Wednesday, November 23, 2016

So Many Tender Mercies

Remember when my family drove to Utah last Thanksgiving and surprised my parents? Or when my parents and siblings were all gathered in the temple last June? Those were definitely tender mercies, but I had no idea how cherished those memories would become.

Let me back up...

You may remember that my dad suffered a stroke at the end of September. It was scary, but other than a slight facial droop, there was no paralysis and the doctors expected a full recovery. He was only in the hospital overnight and we were hopeful he would soon be back to normal.

A month later, right about the time I left for the Virgin Islands, things still weren't right. My dad hadn't been able to sleep because, for reasons that couldn't be explained, his back hurt really bad. He couldn't eat solid foods. He could sort of tolerate soft foods and liquids, but it was hard to swallow and food just wouldn't go down. His symptoms were dismissed by his doctors and he was getting frustrated. Finally, after being told there were no appointments available, dad walked into his doctor's office on October 18th insisting that something was wrong. They gave him a muscle relaxer and sent him home. The next day, he went to InstaCare insisting that something was wrong. They gave him a steroid and sent him home. The next day, he went to the Emergency Room insisting that something was wrong. They admitted him.

Dad - finally resting in the hospital
To make a long story short, dad was in the hospital for 6 days. They found lesions on his liver and suspected a curable lymphoma. But after an endoscopy found a large tumor in his esophagus causing a 70% blockage to his stomach, they did a biopsy and the result was esophageal cancer. The same cancer was confirmed in his liver which meant it had spread. Stage 4. Terminal. No wonder he couldn't eat. No wonder his back hurt.

Dad left the hospital on Wednesday, October 26, the day he was diagnosed. By Thursday night, my brother was worried dad wouldn't be around long and encouraged us to come to Nevada. I headed out the next morning.

That weekend was another tender mercy. All seven kids were there and we had some really special moments with my parents. Dad told stories and shared memories. We discussed his treatment options. Dad needed to know that we were each okay with his decision to forgo treatment. We cried a lot, but there was plenty of laughter, too. Dad was too sick to attend church, but he wanted each of his kids to be there. Afterward, my brothers administered the sacrament for my parents which was a sacred experience I'll never forget. In typical dad fashion, dad took the biggest piece of sacrament bread even though he hadn't eaten any solid food for at least a couple of weeks. But then he asked if we had any question about his standing with Heavenly Father. We didn't. That's another tender mercy, knowing that dad was right with God and realizing the blessing of being raised by this great man.

The whole family together for two days. 
I stayed in Nevada from Friday to Friday. My brother, Rob, was there, too. Amy came back on Tuesday and we were so glad to have her RN experience. We had a couple of really rough days and nights as the pain intensified and dad could no longer tolerate his medication. That was the hardest part, seeing him in so much pain and being helpless to ease his suffering. I can honestly say that I cried more that week than I think I've ever cried before, ever.

When we called his oncologist to ask about hospice, she was shocked. She had seen him four days earlier and estimated he might make it six months without treatment. Even when hospice came in, I don't think they realized the magnitude of the situation. No one seemed to realize how rapidly dad was declining but us. Some meds were switched, but we were left alone to sit up with dad during the long, grueling nights. He had pain in his chest, his back and up and down his right side. He couldn't swallow his own mucous, but was too weak to cough. It was heartbreaking. For whatever reason, hospice nurses couldn't give him IV meds at home so the night before I left, he was taken to a hospice facility to try to manage his pain. Shortly after arriving, he slipped into a coma. We thought the new pain meds were finally helping him sleep. We didn't know he wouldn't wake up again.

I said my goodbyes as I left early the next morning. It was hard to leave knowing it would be the last time I'd see my dad alive. I wished I could hear just one more, "I love you, baby." I arrived home late that afternoon. Early the next morning, on November 5, my mom called to tell me that my dad had peacefully passed away.

Ten days from devastating diagnosis to death. But even in death, the Lord was merciful. We had time together at the end and dad didn't have to suffer for long. For those tender mercies, I am so grateful!

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