Dad’s Last Days

Just after Thanksgiving in 1979, my mother and father hooked up their camper, and  headed south, to spend t he winter in Florida.
Somewhere in South Carolina, my father became dizzy and disoriented. He couldn’t stand up or drive, so my sister and I flew down to get them. She went back with them on the plane and I drove the truck and pulled the camper back to Ohio.

When he was diagnosed with a cancerous mass in the lungs, which had spun off tumors into his brain, it was recommended that Dad be sent immediately to Pittsburgh, for treatment. He objected. His exact words were, “If I go up there, I will never come home.”

My family got together and decided that if Dad was to have a chance, he had to go to Pittsburgh. He reluctantly agreed. Around the first of December, they started radiation
treatments on the brain tumors. Even though the prognosis was not good, in the beginning at least, the results were promising. The tumors actually shrank to such an extent that the doctors decided he was strong enough for them to attack the mass in his lungs.

Dad had been a heavy smoker all of his life. He had also spent a lot of time in steel mills  around all kinds of fumes, and as a result, his lungs were in terrible shape, even without
the cancer. The chemo took its toll, and we were told that Dad probably would not last much longer, so we began staying with him around the clock. I remember the night before Christmas Eve, that he sat up in bed, looked at my wife and I, and said, “I just wanted to make sure you were still there,” and went back to sleep. He woke up a little later and I was able to talk to him for a couple of hours, something that I don’t recall ever doing before.

The next day was Christmas Eve and my sister and mother were to stay the night with Dad, but he had such a good day and was doing so well that the nurse in charge suggested they go home and get some rest. The phone rang as they walked in the door at home.
Dad had just died.

For several years, I wrestled with the knowledge that because we had insisted against Dad’s wishes, that he go to Pittsburgh, he had died alone in a hospital that he knew he would never leave.  We spent a lot of time second guessing ourselves. “If only…”, and “Why did we..?” or “Why didn’t we..?” and other such expressions dotted our conversations for quite some time. It was very clear that if dad was to survive, he had to go to Pittsburgh for
treatment. We had to give him every chance. He knew that and we knew that, but the “what if’s” came anyway.

There came a point where we all had to come to grips with one simple fact. We had done the best we could, and could do no more. We had no control over the results. Whether what we did had prolonged Dad’s life or shortened it, we can’t say. What we can say is that we took the only shot that Dad had. There were no ulterior motives. There was no thought for anyone but Dad. And when all was said and done, if we had not sent him to Pittsburgh, we would also have questioned that decision for the rest of our lives.

Life is full of situations where there really is no right or wrong. We frequently must choose between equally bad options, knowing that in an ideal world, we would choose none of
the above, but this is not an ideal world, and the options are dictated by circumstance. The course of action in these situations is simple. Pray for God’s guidance. Make your decision and live with the results, knowing that you did all you could. God will help you to make the decision, and God will be with you in the aftermath. There is nothing more to say. We do what we can, and leave the rest up to God. As the hymn says, “He knows the way through the wilderness. All we have to do is follow.” We rest in the knowledge that God knows
what He is doing, and is responsible for the final destination.

“It is not in man to direct his own paths.”Jer 10:23

Chaplain Fred Jeans,
Kenilworth Care & rehabilitation

One thought on “Dad’s Last Days

  1. Linda Everhart

    Loved your post. Though my parents died more than 20 years ago–both of them assisted by the Forbes Hospice program–your account stirs all those memories. Learning that “we had done the best we could” is all that God requires of us is a great liberation in life. And it is equally liberating to realize that our flawed parents, in their parenting, had also done the best they could. “Forgive us our debts (we did the best we could) as we forgive our debtors (who did the best they could.)”

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