There are certain days in the course of a year that stand out beyond the others. They are marked by the memory of significant personal or family moments, and require attention as you live through those days. In 1969, the days of July 20 and 21 became imprinted into my mind, as Apollo 11 landed, and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. What a fascinating time in our world’s history!
However, 24 years later – 28 years ago – something as significant happened to our family. It started in the Spring actually, as we heard about Dad’s persistent cough. Now, Dad was a pipe smoker forever, and often had cough that coincided with infusing smoke into his lungs, but this seemed different.
I don’t need to go into all the details, but it turned out he ended up in the hospital, as they did a lung biopsy, and found what looked like the remnant of a cancer tumor. However, he just didn’t get better. I was living here in Fargo, and ended up flying a number of times down to Fort Worth to see him, and to give Mom a little relief. There were nights I stayed up all night in his hospital room, as he suffered unfortunately with the side effects of morphine to dull the pain. Trouble is, it kept him awake, and brought on a variety of hallucinations. They were long days and nights, and a number of the children in the family took turns watching over him.
But he didn’t get better. Finally, the Air Force flew him down to their military hospital in San Antonio – Wilford Hall – where they believed he would get the best care possible. By that time, he was on a ventilator, and unconscious. The doctors finally came forward with the grim prognosis. The cancer had metastasized to a number of organs, including what they believed to be his brain stem. They saw zero chance of his gaining consciousness.
Except – he did! He woke up, and with all his might, he made it very clear he wanted the ventilator out. Again, the doctor informed us that that procedure alone would probably end his life, but as a whole family, we agreed to do what Dad wanted – we had never done anything else, so…
We waited in the family room, and after a very too long while, the doctor came out and told us… that Dad survived the removal, was completely awake, and wanted to see us. It’s probably not protocol to have eight visitors crammed into a ICU room, but who cared. What I remember is that Dad was so funny – the star of the show, and took time to talk to each one of us – it was a powerful, and holy time.
Well, we could all tell that he was exhausted, and so we gave our goodbye kisses and most everyone left. However, Mom and my sister Amy and I stayed at the hospital, as they moved him out of ICU to a regular bed. I wasn’t aware of the significance of that until later, when I realized it signaled them moving from heroic actions – to minimal care during his last hours.
It was another all-nighter, as the morphine, given at a high rate, brought on more and more hallucinations, and panicky moments for Dad. Just when it seemed things were calm and even sleepy, he would bolt upright in bed with terrible concerns, all imaginary.
Again, this was 28 years ago. There are all sorts of drugs and medications today that can be given to combat pain, but not bring the same mental struggle that happened in 1993. Finally, with a new shift of nurses and doctors, they gave him another medication, and in moments, he fell asleep, finally with some peaceful rest.
I went back to another family member’s place to try to rest a bit, but I had arrived, and was there about 15 minutes, when they called to let us know Dad had died.
You know those movies that you sometimes watch when the husband and father is the patriarch of the family – the old lion of the pride? That was Dad. When you talked with him, he knew everything that was worth knowing, and he had an opinion about everything else. His entire life was spent teaching us everything he could, from tying knots, to camping, to thinking without flooding in tons of emotions as you sought an answer or solution. He was a textbook introvert, and often was very satisfied in talking to himself as he mowed the lawn, or took a big log and crushed aluminum cans for recycling. We all would shudder when he decided he was going to “fix something” – especially plumbing – and electrical – and building much of anything.
To us, however, he was father of mythic proportions. I could spend pages and pages writing about his quirks and funny habits, like tapping his toothbrush three times on the sink after he finished brushing his teeth. Not four, not two – three. He absolutely despised the snow and cold, and so it was far better that they moved to Texas instead of remaining in North Dakota. I guess it was gifted to me, as 51 years it has served as my home.
So, it’s a very different world you enter when your father dies. You can try to rely on his memories, his lessons, his foibles, but in the end, you and your siblings become the next generation of patriarchs, and matriarchs, especially now that Mom died two years ago. But that’s part of living, isn’t it? To spend not quite enough time on this earth with the ones who brought you into it, thinking of what it might be like to have one more day – one more meal – one more moment. But we know, of course, that THIS is the day the Lord has made, and it is for us to rejoice and be glad in the day we live today. And sure, we know the reunion will be ours someday – just not too soon. I have two sons and a wonderful wife who need me, and so this will do for now.
Love, forgive, care for and respect your family – even if you don’t get along. Recall that at the root, they are part of you, and you are part of them. That’s what life is all about, so cherish what you have, and remember what you had, and dream of what’s to come, in God’s time.
Word for the day: pactolian. Pronounced pak-Toe-lee-un. Great word with great history. “pactolia” means like or having golden-hued sands. However, it all comes from the river Pactolus in Asia Minor (Turkey) that flows to the Aegean Sea. The legend was that the sands of Pactolus were literally strewn with gold, that had washed down from the mountains of the ancient land of Lydia. Lydia of course is today western Turkey. They were said to be the originators of gold and silver coins, since it was so prevalent from the river and the land. It was believed that Midas washed in the Pactolus to rid himself of the “Midas touch.”
When we lived in Rapid City, we would travel up into the Black Hills and visit the Pactola reservoir, a huge lake created by the Pactola Dam. Of course, the dam was named after the mining town that ended up being submerged under water as the lake filled up. It was called Pactola, because it was named after the gold in the river Pactolus, and was a profitable place to mine gold. I actually have two small quartz rocks from the lake that are speckled with gold. They were simply sitting in the shallow water, shining in the sun.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.