My stepfather was put on Hospice not long before he died. My sister and I had a plan to get to Wisconsin to see him knowing this is the end of a long suffering, slow season. This man had been through more hospital visits, medical ailments and treatments than anyone and yet, he kept persevering…. Through the weeks, months and years he survived countless scary moments and awful debilitating medical issues that left him slowly wilting in his fragile body. Something that never diminished through his journey was his spirit. The man was brilliant in his own right, and stubborn and arrogant in his own right. He had a heart for the few “special ones” in his life and quietly loved them all. He was fascinating and alluring. He was a teacher of sorts as he would share stories of long ago and his take on everything under the sun, that was both important and interesting. He was a soldier, having suffered through combat on the battlefield in World War II, he continued to re-live those days throughout the rest of his life as the trauma was imprinted on his mind, heart, and soul forever. As his body grew frail, the reality of his life ending was becoming more real…
My sister headed to Wisconsin first and I was to come immediately after my daughter’s big weekend of recitals. I wanted to go earlier, but I had a commitment to coordinate the order and dancers of both recitals backstage. It was something I needed to do and I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to help this wonderful dance ministry as I had promised, and be a part of my daughter’s big day. I had my bags packed and I was ready to leave the following morning as my husband was hired for the mama job. (Temporarily of course…. “Burn out” would ensue if not!) He would stay home from work and juggling kids “stuff”.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the second recital ending, I was near my things in the gymnasium and noticed my phone flashing a text light. Amidst the 180 dancers running around the heat of the gym in full costume celebrating the performance in total chaos and craziness from the long day of adrenalin and sweat, I read my sister’s text…
“Erle is dying now…he is waiting for you.”
Everything froze inside me, and the swirl of excitement and recital frenzy flew around me as my world stopped in panic and quickly changed to urgent fear and anguish. I immediately gathered my things and walked away from the buzzing mess of the backstage bonanza leaving things “un done” and prayed someone else could finish my job. I called my husband, who was out at the reception with my daughter and grandma and grandpa celebrating her wonderful performance. I hadn’t even seen my sweet baby through the non-stop day of working. Throughout the hours of running and organizing, I only gave her bits and pieces of admonishing with a “go back to your dance class! I am BUSY!” and “I can’t be with you right now! Mommy is working!”. Sadly, I did not even see her with a hug of praise after the shows. Many other students got it from me. Many dancers got my applause and hugs and cheers….just not her. My job that day was to love and encourage and coordinate all the dancers in each recital….and she was the one I neglected. Sad, but true. Each year she patiently watches as I work with and love on all the children around her….. She knows and accepts the reality of this work, but it can’t be easy.
I called my husband in the chaos of the auditorium and gym as I was walking out the door, leaving it all behind in a split second. I told him I had to leave for Wisconsin now….Erle is dying and waiting for me. Can he handle the kids and tell them I love them but cannot see them. That would be valuable time I needed to get to Erle. I had a long drive ahead of me… and both my tank and the car’s was low on fuel.
Praying that the adrenalin would carry me through the night, and scared to death about the travel through the wee hours of the morning, I packed my car in an anxious crazy minute and sent out a prayer request to my “posse” to cover me through the night. I was on my way….to give Erle one last hug and one last goodbye, praying that he would hold on for one more night. I thought, “how will he ever make it through the night?” “Can I make it in time???” It was so dark and wet and trucks dominated the road everywhere, as I held the wheel tight and kept focused on my mission. Seeing flashes of lightening in the distance I kept telling myself “that is heat lightening…” and kept driving forward.
By 1:00am, the flashes of light turned into a storm of great proportions….enough to make me pull over and cry. Gusts of wind and torrential rain kept most cars off the road as I decided to forfeit my attempts at driving through the night. I was completely exhausted and realized it wasn’t worth driving through storms in the black of the night for the next 5 hours. I gave up……cried….and found the nearest hotel. It was a disgusting hole in the wall, but I didn’t know where else to go in the middle of long highways without exits. I felt blessed to have found something off the exit I was on. I just couldn’t risk going any longer in hopes of finding another exit and a hotel. This stretch of road is long and empty.
I talk with two small town tattooed girls with cigarettes and cheetos in hand while conversing outside the hotel front doors. They were in charge. I entered a disgusting hotel room that had the stench of mold and realized I was in the worst hotel I had ever seen in my entire life. I didn’t want to touch anything….put my bags on the desk….and texted my sister with the news of my failed mission.
I told her that I didn’t want Erle to wait for me if he was suffering. I told her to tell him to let go if he needed to and I would understand. I felt horrible that he was waiting for me and I gave up trying to get to him. I was truly in a dramatic movie scene nightmare of its own kind….
Crying now and exhausted I go search for bugs in the bathroom as my phone goes off and I didn’t hear it. My sister had called to tell me that the hospice worker saw my text and decided to tell Erle what I said. Within minutes, his labored breathing slowed and came to a halt. My sister said it was peaceful and miraculous. The hospice worker claimed I gave Erle the greatest gift of all. My mom comforted me in saying that my presence was there with him, in a significant way.
I, on the other hand sobbed and sobbed in defeat and sadness…. In the dingy dark hotel. I sobbed into the hours of the morning…. Releasing all the angst, all the sadness, and all the fears that filled the tumultuous minutes of the last 24 hours of my life.
Goodbye ET. I love you…