March 6, 2020

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Waiting for missing sheep shows dad’s final act of love

Patti LambMy dad was born into eternal life a month ago.

My family is grateful that he died in the comfort of his home, surrounded by his wife, his nine children and other beloved relatives and friends.

But I am especially grateful, and I’ll explain why.

First, to provide some context, we anticipated dad’s passing a few times before his earthly body was spent. We are thankful to the priests—Father Paul Shikany, Father Paul Landwerlen and Father Rob Hausladen—who came to anoint dad in his last days. Each priest ministered to our dad and to our family in his own unique way, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Their visits brought us peace and served as powerful reminders that I need to increase my prayers for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

I’ll skip ahead to the Thursday when dad actually passed from this life. He continued to decline through that day, and the hospice nurse explained that dad was in the stage of “actively dying.”

“His kidneys have stopped working,” the nurse explained.

“Now, it will be a battle between the lungs and the heart,” he said.

I’ll share some more background here. Three days earlier, I started a new job, and I wanted my employer to know that I was fully committed to my position. But I desperately wanted to be present to my dad.

I cut to the chase with the hospice nurse.

“Are we talking hours or days?” I inquired.

The nurse explained that he’s seen the process go up to 18 days.

Thinking we were looking at a long, emotional few days or weeks, I went home to eat and rest, preparing to resume work in the morning.

The rest of my siblings stayed—even though they were beyond sleep deprived. Hours later, I received a call from my sister, who offered to send her husband to pick me up and take me to my parents’ home since dad seemed to be declining rapidly.

My brother-in-law arrived to pick me up at 6 p.m. At 6:05 p.m., my sister texted her husband and I saw this message on the phone mounted on the dashboard: “He stopped breathing. He is in heaven.”

I missed it. In my grief, through tears and gritted teeth, I told myself that I was selfish for wanting to go home to recharge. I was the only sibling not there when he took his final breath, and I’d never be able to change that.

We arrived around 6:29 p.m., and the shade was open. I saw my mom and siblings standing around dad’s body. Sheepishly, I walked in, expecting to hear sobbing. Instead, I walked in the door, and my siblings cheered.

“She’s here, dad!” they exclaimed.

“Get in here!” my brother cried. “He’s been waiting for you!” he added.

I didn’t understand. I thought dad had passed at 6:05 p.m., when he stopped breathing.

My sister, a nurse, had her fingers on dad’s neck.

“His heart is still beating,” she said.

“When you weren’t here, we asked him to hang on until number nine got here,” another sibling added.

I immediately knelt down by dad’s bed, kissed him and thanked him for waiting. Tears of joy and sorrow felt hot as they slid down my face.

“It’s still beating, but it’s getting slower,” my sister said.

About a minute after I arrived, she could no longer feel his pulse. Procuring a stethoscope, my sister confirmed that there was no longer a heartbeat.

“He’s gone,” she whispered.

After his kidneys stopped working, his lungs stopped working, so technically, dad’s heart won the fight. His heart was beating until 6:31 p.m. Good hearts always have a way of prevailing.

My dad was born into new life on Thursday, Feb. 6, the feast of St. Dorothy. Dorothy is our mother’s name.

I am especially grateful to dad, for using his heart with all of his might to work the hardest to finish the fight. He waited for me, the missing sheep, who wandered off. When I finally returned and the family was together, he gave his heart back to God.

My dad’s last act reminded me that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, never stops seeking his lost sheep and pouring out compassion on them.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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