Preparing

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I am listening to my brother Dean in Dad’s bedroom, “I’m right here with you. I love you.” He’s telling him the story of chukar hunting with our sweet Springer Spaniels, Beall and Katie.

A little while ago I heard Maddie reading a beautiful passage from Kubla Khan, by Coleridge:

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree:/Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea

So twice five miles of fertile ground/With walls and towers girdled round:/And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,/Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,/Enfolding sunny spots of greenery…”

I hope my Dad is imagining himself in a sloop on that sacred river, on his way to his mother, my mother, and his daughter, Midge. Or perhaps out in a field on a frozen morning in Eastern Washington, quietly walking through the stubble of a wheat field.

He is on his way. He took a turn for the worse a couple of days ago, and his heart – that has served him so long and well – just can’t do it any more.

I have set the table in the living room with things that have meaning: the pictures of my mother and my brothers that he has commented on so often in the past week; his college Shakespeare volume that Tommy thought to fish out; a bear from my cousin Louise and her daughter Mary; beeswax candles from my cousin Lynn and her husband, Henry; Remy Martin VSOP brandy; memory books I created for Dad; a collection of his favorite memorized passages; and chocolate, lots of it. Chocolates given by my mother and father-in-law for Christmas; Frango mints that were my grandmother’s favorites; chocolates brought in December by my friend Lisa.

Dad hears us and knows we’re here, though he cannot respond. Other family members arrive tonight and tomorrow. I don’t know what moment Dad will choose to let go; he doesn’t have any experience with quitting.

As Dale Swan, the Sutter Hospice chaplain, said to me, “This isn’t giving up. This is his victory lap after a life well lived.”

What I think I will say to my Dad is what Dad said to Mom as he held her hand, when her heart stopped on May 10, 1999: “I love you. You will be with your mother and Midge. And I will be with you again.”

We will miss you, Dad. I am so incredibly grateful for the legacy of your love in my life.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Preparing

  1. Sharon Swanson

    I love you Betsy. I love you all.

  2. Ann Lucas

    Betsy, my mother and father died within 6 weeks of each other in 1997 – my mother on the day after Mother’s Day (like yours) and my father on the day after Father’s day. My mother had Alzheimer’s, so we never quite knew when she left; my father was admitted to hospice care the day she died. Your reflections have helped me process so many things I didn’t even know were left over. I am so grateful of the gift you have had of your Father – and how your gift extended to me. Thank you. I hope the honesty you’ve exhibited in your blog pays it forward for you – that someone will help you in the way you’ve helped me.

  3. Chris Pennell

    Betsy, We are at some time in the future going to lose our daughter in law Kari to a long battle with leukemia at age 31. Reading your blog on this site has been very comforting to me. You’ve allowed me to delve into feelings that I have been shoving down for many months.
    I knew both your parents well through St. Andrews – Hank helped Bill my husband get a job at Weyerhauser = 30 years there now retired. I sang with your Mom in the choir.
    Your family is in my daily prayers. I leave you with this prayer for your household.

    A.S.A.P. = “Always Say A Prayer”
    GOD our Father, if it is your will, walk through my house and take away all my worries and illnesses. And please watch over and heal my family in Jesus name, Amen

    • Chris thanks for sharing this heartfelt note. Hopefully we will see you at Dad’s service, which we’re trying to schedule for Feb. 16. My thoughts are with you and Kari. So very hard. 31.

  4. I read the email you sent to Ellen,

    So sorry to hear of this, but I knew this was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.

    Reading the email, had me crying a little as I was already at that state from something I both saw, and read just prior.

    Love you dear one and glad you came into our lives when you did.

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