воскресенье, 10 марта 2013 г.

All Shapes and Sizes

By Carol Huff

Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.
~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

I watched as Dad's strength faded before my very eyes. He was in a hospice house as Alzheimer's disease continued its relentless assault on his brain. After more than five years of its debilitating effects, the progressive malady finally managed to rob him of his desire for food and water. Without those vital necessities, my brothers and I knew Dad's time with us was coming to an end. His six-foot-two body weighed less than 140 pounds.
I left Dad's room around 10 p.m. that March evening and headed home, exhausted. My forty-ninth birthday was coming in three days, but there was no cause for celebration. The only thing that kept going through my mind during the drive was how lucky I was to have had Dad around for forty-nine years.

I fell into bed and immediately went fast to sleep. Around 1 a.m. I was awakened by a noise coming from my kitchen. The sound aroused my suspicions enough to get me out of bed to investigate. I grabbed the baseball bat that I kept by the bedroom door as I cautiously crept toward the kitchen. However, I found nothing out of the ordinary, only my cat playing with a plastic bag. She was usually asleep at the foot of my bed at that hour, so I wondered why she was up. I checked all the doors and windows and decided my imagination was running away with me since I was so tired, and the noise obviously had been made by the cat.

I fell back into bed, but sleep wouldn't come. My mind kept replaying the doctor's words when he said the end was very near, so I decided to go back to the hospice house and wait out the night in Dad's room.

I arrived around 2:30 a.m. to find Dad sitting upright in bed as I slipped quietly into his room. He smiled when he saw me, and I fought back tears because he had not recognized me in more than two years. However, there appeared to be a glimmer of recognition as I walked to the side of the bed and he reached for my hand, his blue eyes twinkling. I felt my throat tighten.

"How ya doing, Dad?" I asked, even though I wasn't expecting an answer because he had not spoken an intelligible word in over a year.

His smile grew bigger as he motioned for me to sit in the chair beside his bed, another feat from his plaque-ridden brain that caught me off guard. I sat down and he continued to hold my hand as he motioned to the ceiling with his other hand, pointing for me to look up. I did as he asked, but I saw nothing. He kept pointing.

"What do you see?" I asked.

"Mama," he replied, again pointing and wanting me to see her, too.

Hearing the clarity of his voice in that one-word answer both shocked and surprised me since all his words had been locked inside his head for so long, thanks to the ugliness of Alzheimer's.

I couldn't see anything on the ceiling, but I wish I could have because he obviously was looking into the face of his mother, who died in an accident when Dad was only six years old. That accident also claimed his father's life.

I believe a thin veil separates us from heaven, and at that point the veil was lifted. He saw his mother just the way he remembered her that November morning of 1923 as she waved goodbye from the car window. Less than two hours later, he and his siblings were orphaned when a Southern Railway train slammed into the side of their vehicle in Pelzer, South Carolina.

For another hour Dad pointed upward, smiling and nodding for me to look up. It saddened me to think that I couldn't share in the wonderment he saw as he gazed upward, but I was delighted to participate in his enjoyment of the moment. I was amazed at his burst of energy, even though he never spoke another word. I could tell he was revisiting a happy time in his life, perhaps a time where he was a carefree lad running barefoot through the meadows or catching tadpoles at the old farm pond. It was the time before his six-year-old world shattered and he and his brothers and sister had to learn to fend for themselves and depend on each other for survival.

Soon exhaustion overtook him and, still clutching my hand in his, he leaned back against his pillow and closed his eyes. He never opened them again. I held his hand until after the sun came up, reminiscing about happier days we had shared. The doctor on duty said he had lapsed into a coma. As I watched his chest rise and fall and his breathing become labored, I whispered into his ear that it was all right if he was ready to go. He breathed his last breath around four o'clock that afternoon. He was buried on my birthday three days later.

Even though these events took place thirteen years ago, that night is a precious memory that's still fresh in my mind. One thing that sticks out is how exhaustion had overtaken me that evening, yet the cat, which normally slept with me, had woken me from a deep sleep with that plastic bag. If that had not happened I could not have shared those wonderful final moments of Dad's life with him.

I firmly believe angels take on many forms and come in all shapes and sizes. They don't always come to us in a mist wearing wings and halos, and they don't always spell out their mission. Sometimes we have to observe and listen and be open to receiving their messages. I believe my cat was commissioned that night as Dad's angel, summoning me to his room.

Because of those special last moments, I know Dad is in a safe, loving place today where he has no symptoms of Alzheimer's. I am also certain in my heart that he has reunited with "Mama," and that thought alone gives me much to smile about.

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