On Tuesday, September 12th, my dad took Flight 10:06 am and departed, home. I was fortunate to see and be with him 90 of the 95 days during his final journey. I was there at the beginning and with him at the end. We are taking things, not one day at time, but minute by minute. Today, I had to go back to the hospital to pick-up some Insurance paperwork. I planned to use this opportunity to deliver a few copies of the program for dad’s “Celebration of Life” service. Hard to believe that 34 days ago, I left St. David’s Hospital with mom, both of us trying to wrap our heads around what had just transpired, both of us grieving and contemplating a physical life, without him.
During his hospital stay, dad had spent time in a room on every floor; 2,4,5 and briefly on the 6th during cardiovascular surgery. The only floor he did not stay on was the 3rd and that was because it was designated for maternity patients. We have met some incredible and caring people because of him and the life he lived. More than 600 attended or viewed his farewell service.
I’m not ok, but then again, I’m not supposed to be. Driving towards the hospital, I instinctively went into autopilot as I approached Exit 236 in Austin. And without warning, immediately everything that had transpired in those 95 days came rushing back. The hospital, is just 10 minutes from my house, and this had become an almost daily route. But it had been more than a month, so I had to stop in hospital driveway and gather myself before driving into the parking garage. I reached for another one of those annoying parking tickets. Some days, I recall pulling as many as four tickets out as I shuttled mom back and forth from my house to relax, sleep, shower and cook for her then we’d return to St. David’s for an overnight stay.
I also had to stop at the garage elevator, confirming the floor that I parked on, so I could remember where I parked. Walking into the hospital 1st floor lobby, I bypassed the main elevators, thinking two of them are still not working. Then took the stairs up to the 2nd floor. Opening the stairway door, everything was, as if, I had never left, the only thing missing was that today I wasn’t going to see my dad in room 21.
Passing the Nurse’s desk, I glanced right towards dad’s room, but quickly turned the opposite direction and headed for the Discharge Office at the end of the hall. I knocked on the glass office window. Erin, our Discharge manager spun around in her chair and greeted me with tears. So I shifted into her role of counseling and grief management. She gently handed me the Insurance papers and I showed her the program. She held it, tightly and flipped it over to the back cover and when she saw that last picture. Well, we hugged and then I cautiously headed back down the hall, passing patient rooms like I had done hundreds of times before. Respecting their privacy, but knowing that some were in the midst of their own life storms.
As I walked back to the Nurses desk. I saw a guy who could pass for a family member dart into room 22. Something made me pause. Then he quickly walked back out. And I knew that look, that walk, the way his head started to hang down and slowly shake side to side. That was me, a month ago. I said “Hey brother, come here.” He looked up at me and started walking towards me and I told him, ”It’s gonna be ok, man, whatever it is, just try to be present and optimistic. And give yourself some grace, we’re human.” At first, he was extending his hand for a shake, but as he heard my words, his body language and demeanor changed and he went all in… and so I hugged him deeply. I let him determine if/when to pull back from the embrace. And he did so, slowly. He said “My dad is going through it.” I told him about my recent journey with my dad, across the hall in room 21, just 34 days ago. And that this was my first time coming back to St. David’s. He said “How did you know I needed this? I said “Apparently, someone up there is listening to you. A minute earlier or later and this wouldn’t have happened. I guess he thought you needed a credible messenger. So here I am. He is always on time”. I shared a few more comforting words, then I left and he followed me past the Nurse’s desk. I headed to the elevator and selected the 5th floor. He looked at me, smiled, pointed to the heavens and then exited down the stairway to the 1st floor.
Walking down the hall, I approached the Nurses desk. Someone rushed up and said “I was just thinking about your dad, how is he?” I didn’t need to say a word, my expression spoke volumes. I couldn’t remember her name, but I remembered her taking control and helping to stabilize dad when he came out of ICU in June. She embraced me and I shared a service program with her. I told her “I wanted to leave one at the Nurse’s station, but I’m so glad to be able to place it in your hands. God is strategic like that.” We chatted, hugging repeatedly. She glanced at it. And gave me another hug, saying “I’m sorry, this one is really for me. But you and your family….. Ya’ll we’re different. Still some buzz around here, even after a month. That rarely happens.”
I turned the corner and headed over to the ICU section. This is the lobby where I took client calls and had Zoom meetings during the day. We didn’t know on that Saturday in June when we arrived, that this would be the first of four major surgeries under anesthesia and that dad would not be coming home.
As I turned the corner and headed down that familiar long slanted hallway, the Chaplain greeted me. He remembered me and mom, we spoke for a bit the day before dad passed. He said, “You’re the author”. Then he looked in my eyes and he knew. He said a prayer for us, for peace, comfort and strength. He embraced me and shared a story about the loss of his father and how he and his mom struggled, but came out on the other side stronger because of faith, memories and his constant, guiding and comforting presence.
I finally arrived at the ICU entrance and waved my hand over the entry pad. The doors opened slowly, like always. Before I could reach the front desk. Someone said “Hey Friend! How’s your dad? It was Yolani, one of the first people we met when dad arrived at St. David’s. She looked at me, and then burst into tears…. “Ooh No, No…. I’m so sorry.” We hugged and she asked about mom. Then I said “Just a second.” I grabbed my phone “Hey mom, there’s someone that really wants to talk to you.” They spent a couple minutes reuniting and supporting each other, I could hear mom’s voice cracking, but holding steadfast in her faith. Before I left, Yolani said “Thank you for closing the loop. People come and go, but some, never really go. Your dad and your family are special. The kind that makes an impact and imprints kindness, hope and inspiration onto people. And with the type of work that we do each day, we really need that. I’m taking the program to our private area after I get myself together.” I told her that mom was already planning a return trip here with more peanut brittle. She smiled and said, “You Francis’s”
I took the stairs down to the 4th floor and came out by the elevators that lead straight to dads’ old room, 421. God is always right on time. Both of the lady’s that cleaned his room met me in the hallway. Looking at me as if they were dreaming, Ofelia and Teresa immediately rushed towards me. Both of them used to support moms room supply hoarding problem and brought her coffee and snacks. But neither of them knew….., so I shared the news again and each had tears of disbelief and sadness in their eyes. I wiped Teresa’s cheeks. It’s been a while since I’ve been a part of impromptu trifecta hug, but it felt wonderful and genuine. As visitors and staff walked by in the hallway, I know they were wondering “What is going on? Why is this big guy, hugging the room cleaning staff and why are they all crying.” I told Ofelia and Teresa that we would be back. Mom had some snacks and things that she wanted to give to them. They laughed and smiled. As I walked away, I looked back and they were standing still, dazed, looking at each other.
I walked pass the last Nurse’s desk on my itinerary with the last copy. I paused and looked up at the big screen that had all patient names, age, nurse and doctor on this section of the floor. I used to check it every day as I headed to dad’s room to see who was taking care of him today. I had another moment. So I stopped, gathered myself and sighed. Then someone said “Hey there! I remember you.” Rebecca didn’t know either. I told her what happened and where we were in the healing process. She said “I would be honored to take his program service into the nurse’s lounge. So many people are gonna want to see it. That’s an amazing picture on the back.” Then she stopped and looked at me. ”Ooh My God, there’s an acknowledgement about us, the St. David’s staff!.” She started crying. “This just doesn’t happen often and if it does, we don’t ever know about it. Thank you so much for coming back”. Another hug, then I headed to the elevator and back down to the 1st floor to the lobby. I paused and had another moment. But then I smiled and thought. Dad would be proud of this day. And I, well I’m a lot more like my dad today, than when I arrived here 100 days ago and for that I am grateful.
Reflectively, I realize that Returning was not just therapeutic and provided some closure for me, but it was meant to do the same for others. Things happen for a reason, even if it is not obvious to us. Your presence and words just might be the non-prescription medicine that someone else requires.