Dad’s Denouement, Part 4: How To Be Pro-Life
After Dad went into the ICU, everything started happening so quickly, trying to even remember it seems like a blur. In real time, Dad was only in the hospital for 4 days, but it felt like a solid month.
People started showing up from all over the place. Mom’s parents, Dad’s friends, my uncles, some of my friends. Several times I would come into the room and someone new and unexpected would be there. Hopefully it was someone Dad liked, but he was still polite when it wasn’t.
After that seemingly endless first day, Dad was in a slow decline. His speech, already hard to understand, continued to get worse. Most of this was that the effort of speaking was enormous. He had to save up his energy to be able to have the smallest conversations.
In this time, there were basically only two things Dad said: He made jokes and he praised God.
Dad was a Christian (I suppose he still is) and more than one of Dad’s pastor friends visited us. When they read from the scriptures to Dad, he would always respond with praise.
“Praise… be… to God” Dad would push out with effort. When his dear friend of many years with whom he started a church came by and read to him, Dad concluded the reading with “I know… my Redeemer… lives”.
I would always have a conversation with the pastors or friends after they visited. Dad’s pastor and I went to lunch to discuss how a funeral works, who I need to contact for what, planning the service, who will speak, pictures for a slide show. I felt cynical planning this since Dad was still alive, I ended up saying things like “Well, he’ll probably be gone by Monday, so maybe we should plan for the following week”.
As we planned for the inevitable, we had some family discussions about how Dad would want to go. Mom didn’t want him kept alive with artificial means, but did that mean not feeding him? Or not draining the fluid in his abdomen? Not fighting the infection? There is a wide range of things that can be done to keep someone alive. What would Dad want?
This was an important question because Dad was ferociously pro-life.
Don’t take this to mean strictly that he was anti-abortion (although he was) because for Dad pro-life came from the idea that every human being was created in God’s image. Every life was sacred. Life was a great gift from a great God to be protected and cherished.
Growing up, I took this for granted. I see a lot of people angry because people who wear the mantle of “pro-life” don’t seem to respect life outside of the womb. I never thought that was what it meant because Dad never acted that way.
While I was growing up, every couple of years our house would get really crowded because Dad would invite entire families into our house. Families who would have otherwise gone homeless were invited in, given a place to stay and food to eat. And Dad would find work so they didn’t feel like they were there on charity.
To Dad, this holistic pro-life stance meant a sacrifice of time and money. A lot of time. And a lot of money. It meant sacrificing comfort in his own home. It meant turmoil and strain that he could have easily avoided. It meant taking the struggles of others and bearing it with them.
He never stopped doing it. Even after the cancer, even after the chemo, he still went to downtown Atlanta to talk at job-training ministries, helping families pick themselves up and try to stabilize. He was so insistent on doing this, on helping others, on living his life ferociously, I sometimes wonder if he wore himself down with it.
But if he did, then he would have thought it was worth it.
So what would Dad have wanted when it came to ending this life, a life so deeply treasured and tenaciously lived? In the end, we decided to allow the doctors to stop giving Dad pressors. The pressors kept his blood pressure up, but it was still dangerously low. After they turned those off, he would probably pass quickly.
In his life, Dad grieved over a total of 5 miscarriages. Some his wife suffered, some his daughter, some daughters-in-law. Dad believed the souls of these lives he never got to meet would be there in heaven. Dad loved this life, he fought for it. But he couldn’t wait to see them there. Every life was precious.