Early March, 2008. Dad had just celebrated his 91st birthday and was living in Village at the Oaks for the past several months. The changes were subtle, but I noticed them. His prison ministry, the-most-important-thing-in-his-life, along with preaching at the Rescue Mission and his bible study at the nursing home took on a different meaning. He was desperately hanging on to the things that had meant so much to him during the last 40 years, but his enthusiasm was waning. At times lately, he seemed overwhelmed with his responsibilities.
|Last Christmas with Dad, 2007. Just before his 91st. birthday…|
Still, I wanted these decisions to be made on HIS terms. I was still catching flack about him losing his license. His not driving was driving me nuts. No, he shouldn’t have been driving, but it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t even around when the cops told him he was done. But I was his only sounding board, thus got an earful on occasion. Anyway, I was picking him up for his nursing home gig. He was unusually somber. He looked straight ahead and ventured, “I don’t think I can do this anymore. Would you talk to Julie for me and explain?” Julie was the activity director at the nursing home. She thought the world of him, and he liked her a lot. I said sure, drove over there, leaving him in the car and told Julie Dad would no longer be holding the bible study. She understood. Went back to the car, assured Dad Julie was grateful for the time he had given them and his job was always open for him. We went back to the Village. Something was different, just couldn’t put my finger on it yet. I asked him if he wanted me to talk to Chaplain Burrel at the prison? Did he want to keep going for his weekly bible study? Yes he wanted to keep the bible study, but going to the Rescue Mission one night a month to preach was too much. Fine Dad, I’ll call and let them know. He wasn’t very excited about going out at night anymore.
|Mom and Dad, Rock Valley, Iowa circa 1992…|
Next time I saw him, he said his throat was scratchy, and he had a runny nose. “Should I make an appointment for you with Dr. Anderson?” “No, I don’t think so” he replied, “I just need to lay-low for a couple days.” (One of his favorite quips, makes me smile when I think of him saying it). I went to the drug store, got some cold tablets, cough drops and Kleenex. After I left his apartment, went down to the nurse’s desk and asked them to check on him a couple times a day. After 3 or 4 days he seemed quite a bit better. I got a call though a couple nights later from the nurse. She was concerned. Dad wasn’t breathing right and she could hear a rattle in his chest. Asked her to call 911 and I’d meet the ambulance at the hospital. This was a Wednesday night.
After a few hours in the ER, they decided to admit him. They were pretty sure he had pneumonia. He was in good spirits, flirting with the nurses and doctors. Didn’t grill anyone if they were a born-again Christian, what church they belonged to, or if they were positive they were heaven bound. I spent a good share of the night and next day at the hospital with him. He didn’t have much of an appetite, partly due to the strong antibiotics he was on. But he seemed to be holding his own. Had a couple visitors from his church and I’m pretty sure my preacher/boss came to see him too.
|Dad and his sister Lizzy. Mid-1940’s…|
On Friday I noticed a big change. There was a big orange sign on the door to his room, which I failed to read as I sailed in. Dad was sitting up, but looking outside. He was on the third floor, so his view was actually the roof of another wing of the hospital. He could see some trees tops though. His roommate was gone. Not just gone to have a test or procedure, but bed, nightstand, everything was gone. Odd. I went back to his door and read the orange sign. Something like, please wear gloves, don’t touch anything, don’t get too close if patient is coughing or sneezing. What? Told Dad I was going to talk to a nurse. He was still watching some mind-video I wasn’t privy to out the window. I marched up to the nurse’s desk and asked, “what’s going on with Rich Gerritson? I’m his daughter.” The desk person said she would have the doctor come talk to me in a minute. I walk back to Dad’s room. “Hey Dad, what ‘cha see out there?” “The sales barn, and some kids playing behind it,” he said quietly. Oh boy. “The Rock Valley Sales Barn?” “Yes,” he answered, still looking intently out the window.
A handsome young doctor walks in, nods at me, walks over to Dad. Checks his pulse, listens to his lungs, asks how he’s feeling? Dad says not too bad. Doc motions for me to come out in the hall. There’s been a disturbing development in Dad’s health. He now has a MRSA infection to add to the pneumonia. A form of staph infection, resistant to antibiotics, commonly acquired in hospitals, and nursing homes. Easily susceptible to older folks when their immune system is compromised. Dad had blocked carotid arteries, CLL, the most common form of leukemia in older people, and congestive heart failure. I knew dad was frail and failing, but truly thought this was just another bump in the road. The doctor had great empathy. Said as gently as he could, “Denise your dad cannot recover from this. He has way too many things going against him. The only thing keeping him alive are the massive, strong doses of antibiotics. If it’s ok with you, I’m going to send in a social worker and one of our Hospice nurses to talk to you and your dad. I’m so sorry.” I knew it was coming, but still it hit me so hard.
|Dad and Larry, 1950…|
I don’t know how much Dad really understood while they were giving us our options. He was obviously hallucinating, and was having some tremors. They calmly and simply explained maybe it would be better if Dad went to another place to stay, Harbor Hospice, called Poppen House. There would be no more needle pricks, antibiotics or tests. Dad finally tore his gaze away from the scene through the window, looked at me, seeking guidance, “what do you think Denise?” I told him it was a brand new, beautiful place, nice big rooms, and I had visited folks there many times. He said that sounded fine.
|Larry 6, Neese 18 mo. Dad 35, Mona 9…|
The plan was to keep him in the hospital over the weekend, move him to Hospice on Monday. Shannon, Tracey and the kids spent the weekend with us and at the hospital. Josh and Adam were coming on Monday. Dad was pretty good. Enjoyed seeing the great-grandkids. Ariana was 17, Landon was 7, Peyton almost 4. Monday at the hospital it was just Dad and me. He hadn’t eaten for a couple days. They had left a piece of pie from his lunch tray. Suddenly he noticed it and asked, “you think I could have that pie?” “Sure, Dad. How about a cup of coffee with it?” “Yes, that sounds good. Do you think they have any ice cream around here?” I hustled out to the desk with his request. Soon he was eating his favorite dessert. I’m so glad I was there to talk and watch him eat. It was the last time, though I didn’t realize it then.
There was a heavy downpour of rain on Monday when they transported him to Hospice. He thought his room was wonderful. John and Dad watched the Tigers spring training baseball game that night. The Hospice doctor asked me to stop at Dad’s apartment on Tuesday morning before I came and pick up his medications. We left about 10. Dad was tired but still watching TV. He was unconscious by the next morning. Without the aid of strong antibiotics, there was just no fight left in him. He was ready. Ready to meet his Lord, see Larry after losing him 50 years before, plus Mom, his brothers and sisters, and his folks. It would be Wednesday night before God took him home. So painful to watch. His breathing was just horrible. Almost no air getting through his lungs. Part of me just begged him to please start breathing right, while part of me pleaded, dear God don’t make him take another breath. And the breaths were so far apart. We thought he was gone, 45 seconds later, another loud, excruciating breath. Hard, so hard. Until he moved to Michigan, I never considered Dad and I anything more than just being related by a fluke. But in his 3 plus years here, even though we had some tough moments, I’m so glad he was here with me. And I discovered how much I loved my Dad…
|Dad and me, summer of 1953…|