Dad had been diagnosed with cancer since September and the doctors weren’t sure he’d make it until Christmas, but the one thing Dad wanted was his family to be together with him for Christmas. Plans were made and the family aimed for Boxing Day. My brother and his family would even fly in from the East Coast. Dad was happy and looked forward to the day very much. He talked of little else.
Every year we made an effort to take Dad out for supper, but as the day neared it became more and more obvious that Dad would be too sick to leave the Hospice. After asking the Hospice if we could have use of their dining room, we were informed the volunteers of the Hospice would be needing the space on Boxing Day for their annual Christmas dinner that they hosted for the patients and their families. They wanted to provide for our family, but we would be a large gathering…almost 30 people, mostly kids. It wasn’t long before they got back to us. They would be pleased to host our family gathering – a sit down potluck meal in their dining room. What a blessing!
As Christmas neared, Dad got more and more sick until the day he didn’t wake up. I went in for my daily visit with him and just held his hand and talked to him. I assured him his whole family was coming and looking forward to our Christmas dinner. Less than a week to go. Family came to visit more and more often. My brother and his family arrived. I was so glad they had this chance to visit with Dad. I’m sure he was very pleased.
Then our little Christmas miracle happened. On the morning of Christmas Eve, when I went in to visit Dad, I found him sitting up in the chair beside his bed! He was awake and already receiving visitors. Family came and family went that day, in and out as time permitted. I couldn’t stay long but others did. I was hosting our family’s annual bowling get-together and the cousins would all be there. The kids were really looking forward to it, as was I. Dad must have understood his end was near as he asked for his prayer book and prayed while visiting. When I left, Dad was even having a beer with my sisters and joy radiated from his face!
The next day Dad was in bed again. This time he didn’t get up. He was laying there peacefully when I went in for my visit. It was Christmas Day. My brother and his wife and kids were there visiting Dad. My youngest brother came in also to visit Dad as well as my two sisters. We were all there together visiting quietly while Dad slept. I left so that I could make it home for Christmas dinner. I made it as far as picking up my oldest daughter from her fiance’s house when the call arrived there to return to the Hospice. Dad would be receiving his Last Rights and was not expected to make it.
I returned to the Hospice. I met the priest as he was leaving and thanked him for coming. My brother’s daughters were picked up so now we were just my 2 brothers, my 2 sisters, myself and my sister-in-law. After a short time we moved to the visitor’s room beside my Dad’s room. We visited quietly. My 2 sisters went out on that Christmas Day in the hopes of finding us some supper. After much driving around they returned with a couple of packages of hotdogs, some drinks, a bag of Oreos and some Dorito chips. Although far from glamorous, that Christmas meal was probably our most precious memory. It was the first time we had ever all been together as adults without the kids present, so it was different from other times. We laughed, we reminisced and we had a great time. We felt guilty at times being next door to Dad who was so sick, but I think he would have been pleased. With a promise from the Hospice to let us know if things changed, we all left for home and prepared to return with our families the next day.
Boxing Day found us back at the Hospice with kids and gifts in tow. Dad was still in a coma but we all took turns visiting him in his room. The meal was grand and the kids ate, enjoyed their Christmas crackers and quietly amused themselves. As family members left, a few of us stayed behind. I took my Dad’s hand and spoke quietly to him, assuring him that he had done a great job as a Dad and that we would be fine without him. He could now go. Our Christmas family meal was over. Even though his eyes never opened a tear trickled down his cheek. Not long afterwards Dad was gone. Gone but not forgotten, and Christmas always brings with it the sweet memory of Dad and our last Christmas together.
Thanks Dad. You will always be in my heart.