A machine was keeping him alive.

I stayed by his side. I held his right hand. I cried. I cried. I cried. I sobbed. I yelled. I stayed by his side and after I felt comfortable, I asked my Mom, Elise, Shirley, Dick and Barry the chaplain for time alone with Dad.

I told Dad how I felt. I told him I loved him. I told him I loved him over and over and over. I kept saying, “I love you.” I kept squeezing his hand, hoping that I would feel a squeeze back. I stood up, leaned onto my Dad, kissed his forehead and whispered into his left ear, “Daddy, please don’t leave me. Please don’t go. Please stay with me. I love you, Dad.” He never squeezed back.

I don’t know how many times I begged Dad to stay. I don’t know how many times I told Dad I loved him. I couldn’t tell him enough.

My sisters arrived an hour and a half after us. They broke down. The experience was surreal and horrible. We came together as a family and cherished the beautiful man who left us too early.

We all said our goodbyes alone with Dad. I was the last to be alone him. I told him what we were going to do. I told him we were going to let him go. It was his wish to not be kept alive if there was no hope. I asked him to stay with me and help me. I asked him to help the rest of us. I told him I would love him forever.

We stopped life support shortly after 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. It was peaceful. I stood at Dad’s right side and held his hand. Mom stood before me, Elise behind me and my sisters across the bed as we all embraced Dad and let him go.

You toiled so hard for those you loved.
You said goodbye to none,
Your spirit flew before we knew,
Your work on earth was done.

We miss you now, our hearts are sore,
As time goes by we miss you more.
Your loving smile, your gentle face:
No one can fill your vacant place.

Your life was love and labor.
Your love for your family true.
You did the best for all of us.
We will always remember you.

I love you, Daddy. I will always love you.