Yeah, it's been awhile.... it's been a long hard road....
Over the last 2 months I've spent much of my time out of state with my in-laws. Father Bob's 10+ year battle with cancer took a turn for the worst in July and it became brutally obvious our time with him was short. Jay spent 3 or more days a week, every week for more than a month, spending time with his dad and helping take care of his mom. Every other week I was able to get away from work and join him, taking in every last joke and smile I could.
As August came upon us, his condition grew worse and he was admitted into the Iowa City Hospice... for being such an emotionally difficult place to find yourself, the hospice was extremely welcoming. Anything you needed was at your disposal so you never had to leave. Well, they were lacking a wine cellar or kegerator, so I took a break from the quiet room to walk a block to Dirty John's - a surprising oasis of paper plates, cereal, and candy bars along side a great wine selection and delicious aged Belgian cheese. I figured we were in the Hospice... who's going to take away the styrofoam cup of wine in my hand as I did another crossword and tried to be strong.
Bob was himself until the very end... smiling when you took his hand, joking with the nurses... he even sang me a couple lines of "Boy Named Sue" on the last night I held his hand as he slept. It's an amazing thing to see how wonderful a person your loved one is even when doped out of their minds. We watched him relive his life slowly as he fell in and out of consciousness all hours of the day. And he hugged me, and loved me, and said goodbye peacefully.... and yet deep down inside, I would have loved just one more day.
I had to return home that Sunday night to get back to work, but I didn't want to leave Jay, and Bob, Dorothy, and John behind. I didn't want it to be the last time I saw him alive. But I had to leave, even though the next time I would be back, he'd be gone. On Tuesday morning, a quiet Jay choked out a hello as he woke me from a restless sleep. He didn't even need to say - I just knew. I wish I could have held him then more than anything in the world. I felt so helpless.
I hurried off to work, made some arrangements and went straight back home to fill my suitcase blindly and jump in the car for a lonely five-hour drive. But I knew Bob was looking out for me. As I sat and thought about the last night I held his hand, "Boy Named Sue" came on the iPod and calmed me from head to toe. As I navigated the highways, Jay somehow intuitively called me 2-5 miles before every exit I had to take. I was being watched and cared for, and was safely carried all the way into town and into Jay's arms.
We worked feverishly to prepare for Bob's wake and funeral. It was week 2 of four hours of sleep per night and we did everything we could to keep it together at times. But, when the moment was there, it was perfect. The wake had a receiving line to give condolences around the room and out the door for four hours straight. And I had never been to one so joyous. People came from all walks of life to say goodbye - people Bob met at the hospital he volunteered at, the LabCorp he worked at part-time after retirement, the Corvair club he was a member of, high school classmates, church members, the Knights of Columbus, neighbors, family, and Relay for Life participants. Everyone had a great story to tell, even with a lone tear in their eye.
Come Friday morning, we prepared for Bob's funeral. The church was opulent and I wish I would have taken a photo. The three+ story room was filled with stained glass windows and life-sized carvings of angels, saints, and Biblical characters. John led us to our seats with Amazing Grace on the bag pipes, and I held Jay's arm as he delivered the urn to the priest. The mass continued to celebrate Bob's life by highlighting his greatness and the light he brought to people's lives. Once done, we drove to the graveyard for a sunny and toasty final chapter. The Color Guard presented Dorothy with the flag (yet another way he gave back to the world) and they laid him to rest.
Once all but the last 10 of us were gone, John picked up his bagpipes again and said goodbye in his way. I was the lucky one that day... my dad was still there. He stood by my side as my composure waned in the thickness of the wailing pipes and held me as I cried. Maybe it was the thought of losing my dad, maybe I just couldn't keep it together any longer... but whatever it was, Dad and I both blamed the bagpipes as we wiped tears from our eyes with a little smile.
Thank you, Dad, for being there to hold me. I will never be too old to be a little girl in your arms. I love you with all my heart.
And Bob, thank you for loving me. Thank you for welcoming me into your family and your heart and making life a sweeter place. You have inspired me to live life to the fullest - forget the bucket list, I want to enjoy it now. I miss you and love you always.
Heart broken but not destroyed,