Monday, January 23, 2012

My Dad

Jan 21, 2012

My father is dying. This complex man: father, encourager, preacher, alternative treatment enthusiast, supporter and would-be comedian is finishing his time on this side of eternity. It is 2:24am and I sit sleepless and sad beside his ICU bed. He has chosen to have Do Not Resuscitate status and so I am torn between wanting him to be comfortable and in control of his own outcome (as much as God allows) but otherwise wanting him to accept the medical treatment options available to him. Part of my jet lagged brain screams, “No, we cannot just let him die! How can it be ethical to allow nature to take its course when there are so many options available.” But the prevailing thought is that he made the choice to die a natural death when his mind was still good and I can honour him but supporting that decision.

Dad’s condition has been deteriorating for a couple of decades. His care for himself was a complicated and inconsistent regimen of a myriad of natural supplements and miracle cures and a disdain for FDA approved pharmaceutical medications. He firmly believes in a number of unorthodox things like IV Vitamin C for deadly diseases. For years he took several herbal supplements to cleanse his body of toxins all the while eating chemical laden processed foods. I guess he would be described as a stubborn man, but there is sweet naiveté about him and the way he makes decisions for himself and sticks to his guns regardless of the criticism.

We did not realize how sick he was before this illness. He has had atrial fibrillation for 11 years and as he refused the recommended medications, his body has grown weaker and weaker. We do not know when the Congestive Heart Failure began but now his body is weak and his heart is not pumping adequately. His kidneys have recently become damaged and so his body is filling up with water causing respiratory failure. For three and a half days he has worn a machine that pushes oxygen filled air into his lungs for him as his own breathing was inadequate. He has told us several times in his usual roundabout way that he does not want the machine and said once, “If it is time for me ot go then I want to go.” Yet he has allowed us to keep putting the uncomfortable mask back on him after his times of eating a few bites of his meals and talking with us. Each time there was a growing misery in his face as we assisted the nurse or physical therapist in fitting it to him. Finally last night he refused it in his gentle way. Now he is receiving oxygen only through a nasal cannula, a specially formed tube that directs the oxygen into his nose.

Before long, carbon dioxide will build up in his blood and his mind will become confused again, probably for a number or hours or perhaps a couple of days before he lapses into persistent unconsciousness. Death will occur without him waking again unless God performs a miracle. How does one accept an elderly parent’s choices? I think it can be likened to the way I accepted his word as law, not understanding his reasoning but trusting him as the parent God gave me to. I think about respect and my father and I thank God that He has enabled that in me. I have been disappointed with some of the decisions Dad has made for over 65 years, but with maturity and the grace of God in my own life, He has enabled me to extend grace to him. The older I get the more I realize the beauty of grace given and my desperate need for it.

This man would rather make people laugh than do anything else, close behind that charming but sometimes annoying trait, would be his desire to see people come to know the saving grace of our God in Jesus Christ. Dad has always been one to repeat himself to make sure that we understood the things he believes so passionately. Repeating himself is sometimes a way to convince himself and sometimes it is because his firm beliefs must be shared or he will burst. I have heard some of the same stories and sermons more than 50 times.

He just woke again for the hundredth time tonight and drank a little water. He said, “Thank you, Hun” and dozed off again. What will be the last coherent words this man says to me? Oh how the lump in my throat grows when I think about the near future. I arrived in Arkansas about 30 hours ago after a rushed departure from the bush of South Sudan with the aid of the UN who flew me out to the capital city where I could catch a flight to Kenya and then to the US. During the whole journey I kept trying to prepare myself for the news from home on each layover that he had already passed, but each time my sister told me that he was watching the clock, knowing that I was coming to see him.

This man loves combinations of chocolate and peanut butter, an affinity he passed on to me. He hates to feel the seam in the toes of his socks and will not tolerate it. He helped assemble thousands of Ford cars back in the 1960s and has a knack with fixing engines with his own special flare. He called me knucklehead and “shua” (meaning stinker in Choctaw) as a child and calls me his girl or "Hun" as an adult. He has remarkably slow metabolism and has been overweight all of my life. He has a unfathomable faith in any person or piece of literature that says diseases can be cured naturally. He has a hope in Jesus that has brought him to tears of joy countless times and looks forward to heaven with a refreshing hope.

He has had the same hairstyle since the 1950s. He loves for people to wear bright colours, his favourite is turquoise. He says, “Of all things...” proceeding statements that he feels awkward, embarrassed or frustrated about. He is always supporting and encouraging of the work I do. He has the heart of a missionary having himself served God among several American Indian tribes and gone on a few independent trips to Mexico. He thinks the best cars are Renault and has kept his old Renault van for over three decades though it has not run for at least half that time.

He loves affection--from family, friend, pet, etc. and found great joy in raising guinea pigs while we were children. He spoiled them outlandishly purchasing endless supplies of celery, lettuce, carrots and other fresh things for them to supplement their guinea pig pellet diet causing intestinal issues for them which he was happy to overlook since they enjoyed the excess fresh stuff so much. He would hold Iski, a favourite, for a long time every day allowing the pet to sit on his shoulder. He broke his arm taking care of a pet goat when he was 60. He likes to mimic the sound a donkey makes and talks about God’s sense of humour and creativity in the personality of a cocky rooster.

He can make his eyebrows dance and has done it several times here in the past day as he communicates his desire to make us laugh when words take too much energy. He has no arch in his feet—a genetic trait that prevented him from joining the army during the Koren conflict. He loved his mother and respects her memory always. He drank iced tea every day of his life except a few days following surgery in the 1980s and this week in the ICU. He thinks you can never get too much ice in his cup and if it isn’t packed in there all the way to the top then the drink is not cold enough. He went through a phase about 20 years ago in which he planted about 50 trees in his yard in the space of about two years. He does not like cold weather and talks about “Old Arthur” when his joints become stiff and painful. He bit his fingernails until he had to get dentures.

He has always been eager for me to marry, desiring a loving relationship for me, but has never given me a hard time that I have not made that step yet. He has never looked as old as he is and I think he has passed that trait on to me along with a rather too curvy backside. He likes playing games but gets quietly irritated when he does not win.

When I look in the mirror sometimes I am startled to see his face in mine. He has a really large mouth, another trait I have taken from him. When I was a kid he was always helping someone in need. Back then he would pick up hitchhikers and even allow them to sleep on our couch if they did not have anywhere to go. Until this week, he read ten chapters a day of the Bible since coming to know Jesus. He recently was trying to compute how many times he has read though the Bible, but I did not hear the result. He has hair growing out of his ears in the curious elderly man kind of way, but he does not seem like an elderly man to me, just a very sick man.

He tells corny jokes and gets tickled when he can make others laugh. He loves to talk—-he is a verbal processor and one has to be assertive to get a word in when he gets going. I will think of his puns when we have turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas. EVERY single year when he arrives for the meal he says, “I smell a ‘fowl’ odour in here.” I think I will start saying that for him. Corny puns once causing me to inwardly roll my eyes will be dear to me after he is gone.


At 12:53 AM , Blogger Chrys and Mike said...

Sheila, this was so beautiful. What a tribute. I feel I knew him after reading it. I continue to pray for you, sweet friend. Much love.

At 5:56 AM , Blogger righthere.rightnow. said...

You are on my heart this night, so here I am scrolling through your life. What a beautiful tribute to your dad. I love your compassionate heart & am praying peace, joy, delight, processing, & direction for the steps that lie ahead from the other side of the 49th :)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home