Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Singing Him Home

When we knew that Dad's death was imminent, Steve and I tried to think through the ramifications of getting all four of us to the Midwest for the funeral. Looking at last minute plane fares was enough to cause us to break out in hives and clutch our chests in horror. And yet the thought of driving 2500 miles there and back made me so tired and depressed I couldn't even contemplate it.

I knew it would be more financially feasible for just Steve and me to go and leave the kids at home but I couldn't stand to even think about that option. Both Nathan and Sarah loved their Grandpa Campbell very much and wanted to be there to say good bye. Also, they don't get to be with their extended family very much and I didn't want them to miss out on that experience.

So all during the long week before Dad's death I repeatedly prayed, "O Lord, make a way for us all to fly to Wisconsin. Please, make a way for us to fly to Wisconsin."

Well, lo and behold, the Monday before he died, I found a voice message on my cell phone from a longtime website friend who said, "I'd like to purchase two tickets for your trip to Wisconsin!"

I was so excited I just about dropped the phone and did a happy dance.

The next day, I got an e-mail from another website friend who said, "I would like to cover a plane ticket for one of you."

Again, the happy dancin' feeling came over me!

And then the following day, we received a phone call from a friend who was sending a check which would cover half of the fourth ticket. Once we got to Wisconsin, a few of my family members pitched in so we ended up with all four tickets being taken care of.

Since Steve and I have been without jobs for nine months and had absolutely no extra money for travel, this miracle of provision was especially amazing. Thanks to those of you who contributed; we appreciate you more than we could ever say.

When I left for the airport last Wednesday morning, Dad was very close to the end. I so very much wanted to make it there before he died and felt hyped up and tense all day, wishing the plane would go faster, wishing there wasn't a layover between flights, wishing I could just miraculously be transported to his bedside.

When I landed in Atlanta for a one-hour layover, I discovered that my next flight had been delayed an extra hour. Of course, that just made me feel extra, extra tense. I was also nervous because I was afraid that a family member would call me at the airport to tell me Dad had died and the last thing I wanted was to hear that kind news standing in an airport amidst a thousand strangers. And yet I just couldn't bring myself to take off again without touching base to see how things were.

With some trepidation, I dialed Debbie's cell phone and said, "How's he doing?"

She tried to talk, but immediately broke down and handed the phone to Randy.

My heart dropped. I thought, "Oh, it's happened. He's gone and I'm alone in this big airport and I don't know what I'm going to do."

However, all Randy said was, "Beck, it's getting very close. He's getting clammy, and his breathing is changing and it doesn't look like it will be long. I think he's hanging on though, waiting for you to arrive."

I said, "Well, please tell him not wait. If he needs to go, it's alright."

Randy said, "I'll hold the phone up to his ear and you can tell him."

Now you have to picture this. I'm standing in one of the busiest airports in the world, completely alone. And I am saying on the phone, "Dad, it's okay to go. Don't wait for me to arrive. I love you."

ell, who can speak those words without tears? Not me.

I stood in the middle of that hallway and just cried. Surrounded by strangers, I sobbed. Life ebbed and flowed around me as I stood on my small island of sorrow, clutching my phone, choking out my final goodbye.

I eventually made my way through the chaotic corridor to the women's bathroom where I holed up in a stall so that I could sob (as silently as possible) in relative privacy. As I left the bathroom a few minutes later, I decided to powder my nose. However, when I took a quick glance in the mirror, I realized that all the face powder in the world was not going to even make a dent in improving my appearance. Bloodshot, swollen eyes, makeup cried off--it was not a pretty picture.

I was hoping I might be seated on the plane next to a compassionate, grandmotherly type of person but instead I was plopped down next to a sophisticated businessman who ignored my ravaged face altogether and spent his time complaining about the flight delay.

I wanted to say to him, "Sir, I don't know what your interrupted plans for the evening were, but my plans were to make it to my dad's bedside before he died. Sometimes 'stuff' just doesn't seem so important when eternity is knocking at the door."

But I didn't say a word. I just turned my face to the window (so as not to unduly alarm anyone else with my swollen blotchiness) and silently endured the ninety minute flight to Milwaukee.

Thankfully, by the time I landed, I was feeling a bit more calm. My original plan had been to rent a car but as it turned out, my brother and his family (who live in a Milwaukee suburb) had decided to head over to the hospital that evening as well.

As I waited for them to arrive, I figured I'd better get some caffeine on board since it was going to be a long night. I found an airport employee and asked him, "Where would I find a drink machine?"

He stared at me with a total lack of comprehension, as though I were speaking a rare dialect of Swahili.

nd then it suddenly occurred to me where I was. Or actually, where I wasn't. I was not in the South where drink machines are called, well, drink machines. I was in Wisconsin!

I immediately changed my dialect to Wisconsin-ese and said, "I'm sorry. I meant to ask where the nearest soda machine is."

His face lit up with cheery comprehension as I switched from the foreign language I had been speaking to the native language that he spoke.

As I walked away from him, I just had to laugh. I grew up in Wisconsin where a soft drink was referred to as "soda" or "pop;" however, it's amazing how quickly we forget the dialects of our childhood when we move away.

I purchased my "soda" and sat down to wait--happy to be back in the land of my birth (born in Iowa, raised in Wisconsin), thankful to be getting together with my extended family, and yet heartbroken over the pending loss of my dad.

After getting loaded into the car with my brother, Phil, and his family, we started on the 3 1/2 hour trip, through heavy rain, construction, slow traffic and every other thing that could possibly be thrown in our way to make the trip take even longer.

But amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully--when we arrived in the hospital room at 11 pm, Dad was still there. Not "there" in the sense that his eyes were open and he was talking, but still "there," none the less.

The final night of my dad's life on earth, he was surrounded by people who loved him. Phil was in a chair on one side of his bed, my mom slept on a cot at the foot of his bed, and I was in a recliner on the other side of his bed. Other family members were scattered throughout the hospital, resting, waiting, weeping, hoping, each one so grateful for his life, each one so thankful that they knew where he would go after he left us.

I spent most of the night fitfully tossing, watching the clock, watching the nurses as they came in and out, listening to Dad breathe, counting the seconds between the breaths, wiping silent tears, looking at my mom as she slept for the very last time near the man she loved so deeply.

It was the longest night.

It was the longest night that, in turn, gave way to the Longest Day--at least for my dad. When he stepped into eternity at 9:40 am, he stepped into a realm that does not allow nighttime, darkness, sorrow, sickness or tears. And amazingly, the song that was playing on the CD player as he died just happened to be one I had written many years ago and recorded with Steve, Randy and Debbie. One line of the song says, " It's time to rise, step through the skies . . ."

As Dad left the hospital room and started his journey, our voices were singing him home.

Gathering around him to pray a couple hours before he died.

Waiting . . .

At the front desk area of hospice, they lit this candle when dad died.

The cemetery where he was buried and the nearby church. It is one of the most beautiful cemeteries I've ever seen--Wisconsin scenery at its finest.

My brother, Phil, with our mom. Ron (our unofficially adopted brother from Florida) is on the step.

It's time to rise, step through the skies . . .

9 Had Something To Say (Just click here!):

Kathleen said...

What a wonderful story. I laughed at your "drink machine" incident. I grew up in Wisconsin too, and still say "soda". I also say "bubbler" instead of "drinking fountain", and now have my two St. Louis born children and their friends saying it too!

Ann Martin said...

Beautiful story, Becky. Tears are rolling down my face now as I share similar memories just two weeks before you went through this. Daddys are so special and I know no one will ever take their place. We grieve but not as those without hope. Some days the tears come and some days I do better. Only time and God can heal. Praying for you and love you guys.

MaryH said...

What a lovingly written tribute to your father - and as a Dad, he heard in your voice from that busy airport that you truly wanted to be there with him as he went - and so, he stayed, Dad's do those kind of things for their daughters. With tears, I pray for your peace and many signs from your Dad that he is close. You have so much more strength than you know, Becky. You prove it time and time again- especially through this last journey to Wisconsin.

Anonymous said...

Becky, Your writing puts me to tears. I am so glad my dad was there some for our family at your dads last days. I know if my mom was alive she would have been right there.
Love ya, Sandy

~Brenda said...

Perhaps "beautiful graveyard" is an oxymoron. But I think that graveyard is beautiful!!

We say "pop" here in Colorado. ;-)

Praying for you during this difficult time ...

Oh ... and I just left you a blog award. Come pick it up and pass it along, if you're up to it. Otherwise, just pick it up. :)


Sue G said...

I sometimes wonder if you are aware of the precious gift you have...the gift of sharing your life so openly and honestly. You write of things so intimate, so personal, and you do it in a way that scoops us up and delivers us to the same moment, as if we are there with you.

And, of course, we are.

Thank you to the folks who made flying home possible. Thank you to God who made arriving there on time a necessity. Thank you to all the people who love you, and, especially, thank you to your mom and dad for raising you with so much love and integrity and faith.

You have done a lot of waiting in the past nine months. After a while, I imagine all the hallways start to look alike. But they aren't. Each one has its own inherent purpose and beauty. And each one is a portal taking you one step closer to your destiny.


Anonymous said...

Well I couldn't read about it without crying. Can't imagine having to live through it. When Jeff's dad died it was snowing everywhere between here & Cincinnati & we both just kept praying that he woudl make it in time.
Sounds like you could use a few hugs so here they are.

Margie Miller

Jan R. said...

Your Dad must have been an amazing father to have all of his children and his adoring wife there.

When my Dad died we were there with him. As sad as it was to say goodbye, we knew he was okay when he left. That brought a great comfort to all of us.

May your Dad's memory be a blessing.
With much love and many prayers to your entire family.

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