On this day last year he tried to keep his early morning routine of green tea and oatmeal, but he seemed very dazed. When he showed me some of the changes that had occurred with his body overnight, I knew we were in serious trouble. I am not a panic-er. I tried to let him make decisions about what he wanted to do in situations like this, and give him the freedom of those choices. He agreed that we needed the Hospice nurse to come over immediately, and her advice was to go immediately to the Hospice "hospital" named the Christopher House. We hadn't planned on that being part of the journey, but we both knew at this point that we needed more help than we'd anticipated.
My always proper husband wanted to get dressed "nicely" (read that pressed khakis and a collared shirt) before we left, but I convinced him they'd just put him in a hospital gown when we arrived. The shorts and t-shirt he had on would serve him just fine. He asked where the presents for his daughters were. We had gotten them a picture album with family pictures. A copy of the book "I'll Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch that he used to read to them as children (and had inscribed with words that included, "I hope you read this to my grandchildren..."). A DVD of family pictures set to music that he and I had watched the day before, and that he'd thoroughly enjoyed, commenting, "We've really had a good life, haven't we?" And a classic silver bracelet monogrammed with their names on one side and "Love, Dad" on the other side. (Thanks to my friend Kay and the great people at James Avery for the RUSH engraving job.)
I had already placed the gift bags in the car, thinking he could give them to the girls at the Christopher House later. He insisted that I wake them up right then so he could give the gifts to them before he left. I think he knew this was his last chance to talk to them. I went and woke the girls up, and he was able to give the presents and tell them he loved them. I told them they could go back to bed (it was early), and I'd call when we got him settled in.
I got Dave in the van never thinking this would be the final destination. He had bounced back from so many desperate situations over the past seven years that my mind would not set itself to "This is the end." He never liked it when I was the driver, so when he asked me to pull over a few blocks down the road I wasn't surprised. He said the car made him claustrophobic, and he didn't know if he could make the drive. I rolled the windows down, gave him several pills (Hospice had taken away the normal constraints of medication), and had him recline in his seat. Then I hit I-35 and drove faster than I'd ever driven, singing, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Reminding myself that I was not alone in the journey.
When we arrived at the Christopher House, I told him to wait in the car and I'd go find a wheelchair. Of course he promptly got out with his walker to wait under a tree in the record 105 degree Texas weather. I had to smile: that stubbornness had probably served him well during the long battle with cancer. The staff welcomed us, settled Dave in, and I had to decide what was next. I made a few calls to family and our pastor. I knew Dave would not want a big crowd around.
When I called my Married Daughter (who lived out of state), she asked, "Should we come?" I didn't know what to say: making that request meant I believed this was It. "I don't know", I told her, knowing there was a 12 hour drive between us. She called back almost immediately and said, "We are on our way," and I was so relieved I cried for the first time. The family began gathering around, and at one point Dave briefly woke up and asked everyone to leave but me. "You startled me!" he told me, "I only want one person at a time in here to talk to." So everyone began coming in to have some final words with him. My pastor later told a funny story that after Dave spoke briefly with him, he abruptly told the pastor to leave, which was so NOT Dave. I guess he knew he had no time to waste. A restlessness settled over him, followed by a deep sleep. The nurses told us he could hear us, but most likely would not awaken again. Still, my brain could not grasp what that meant.
His brother and sister were flying in from Pennsylvania: a trip planned weeks ago, never knowing we'd be at Christopher House. I wanted them to have a final word with him. Miraculously, when they arrived in the wee hours of the morning, Dave did wake up and speak with them. What a gift. And then he slept.
To Be Continued