Woman to Women
Cheers to Books, Root Beer and Angels
A grown-up daughter’s journey to help her dad live fully to the end
-Mary Beth Sammons
I have spent my career as a writer chronicling ordinary people who make an extraordinary difference in the life of others.
In the last two weeks, since my father has been tethered to the ICU angels who support him, love him and stay present for him as he faces what appears to be the end of a very full life – Hospice and what lies ahead – I have met many, many of them.
They are the nurses, respiratory therapists, PT’s, chaplains, paramedics, doctors, and all who show up daily to spoon out their compassion and caring on the fifth floor of Hinsdale Adventist Hospital in suburban Chicago. I could name names: Robert, Bert, Sue, Sharon, Dr. Talbert, Dr.Miller, Linda, Brittany … and I am sorry for not naming the dozens who care at his bedside round-the-clock.
On the eve of what appears to be Hospice, (however, my dad is a fighter beyond all fighters, the Rudy of medical odds, so I am the eternal optimist, despite what the doctors are preparing us daily for), I have learned to be grateful for the simple moments and the truths my dad has passed down to me.
One is a love for books and the life that they give. A love that gave me the career that has given my children and myself a life force sustaining us always. Last night, my dad asked to hold his book. He just wants to hold a book. I smiled remembering how two weeks ago, when the paramedics were hoisting him onto a stretcher, I held his hand and promised: “Dad, don’t worry. I’ll bring your book,” and grabbed his latest library find off the coffee table, to the grins and eye rolls of the hunky men in blue.
Now, I prop the book in his hands, and read to him, even though most days he is in a semi-conscious state, induced by the morphine that keeps him from writhing in pain (a state that is unbearable to watch a loved one endure). Never in my life did I imagine I would be reading Robert Ludlum and the Bourne Ultimatum. But here I am, early evenings reading and holding the free hand of the man who once rocked me endless nights to calm me during my baby colicky stage (a stage my kids will insist carried over today in the wee hour of the mornings when they have ignored a curfew and I am not too happy greeting them at the door). I’ve got my sister and brother reading to him too and making sure the Cub games are on, even when my dad is not. These days, he may or may not hear us, but I know that a book is his life source.
And root beer. During a rare coherent moment he asked Robert, our angel nurse, for a root beer last night during the Cubs game. Today, I did a drug cocktail of sorts … I doused the water we swab in his mouth (he has a feeding tube and can’t eat or drink) with a dab of root beer. He was delighted. Tomorrow, I promised him, I’m bringing the McDonald’s iced vanilla coffee that was his daily vice, during the last three years when all other treats were taken away to keep diabetes in check.
In all of what appears to be sadness, when you face what seems to be the end of life on this earth of someone you love, someone who gave you life, the blessing is that in those final days and moments, angels appear in the simple, real moments that are blessing. They are moments that will shape your life forever and help celebrate the rawness and realness of all of it.
So cheers, to root beer and holding a book. And a special thanks to my dad. In the simple pleasure of his greatest passion – reading – he gave me a life and a life force that today provides me with the financial ability to sustain myself and my children.
All I can give him now is a swab of root beer laced water. And read a few passages from his book. But, in those simple moments, the angels surround and goodness abounds. In the middle of our reading the other night, he opened his eyes and turned to me and said: “Mary, I am afraid to go. I am afraid I won’t go to God’s heaven.” I told him he was a wonderful man, a great father and grandfather and he’s going straight there. He smiled and said “thank you.” And then in a moment of extreme clarity and light, he looked at me and said: “How do you make money again, Mary?” And I tightened my grip on his hand and the book, and said …”Dad, I make my living doing what you love best. The book. Writing. Thank you.”