The Things I Hold On To

My Daddy is gone. It’s eleven days now since he sneaked away.

I’d been with him all that morning. Looking at my computer, then him, then out the window. I typed. I held his hand. I listened to him breathe, those strange, autonomic breaths of the dying.

He was in hospice four and half days. It was heartbreaking to stay. It was heartbreaking to go. He was unresponsive. He was aware. He was awake. He was in another world. His was the delicate dance of having one foot in this world and one foot in the next.

We played music. Quiet, soothing, nature music. Instrumental. Some familiar tunes. Flowing water. Singing birds. Oceans waves. Gentle hymns.

He gave us all the energy he could muster. Saturday night. Sunday all day. Monday most of the day.

Each time I left the hospice house I felt like my heart was laying in that bed, waiting to be picked up again when I returned. Sleep came but it wasn’t the restful sleep of being back home and having everything right in the world. It was the sleep of emotional exhaustion, the body-demanded sleep that gives enough to just make it through the next day.

I set aside the computer, grabbed Dad’s hand and pushed my fingers inside his. I needed a drink of water, I told him. I’d be right back. He squeezed my hand. (Did I dream that? No, it was real.) I kissed his head before I went out into the hall lounge area just outside his door. I got a cup from the water cooler and sat on the couch with Mom & an elder from the church.

I finished my drink and felt moved to go back to Dad. He needed suction. I wiped his mouth and ran for the nurse and Mom. Grabbing Mom’s hand I pulled her into the room. The elder followed. Dad was trying to nick off (as he would say), unobserved.

Her hand on his, I held on to his arm. The nurse was on his left: suctioning, taking his pulse, listening for breath and heart sounds. She confirmed what I already knew.

The elder left and went out to the parking lot to cry.

Mom & I cried and started making the necessary phone calls. My brothers arrived within thirty minutes, my uncle within the hour.

Hours later, we agreed it was time to call the funeral home. And my brother made an unexpected suggestion- We had a received a Life Legacy Box, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a lock of Dad’s hair to put in it? With apologies to Dad, and the scissors provided by the nurse, I cut off a couple hunks of Dad’s hair and put them in a ziplock bag.

Back at my parents’ house, I opened a drawer and found my Dad’s scarf.

When I started knitting again in 2007, once of the first things I made was a scarf for my Dad. I knit it from my most favorite wool- Colinette Cadenza in Copperbeach, a hand painted superwash Merino. He helped me design it with his suggestions about proper length and width. He even went to the yarn store with me to get the supplies.

The scarf represented so much affection between me and my Dad, that I even asked him if I could have it when he died (never considering that it would be just about 4 years later). Now, seeing that Mom had placed it in a drawer so quickly, I told her of the agreement with Dad. I don’t know if she cared really. It was something for me to hold on to.

So many things I want to hold on to.
Memories of my Dad.
The stories shared by those who came to the visitation and the memorial service.
The lessons he taught me.
The parts of my personality that come from him.
His brilliance, both in mind and personality.
His passion for learning and teaching and being open.
His embrace of living as a citizen of the world.

I can but scratch the surface of all that he is and was and will be in my life.

And I am so grateful for him.

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3 Responses to The Things I Hold On To

  1. Oh my goodness, Grace. Such a journey you’ve been on! I am so, so sorry for your loss and pray God’s grace and peace will be with you and your entire family as you grieve this intense loss. Do you know this prayer from the BCP? I have found it so beautiful and comforting at such times as these:
    Into your hands, O merciful Savior,
    we commend your servant _______.
    Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you,
    a sheep of your own fold,
    a lamb of your own flock,
    a sinner of your own redeeming.
    Receive him into the arms of your mercy,
    into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
    and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

    • Grace Walker says:

      Diana, yes! I love the prayers in the BCP. While I didn’t use that one specifically, I did use the form from the ‘Burial of Ashes’ for my Dad’s inurnment. Mom didn’t want me to lead the service, so I prepared it and my husband led it. My Dad was raised Anglican & served as an altar boy, so it seemed fitting to commit him with the words from the Anglican service. My favorite words are “in a sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our frail bodies that they may be conformed to his glorious body.”

      I had my uncle, brothers and sister-in-law read the scriptures. I also love the prayer that says, “Heavenly Father, we thank you for all those whom we love but see no longer. As we remember ___ in this place, hold before us our beginning and our ending, the dust from which we come and the death to which we move, with a firm hope in your eternal love and purposes for us, in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

      I could add that I hold on to this comfortable words.

      • Yes, they are words worth holding. I led the committal service for my dad – not the memorial service, but the burial. It was a very dramatic day – the grave on the edge of a steep hill, pounding rain and thunder, two staff members holding umbrellas up to the side of the canopy, trying – and not succeeding! – to keep us from being soaked. It was just my mom, my siblings and our kids and their families. I, too, spread the scripture around…and tried to be heard over the noise of the weather. Quite ironic, actually as my father was the least dramatic person you would ever meet! Quiet, soft-spoken – when he did speak! – and we often had to wait for his response in discussion. But it was always, always worth the wait. I miss him to this day. And it’s been eight years last month since he died, but more like 10 years since he was truly the dad I knew. Losing parents is tough, especially good parents. My prayers are with you as you walk this road.

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