Dads life had been anything but easy. To his credit, he rarely complained about anything, he simply wasn’t wired that way.
As a teenager, he broke his back and spent six months in a cast. As a result of that early injury, he spent the rest of his life in constant pain. Although you would never realize it because he absolutely point-blank refused to complain about it.
As a way of coping with pain, he often used humor. Some of his jokes were so bad they were actually quite funny. I once asked him how much it cost to get married and without missing a beat he said, “I’m really not too sure son, I’m still paying for it.” He’d been married to my mom for more than sixty years and with some degree of predictability, he always joked that the first fifty-nine were the hardest.
Mom and Dad were inseparable best friends, in all their time together, they never spent a night apart. So the day Dad complained of chest pain they even went off to the doctor together. The doctor shook her head and immediately sent them to the hospital for more testing. Legend has it that they even rode in the ambulance together, holding hands.
Once there, Dad was put through a pretty intense examination. It was then deemed necessary to keep him for observation. Now separated from each other, Dad quickly found himself being prodded and poked by a team of eager medical students. The following morning, I managed to call him while he was still in the ward.
When I asked how he was doing, he mentioned that having a large needle plunged into his left lung kinda hurt. Because he so rarely complained, I knew this must have hurt him even more than he was saying.
Dad was then told to drink Barium. If you haven’t heard of this before, Barium is used in medicine to highlight any defects during an X-ray. It’s also used as an insoluble additive in oil well drilling. It’s even added to fireworks to make that bright green color! One of the known side effects of drinking Barium is it can cause a hiatal hernia (an internal defect that causes the stomach to slide partially into the chest).
Despite the risks (and being eighty years old), Dad was asked to drink a second batch. The doctors then carried out yet another round of high radiation x-rays. Once finished, they drew more blood for a standard panel of bloodwork.
The next time I called him he asked me to pray for him, only this time there was no punchline.
This struck me as quite odd because neither of us had been inside a church for quite some time. I could only guess that the tests they were now constantly running on him had become pretty intense.
Later that evening I called him again.
His mind had always been as sharp as a tack and as we talked I noticed his thoughts were now wandering off track. As the conversation unfolded it became clear that he had been given heavy-duty painkillers. After the liquid Barium sulfate, I began to wonder how his liver and kidneys would cope.
A week later Dad had been seen by six specialists. When all his test results were in, all six sat around him in a semi-circle and each told him he was going to die.
Dad had always been a very positive man and rarely expressed any outward sign of emotion that might cause others around him to worry. My sister told me that as he heard the doctors’ news, those big square shoulders that used to carry us around as kids suddenly dropped. His heart was still beating but I believe this was the exact moment that he lost all hope. Following that damning diagnosis, his beautiful, determined inner spirit begun to wither. He was then sent home.
As if he hadn’t been through enough already, a day nurse then came to visit him at the house. She brought with her a signed order to inject him twice a day with warfarin. This was deemed necessary to prevent blood clots. My suggestion that Hawthorne would be a better fit for an eighty-year-old was immediately scoffed at. I digress.
Emotion got the better of me and I found myself shouting into the phone that warfarin would kill him quicker than any blood clot. It might surprise you to know that warfarin is the same product used in rat poison.
By the time I had booked my flight to come and see him, the emergency services had already been called. A team of paramedics was standing over his body trying to resuscitate him. Before I could even get on the plane, Dad’s life had come to an abrupt end.
With no sign of life left in his body, the paramedics packed up their bulky equipment and left. Mom, of course, instinctively went back to holding his hand. Only after the warmth left his fingers did she think to call me long distance to deliver the bad news. With a great deal of dignity in her voice, she uttered these words, “I wanted to be the one to tell you that we lost Dad today.”
Given his situation, I was expecting the call but it still hurt like a punch in the gut. A few days later I was back in the UK and saw my mom standing without her best friend for the first time. She did what all good moms do in the face of adversity of course and simply smiled through her pain. Last year my dad just died.
It’s fair to say that the day we buried him I also buried a part of myself. Dad was a genuinely decent man and I’ll miss him.
For more than six decades, Mom cooked, cleaned and loved him. At the funeral, she looked like a butterfly trapped behind a pane of glass with no way out. And yet, she somehow found the strength to thank each and every person for coming. I now have a much deeper understanding of what the term “paying your last respects” really means.
Dad was ill and I accept that, and to be fair, everyone was doing the best they could in extremely difficult circumstances. But when six experts tell a human spirit that it’s about to die, I believe that is what it does.
Like a small pilot light inside every one of us, the human spirit burns brightly wherever there is hope. It can accomplish things far beyond our understanding. But it can also be as delicate as a candle in the wind. Rest peacefully Dad, I’ll miss your face and even your terrible jokes. I hope we’ll meet again one day.
Hope is independent of the apparatus of logic. — Norman Cousins
Look, we all know this life isn’t easy, even more so when we become ill. Trying to find answers when our world is falling apart can be a real challenge — believe me, I get it. But if you have made it this far in the book then you, like me, must have a knack for sticking with it. That takes guts, especially when you don’t feel good, to begin with. So here’s my question to you:
What’s driving you to keep going in the face of adversity?
I may not know you personally, but I suspect your inner spirit still burns brightly. That's a really good sign.
Thank you for reading, this is a chapter taken from my book “THE HEALING POINT” (Amazon)