Sunday, April 10, 2011

Our Elmer

My 89 year old step dad passed away on Sunday, March 27 2011.  I have been in denial about the inevitability of this happening for three years.  We almost lost him then.  That day was terrifying and is embedded in my heart forever.  After teaching a full day of school I received a call from my mom.  She said that Dad was weak and didn't want to go to the hospital.  She said he felt it was his time.  The Hospice nurses had been there to see him and confirmed that his body was in the last stages of dying.  So after making arrangements for Abbey to stay with my friend Jennifer until Brett could pick her up, I jumped in the car and drove to West Valley.  It was a very LONG twenty minute drive as I scoured my brain for Elmer memories.  I didn't want to forget anything.

Well, I take that back.  There was one memory I wanted to forget because it was the one and only time Dad ever got angry with me.  I was 12 or 13 and our church had contracted with local farmers in northern Idaho to change pipe morning and night to earn money for our ward budget and the soon to be built Seattle Temple.  My dad volunteered himself and us kids to help on the morning shift.  I went once or twice but hated the 4 AM wake up call and the messy, wet mud and grass we had to trudge through.  I didn't want to go and when he tried to wake me up the next time, I refused to get out of bed.  Dad tried to enlist Mom's help, but she didn't want to stand up to my teenage terrorizing.  So I stayed in bed and missed out on an important service opportunity, but more importantly I missed out on pleasing my dad and making him proud of me.

When I walked into his bedroom, Dad was on the bed hunched over with tears in his eyes.  I leaned over to talk to him and told him I was there.  His face brightened somewhat but then he whispered to me that he just couldn't do it anymore.  The "it" he was talking about seemed to be breathing and living.  The doctors at the VA Hospital had told him he was in congestive heart failure and that they really couldn't do anything for him.  So when the fluid started filling up his lungs again, he just didn't want to fight anymore.  Tears filled my eyes as I told Dad that it was okay, that we would miss him, but we could release him to heaven.  What was I saying?!!  I was giving him permission to leave us, but oh how I still needed him, my mom needed him.  Watching someone suffer really makes you say unbelieveable things.

So my step-sister Renae and I stayed that night to watch over him and my mom.  We said our good byes.  Brett and Abbey came to hug Grandpa one last time but then went home.  The rest of us all cried and waited.  I tried to sleep on the couch while Renae tried sleeping on the floor by Dad's bed.

Morning finally came and I went upstairs to check on Dad.  He was sitting up, and when I came into the room a half smile decorated his face as he said, "I'm still here.  I guess I had better make some plans." So he had cheated death again and continued to do that for three more years.  The plans he made included a bulletin board by his bed with positive sayings, scriptures, and photos on it.  His body was slow but his mind and spirit were keen and hungry for the hopeful fuel of endurance.  He had times when he was able to walk around the yard or go to the store.  He even drove the car at his best times.  One of the last outings he had was out to eat with Ben, Mary, and Ellie for my mom's birthday.  He loved buffets and was able to enjoy the attentions of a very helpful waitress that night.

So he endured in the most gentle way.  He never complained; he never questioned Heavenly Father's timing.  But when I mentioned a 90 year old birthday party for him this summer in our last phone conversation he let me know that he wouldn't be up for that.  I thought he was just being thoughtful of me and the work involved, but no, he probably knew what was coming.  Every time he fell ill I was certain he would rally back and he did, until two weeks ago.  Since Christmas he has been declining even more, but living half way around the world let me fool myself into thinking it wasn't serious.  When the protests and unrest in Bahrain started he had my mom call me and ask us to come home, right now.  It was so unlike him to tell anyone what to do, but he said he was scared for our safety.  I just thought I had done a poor job of keeping them informed about the political climate here in Qatar, so I gave them a reassuring talk about the differences between Bahrain and Qatar and let them know how safe we are here.  Now I look back and realize that again, on maybe an unconscious level, he wanted me to be home for my mom.

When my brother Dan traveled from Canada to Utah for my mom's birthday and stayed a few weeks, I guess Dad realized someone else would be with Mom.  He waited a few weeks until after her birthday and used that time to instruct my brother on important things like the outside sprinkling system.  He even found the time to tape extra washers to the inside of the bathroom vanity cabinet for someone to find easily when in need of a future faucett fix.  The last few days of his life were spent struggling to breathe, not eating, and trying to stay out of the hospital.  After a few days of agony, my mom couldn't watch Dad suffer anymore and sent him to the VA Hospital with Renae.  A few hours after the nurses got him settled in bed he slipped into a coma and never woke up again.  The pacemaker in his heart kept his heart beating until it was disconnected, but everything else had exhausted its mission on this earth.

We got an early morning call here in Qatar.  For some reason the phone calls had not reached us the day before, so we had no idea why Kristy was calling to Skype with us so early.  I thought it was good news about Jared's doctorate program possibilities coming through, but when I saw Kristy's face I knew it wasn't good news.  My body heaved with sobs and I held on to Brett after she told us.  I had meant to call my mom and dad the night before but fell asleep instead.  The world would not be as wonderful without our Elmer.  It would be a lot less compassionate and gentle.  It just couldn't be real.  But when Abbey and I stepped on a plane bound for Utah less than 24 hours later, it began to sink in.

When I sat on my dad's bed and looked at his bulletin board full of endurance messages the shred of calm I had left came undone.  He was the Elmer's Glue of our family.  We were broken when he came into our lives and he glued us back together.  He fell in love with my mom and us simultaneously.  He took on five children as his own in addition to the five he already had to support.  He helped us recover from the divorce of our parents and loved us completely.  He could talk to my real dad when my mom couldn't.  He was the voice of reason, calm, and peace in my life.

Our Elmer's voice is hushed now but his peaceful influence still continues.  I am thankful for his beautiful, comforting funeral that began the healing process for all of us.  I continue to mourn but don't feel shattered anymore.  I still feel the bonds of Elmer's Glue holding me together, and as I look to the earthly future, knowing that both my dads are in heaven, I feel their combined strength and know I will be okay.


lgrossygirl03 said...

Diana, what a beautiful tribute to your stepfather and a beautiful way to start my Sabbath morning.... thanks for sharing.

Karl and Afton said...

I love this detailed description of your father along with the pictures. He has a peaceful look about him, and you capture in words the greatness in his countenance. My condolences to all who loved him.

max en daan said...

dear Dianna, your words are so beautifull. He will always be with you, I wich I could do more the say my thoughts are with you and your family.
Love Patricia

Anonymous said...

Well you've got me in tears and I'm at work, what a beautiful story. You know my mom is still here but getting closer to depending on us more and more. I see the frailty (sp?) of her now and I do get a little sentimental when thinking about her future. She will be with my dad who she hasn't seen since I was 2 years old, what a reunion. Love to you all at a difficult time.
Love, Connie Powell

terahreu said...

What a lovely description of your father and his love for you and his family. I always wonder when a dreaded phone call will come to us while we are here. It is so difficult to be away during such a significant thing like losing a loved one. It sounds like you cherished all the time you had with him anyways. And eternity is forever.