Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Giraffes Look Out Windows and Time Hangs on the Wall

We never know how the last moments with a loved one will affect us, or what we'll notice while we sit by their bedside and wait. But, in hindsight to my father's passing, these are the things I noticed, what I experienced, what was most profound as we held hands and waited. 

I enter his room for what might be the last time and squeeze behind the drawn curtain—the one that made him feel claustrophobic.

His brown eyes greet me as I bend low and kiss his ashen cheek. He draws a shallow breath and barely whispers, “Hello.” I pull the purple chair close because I want to hear every.last.word.

He thanks me for coming and caring since he took ill. “You’ve been so good to me and Mum.”

“It’s how I honor you, Dad. It’s the least I can do.”

Before he speaks again, I ask, “What more can I do for you?”

“Just hold my hand,” he whispers.

“Okay, now rest. Mom’s on her way. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

So, I take his hand—the one that used to hold mine—protect me, sat me on his lap while we watched the Wonderful World of Disney.

Our words are few because we've left nothing unsaid. We've asked forgiveness and forgiven; loved one another the best we knew how. God redeemed all our lost years and our brokenness so we could love one another well, even with all the sickness and physical demands over the past seven months.

Dad rests, but death hovers. I clasp his cool hands above the covers hoping my sweaty palms somehow spread warmth and comfort over him. Piano solos stream softly from my iPhone filling the silence between us as we wait. That’s when I notice the giraffe sitting on the window sill. This cute paper giraffe faces out—points away from death—toward the horizon. Huh. How profound, I think, as this giraffe distracts me; carries my thoughts from death to life. I squeeze my dad's hand and he squeezes mine as if to say, “It’s okay. Let me move toward that new horizon. Let me leave this old world behind.”

“Bang, bang, bang,” the hammering interrupts. A new patient arrives and the orderly hangs photos on the wall; frozen images in time. That’s how it feels for these dying patients…like time just freezes...hangs on the wall. The clock hands move, but death comes slow for the long-suffering.

Mom arrives within the hour and I let go, join the giraffe and keep watch on the horizon while time hangs on the wall.

The next morning I awaken, surprised the phone call hadn't interrupted my sleep. Giggling grandchildren fill my morning while my son grabs time for his farewell. When the phone finally rings, the nurse says, “Now.”

My son retrieves his children and I run out the door. I enter Dad's room where death feels palpable. His vacant eyes fool us into thinking death's already arrived, but the nurse says he's still there and he can hear. So I speak deliberate, intentional words. “I love you, Dad. No words left unsaid.”

The clock hands finally move. Time runs away, but I notice that giraffe's still sitting on that window sill keeping watch on the horizon where hope for all things new finally comes into focus.

I’m grateful for those moments alone with Dad the previous day. Many fear death, but I found his death brought the rawest emotions of love and gratitude than any other time we’d ever shared. I am forever grateful to have comforted him and held his hand while he waited to say farewell to all the family. We were never alone again. 

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