“I’m afraid I’ll have to call you back,” I say into the office line, “I have an emergency call.”
“There’s been a down turn,” says Dad’s nurse on the phone with Mum.
“It’s time to come back,” says Mum.
Thirty hours after I left him, I am back at Dad’s side.
When I walk into his room, the nurses have just moved him. He calls out, unsettled by the interruption from his dreams.
“I’m here Papa,” I say, “It’s Katie, I’m here.”
His head raised off his pillow as his eyes and arms reach out above him.
I don’t know what he’s experiencing, but I see a warrior spirit fighting his way out of a dying body.
I lean over him. I take both his hands into my own and hold them as gentle and firm as I can to his chest.
I’ve wandered far away from God, now I’m coming home
The path of sin too long I’ve trod, Lord I’m coming home
Coming home, coming home, never more to roam
Open wide thine arms of love, Lord I’m coming home
I sing it again and again, quieter each time.
Then, I hum the tune in bits and pieces all the while still holding his hands as they jerk and squeeze against mine.
Then, I remember what someone recently said. The hearing is last to go.
So I talk to my father. I tell him I love him. I tell him he is a beautiful soul. I tell him he has made the world a better place, that he has helped so many people and that they all love him too. I tell him it’s okay to let go.
Bit by bit, he calms and falls asleep.
“He used to call me Buttercup,” says a drop-in visitor I’ve never met before, “There was a song that went with it.”
The wave of visitors has calmed down to a trickle.
“It’s probably for the best you remember him as he was,” Mum tells the caring loved ones that continue to call.
“You deserve to be taken care of by lots of nurses,” says Buttercup, a retired nurse, “You fed all us hungry student nurses every Sunday.”
“We had such fun times, Sandy,” she says.
“Do you work?” asks Buttercup turning to look at me.
I tell her about my employer’s continued patience and compassion.
“He has a heart,” she says.
Three more days pass. Meals are now delivered to me and I only leave the ward for a shower in the mornings.
No longer able to speak, Dad talks to me by squeezing my hand.
As I walk the halls to the bathroom or for more tea, I notice the rotation of patients and their loved ones in other rooms.
One night, I hear sobbing from behind a closed door. The next morning, the door open, there is an empty bed.
“His big heart is keeping him going,” says Jessica.
A music therapist plays guitar and sings his favourite hymns. I watch his eyebrows rise at the chorus.
Doug reads Dad’s favourite book, Hornblower, aloud, while Susan and Mika take a shift at holding his hand.
Vera Lynn is the sound track behind the hours that pass.
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
“Can any of you come to the hospital today,” I text the grandchildren, “I’m having a hard time.”
Alone for too long, I need someone to share the weight.
“Okay,” replies Taeja, “I’ll bus there in a bit.”
We sip tea together as Dad sleeps and when Taeja gets up to leave, I am ready to face another night.
“His breathing has changed,” says the nurse who’s come in for his midnight medications.
Mum has told me there would be a change in his breathing at the end.
I get up from the cot and sit down beside him.
He has visibly changed in the past couple of hours. His eyes are foggy and there is little life left in his body.
I hold his arm and I say on repeat what I’ve been saying for days.
“I love you Papa. I love you Papa. It’s okay to let go.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” says the nurse, “He hears you and is telling you he loves you too.”
Dad in his final breath calls out to me. It is quiet, but it is the battle cry of a warrior. Brave and strong.
With his ring around my neck and his spirit in my heart, H A (Sandy) Ormiston dies on February 23rd, 2017 at 12:15am.
What a love story it’s been, Dad.
I love you for always.