A few weeks ago, I knew my father’s health was failing. I’d visited my dad on Saturday, then on Sunday, at Mass, my pastor’s words truly resonated with me. “To have a home is not just to have a house. It is a set of close ties with people who accept us as we are, and who give us a feeling of belonging. In spite of all the buildings we put up and roots we put down, here on earth we do not have a lasting home.” He then cited the words of John’s Gospel, “There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. I am going to prepare a place for you. I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too.” His reflection ended with the words, “To die is to find Him, to meet Him, and to see Him. To die is to go to God, and to go to God, is to go home.”
His comments brought to mind the words my father uttered a year ago, “I want to go home.” “Let’s go home.” “I’m ready to go.” “Hurry, let’s get out of here.” He was in a San Antonio hospital, recuperating from a brain injury, probably from a fall, although he couldn’t remember. After eight weeks, we decided to take him home. He wasn’t like most patients, who’d successfully completed rehab and were happily discharged to home. Rather, my brother, sister and I decided he was so agitated and uncomfortable with his surroundings, we needed to get him home. We had to hire an ambulance to carry him the 80 miles home. He entered his house on a gurney, with a feeding tube surgically implanted in his small bowel.
In his home, waiting for us, were several new faces, an aide who would be responsible for his day to day care, her supervisor, who needed to check out the feeding tube and make sure all was in order, and his long-time housekeeper, who turned her head away when Dad rolled into the house, and seemed unsure that he was home again. Cans of formula were ordered, along with a pump, and people were coming and going with great purpose. Hard to believe that just 8 weeks before, Dad had been driving himself to work at his law office and living alone. My mother had died 3 months before Dad’s hospitalization.
Over many weeks and months, Dad improved, gained weight, and was eventually able to be weaned from his feeding tube. His speech therapist said he’d probably never be able to enjoy a steak again. We were thrilled that, little by little, he enjoyed food again. Eventually, he was able to eat anything put in front of him, including meat of all kinds. He began to gain weight and his brain seemed to be healing. He looked like his old self and we were thrilled. However, in the midst of some good conversation, it became clear that Dad never understood that he was home. He’d say, “Isn’t it amazing that no matter which city I go to sleep in, I always wake up in the same place?” And, “Can you believe that someone has taken the time to place pictures of our family and artwork just so, just like they were at home?” He became frustrated when we tried to assure him he was in the house he’d lived in for 60 years, at 302 E. Sarah Street, or when we opined that he’d been dreaming or was confusing dreams with reality. He’d say, exasperatedly, “Oh you all think I’m crazy!” Then, he’d ask over and over, how this phenomenon could occur, or if we’d had a similar experience. On a few occasions when I’d spent the night, upon rising in the morning, he’d ask, “How were your accommodations?” I resisted the urge to say, “Fine. Just like they’ve always been for the 50+ years that I’ve lived here!” When we asked how he was getting along, he’d often reply, “Just fine. Four star service, three meals a day!” I tried to be patient, as I realized that his house just didn’t seem like his home without Mom in it, and with all these different people, caregivers, coming and going at all hours of the day and night.
A few weeks ago, on Friday, June 6, my sister, brother and I all visited Dad at the home he’d lived in for 60 years. We talked, laughed, then hugged and, eventually, kissed goodbye. The next day, Dad passed away. His caregiver told me that he woke up that Saturday morning saying, “I’m leaving today.” He told her to pack his bags and make sure he looked presentable. He wanted to shower and shave for the first time in a few days. He also said that his children knew he was leaving. Mid-afternoon, he stood up from his nap, took a deep breath, and collapsed to the floor. We hated to see him go, but we are truly comforted by the thought that he’s finally home.