Daddy Dean’s Journey: A Week of Grace & Grief, Day 1

Apr 8th
prayer (2)

I’m finding grief to be not like the stereotypical dark, hovering cloud, but more like a portion of my heart has been removed, not to grow back or forget it’s original whole, forever changing my journey forward with a new heartbeat, a changed rhythm.

My dad died days ago on April 2, 2013. It’s the first time I’ve written the date, one that will alter each day on the calendar since. And I’ve been itching to retrace hisĀ  journey, to put words to the amazing, God-ordained moments in his week from stroke to final breath. It’s a journey touching Spirit to every human sense. It’s real-time, raw, and I’m convinced as I process, God will bring to mind specific moments where He reached down and comforted, spoke, healed, and lapsed time to make Himself known. Even in death. Even in losing my dad.

Tuesday, March 26

It was just last Tuesday, Family Life Group Night, our one time a month we gather as families, kiddos included, and enjoy community. It always involves food and it never disappoints. This particular night beckoned ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ and no one was more amped for french toast at 5:30pm than I. Driving over, I heard the phone ring but was steering with one hand and holding the egg-dish-wrapped-in-a-beach-towel with the other. At a stop sign I checked my mom’s voicemail: “Dad had a stroke. Call me.” These are the moments that blur. The transition from news to hospital arrival. I remember running into Brian and Donna’s, muttering “Dad had a stroke! Can we leave the boys–?”

“We’ve got it. We’re good. We’ll take care of them. Go.” Our second family, that’s the kind of friends these people are.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic gave us time to arrange for Leanne to pick up the boys at the Rottschaffer home, take them home and tuck them into bed. Em would be by later to relieve her until we got home.

Reese, our niece, was the first person we spotted in the waiting room. A bright smile in an unsure situation, I clutched her for minutes and walked down the hallway. She offered hope and life and beginnings, having turned one just the weekend before.

Already the waiting room was mixed with family and friends; sitting, standing, praying, hugging, waiting for the news.

What was going on? How was dad/Dean?

Mom filled us in.

Dad had taken that day off from teaching to…

Meet with his tax guy in Long Beach.

Update all their insurance.

Fix a light in the front yard.

Put a new toilet seat on in the downstairs bath.

He’d even written Drew a note, telling my brother he’d turned over “all his earthly treasures,” signing off with his typical, “I love you, dad.” {ironic?}

On his way home, he’d driven PCH and stopped at the Huntington Pier, his happy place. {The apple does not fall far from this beach-loving guy!}

He’d greeted mom in the kitchen, they talked about their day, and made plans to meet friends for dinner before returning home to host weekly Bible Study in the living room. Dad mentioned a headache and walked upstairs to lay down for a bit. Not one minute later, Mom rounded the stairs into their bedroom, and there lay dad, his right hand raising up and down in slow motion. Words mumbled as he attempted to speak. Mom grabbed his face. Their eyes met, and then his hand stopped. One pupil grew while the other remained unchanged. She ran. She dialed. The ambulance arrived and in five minutes the world stopped and fast-forwarded.

Details that followed were a whirlwind of facts. Although a Kaiser patient, dad was transferred to the Stroke Center at St. Jude. Dr. Noblett, a neurosurgeon for the sister hospitals, called my mom’s cell to introduce himself and discuss my dad’s condition as the paramedics updated him. It appeared dad had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and was “actively dying.” He’d stopped breathing, slipped into a coma, and had been put on a ventilator in the ambulance. Chances of survival were less than 50% but he assured mom he’d do everything he could. Not your average phone call.

Here’s the clencher about hospitals, nevertheless, waiting rooms. It’s like watching a movie- actors entering and exiting scenes, changing scripts, sterile lighting- the farthest thing from real life. Yet, here we were, plopped in the middle of a movie we had not auditioned for. It was almost comical except for the fact that it wasn’t. Everywhere I looked over-sized, tear-shaped hand sanitizer stands loomed. Like insensitive aliens crouched in corners. White walls, white floor, too-firm chairs brought no sense of home to an already out-of-body experience. I longed for my couch at home, overstuffed and no doubt littered with legos, bathed in warm light from the floor lamp and family pictures hanging above. Here, the only hung art were framed posters in rainbow hue writing. Gag. I probably re-decorated that waiting room and lobby dozens of times in the minutes leading to hours as we waited for dad’s news.

Our dear friends, the Rae’s took coffee orders and I remember asking mom what she wanted. She wasn’t hungry, but going on 9pm with no food, I forced her to decide.

Mocha Frappuccino with no whip!

Really? No whip? Dad may not come out of this and you’re worried about a few calories? I ordered her double whip.

Never before had the clock inched so slowly. Over the next 2 1/2 hours I vasilated between crying and imploring God Almighty. I excused myself from conversations for time alone, then entered back into conversations. So so surreal. I remember snippets of conversations. Catching up with Cori, a friend and mentor about my last conversation with dad. Later, asking Joni, a nurse and dear family friend what the chances of survival were. Shoot straight, I’d said. Just tell me. Her eyes spoke truth and compassion. It didn’t sound good. And I needed that. Please don’t sugar-coat or skirt issues. Shoot straight.

And then a hush fell as Dr. Noblett pulled my mom, Drew and Jen, and me and Bryan into a circle to deliver the news. I held my breath the entire time he spoke, aware that on the other side of our family’s semi-circle were 75 people watching our reaction, studying our faces. The movie kept going. Our scene was being shot. Where was that darn script? Could someone please soften the fluorescent lighting?

Dad has survived the surgery. The hemorrhagic stroke had proven to be a brain bleed the size of an orange! Pressure from the bleed had pushed part of his brain against his skull, rendering it “dead” and had been removed. Part of his skull had been taken out to relieve pressure. The next 48 hours were critical. Were there any questions?

Um, yes! Is my dad going to be okay? Is he going to come home with us? Is this whole thing a horrible dream? There were a million questions with no concrete answers. The week before I’d stayed up til midnight talking with him in our living room. The boys had hid his shoes like they always did. And now? Now he was in a coma? End scene. Cut. I don’t want to be in this movie.

Our family circle joined the extended family, about 75 people who had showed up to say ‘We love you. We hurt with you. We are here for you.’ Don Marshburn, a steadfast man of faith and a cornerstone in my parent’s church and life prayed for dad. I don’t remember a word he said, but I do remember thinking there was no one else I wanted talking with our Savior on behalf of my dad’s life in that circle than him. It was a holy moment, one forever etched in my soul.

After hugs were offered and comforting words shared, the crowd dispersed and our family made our way to the 4th floor, CCU, Critical Care Unit, Room 47. Down the hallway, we floated, unified, scared, but with a peace knowing God was in our midst. A wife, a dad, a father-in-law, a Papa, we were coming to see him. Later mom would share that the song playing in her head in those hallways steps was “Ode to Joy,” specifically the following lines:

Thou art giving and forgiving,

Ever blessing, ever blessed.

Wellspring of the joy of living,

Ocean depth of happy rest.

Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,

All who live in love are Thine,

Teach us how to love each other

Lift us to the Joy divine.

Even now, these words bring a smile at how God’s Spirit prompted for dad’s days ahead.

Today, Lord, please Teach us how to love each other. The way dad did. The way You do.