After the burly guys from the ambulance shifted Dad from the hospital bed to the stretcher, one asked how he was feeling.
“Well, after receiving my diagnosis last night, we have clear answers and that's good. We’re glad we came to the hospital. I have the peace of God in my heart.”
In the emergency room the night before, Dr. Farmer deftly lead my father to understand he was dying. The words he chose were kind and sure.
Dr. Farmer looked at Dad. “Earlier this year your kidney function was 1/2 of what it should be."
Dr. Farmer looked at me. “Then it went to 30%.”
Back to Dad. “Now it’s at 10%.”
I moved my chair next to the head of Dad’s bed so the tennis match head moves could stop.
“This condition isn’t reversible. You can start dialysis or you can tell me to go to hell. If you were my grandfather, I’d want you to go home and have time with your family.”
Silence, and tears rolling down Dad's cheek and mine.
“Mr. Atkins, these decisions shouldn’t be made in the emergency room. Let’s keep you over night.”
Dad wanted me to go home for awhile and I understood his introverted self needed time to process. I asked if he’d like to talk to a chaplain. None were on-call that night so the house supervisor came, a woman who does hospital visits for her church. She and Dad had a good talk.
I was back before the sun came up Saturday morning. When the tech arrived to draw blood, after much tapping, she couldn’t find a good vein. “Dad, if you don’t want to have your blood drawn, you can tell her.”
In his basso profoundo preacher voice he told her politely and deliberately, “I don’t want to have my blood drawn.”
With that all medical interventions for curing ceased.
We are at Dad’s assisted living now, in the apartment he moved to in 2006 soon after Mom died. These people, the residents and staff, are family.
There’s been a steady stream of oldsters coming in to kiss him or hold his hand or cry. I’ve noticed they park their walkers outside the door and come in on their own power. It’s quite something to see.
A staff member came and held his hand yesterday, then asked for ‘her blessing’. Dad put his hand on her head and proffered a prayer for her to be a light to the residents she’d see during her day. I learned this morning he has done this for others here for a long time.
Dad’s mind is sharp. His funeral service prepared. Burial instructions given. He’s considering how much time he has left. He’s sad. He's thoughtful. He’s peaceful. He’s grateful for his life. Forgiveness has been ask for and given.
With Dad’s permission and full understanding, I started making videos yesterday. He wants to help me teach, an astounding legacy I will hold with great care.
I said to Dad Saturday morning, "this is so hard, and so good that your mind is clear and you can give and receive love and tell people goodbye and they can tell you good-bye... And my goodness I'm going to miss you."
An extraordinary village is coming together to walk Dad home. Such a sweet and tender time for which we are incredibly grateful.
Martha Jo Atkins, Ph.D., LPC-S is the Executive Director of Abode Contemplative Care for the Dying in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Atkins is a professional counselor, coach, and researches and teaches about the trajectory of dying. You can learn more about Abode Contemplative Care for the dying at www.abodehome.org. You can learn more about Dr. Atkins at www.marthaatkins.com or find her on Facebook here or here.