I stood beside my dying dad's bedside, not even 4 months into my 12th year. My dad couldn't speak anymore, they had put the tracheotomy back into his throat where it had been so many years before. I had always been fascinated by that scar.. He would laugh and tell me that he used to be so fat and then he got real skinny and he pulled all his extra skin up and it was really his belly button! He also used to tell me, "If ever you find me and I can't breath, take the guts out of an ink pen and jab the pen right through that hole, then call 911. You'll be scared but you have to do it". Then he would have me practice taking a pen apart as fast as I could. The fear of not being able to breath must have always haunted him.
His body seemed so much smaller than it had been and it took me by surprise. I had expected to see my dad but what I saw was a mere shadow of his former being. Wires, tubes and machines were connected to him in every possible place and one contraption pumped blood into his body while another one drained it out. For nearly a month he had been bleeding to death and the doctors used this method to keep him alive while they argued about whether or not they could save him. In the end, my mother insisted they stop. What an impossibly hard decision to have to make. She always says that had she known what they would do to him she would have waited 5 more minutes to call the ambulance. My father actually died at home at the same moment the EMT's walked through our front door. They brought him back to life. As hard as that month was, I'm glad we had it. My father came to know the Lord in his last days in the hospital thanks to a quadriplegic nun that was a friend of his. Every day she visited his bedside and watched him go through the same thing she would eventually go through. That could not have been easy for her but she pressed on knowing that his eternal security was more important than her emotional comfort.
In that little tented ICU cubicle, with tears rolling down his face, my dad mouthed the words, "I love you, I'm sorry... I love you, I'm sorry", over and over. But not goodbye. I'm glad not goodbye. How many things were wrapped up in those "I'm sorries"? I'm sorry I'm leaving you? I'm sorry your heart is breaking. I"m sorry I won't be there to tuck you in, or give you 'zipper kisses', or tell you stories. I'm sorry I won't see you graduate, walk you down the isle, love on your babies. I'm sorry there will be days when you will be lost and alone. I'm sorry I can't sing Daddies Little Girl anymore... a million moments, a lifetime... and then it was over.
I was sitting in Applebees last Christmas season, by myself as it turns out. All of a sudden the song Daddies Little Girl came over the speakers. I know that song by heart but I had never heard it played on the radio, ever. I instantly started to cry, sitting there alone, looking like a nut and thinking to myself, seriously God? Now? You're going to let me hear this song here, now? But then I stopped and embraced the moment for the treasure it was and my sister Liz, as if on que, sent me something hilarious on my phone and I started cracking up, right there, in Applebees, alone, looking like a nut.
Talking about that month of my life is terribly hard for me. There are those who would say, you need to deal with it, you need to "get it all out" and move on. I can tell you that I could talk about it until I am blue in the face and I will never be healed from it. I don't want to be healed from it. It is part of who I am and to change it would change me. My dad was not healed from his polio, but he lived fully, and joyfully, in the midst of his adversity and hardship. If you know me then you know that I do my best to do the same. For me to do any less would be to dishonor his life and the life that he chose to give me.
... and if you ever find me not breathing, you know what to do!
The summer of 1970 at White Lake. Just a dad taking his girls and the neighbor boys swimming and fishing.
Turns out Michael Buble is the cause of my tears in Applebees with his remake of my most treasured tune. My dad would sing this to me as I played it on the organ and the memory of those times is a precious treasure to me. You can give Michael's version a listen by clicking on the link below.
Daddy's Little Girl