It had been brewing ever since my father-in-law's heart attack on Thanksgiving.
The day started off well with the sound of laughter resulting from the retelling of favorite family stories and the scent of chocolate macadamia nut coffee and cinnamon toast filling the kitchen.
Already the house was filling up with family and the counters were crowded with succulent dishes lovingly prepped and ready to be finished once the ham was done and the meat thermometer indicated the turkey was an hour away from perfection.
Life was good and we were thankful.
At 4:00 P.M., the power went out. Still full of good cheer (and a glass or two of wine) I lit a fire in the fireplace, arranged a bunch of multi-hued candles in mismatched holders around the family room and put the turkey on the grill.
It all worked out. We had turkey, ham and stuffing by candlelight, and we not only had leftovers the next day; we had lots of freshly baked side dishes too.
At 9:00 P.M., we were in our car following the ambulance carrying Rodger to the nearest hospital to be stabilized before he could be moved. Once at the new hospital, he would receive an emergency catheterization and have a stent inserted. He was in deep trouble, but he was getting swift and proper care, so we were thankful.
A week later, he needed a pacemaker to keep him alive. He made it through that with relative ease.
It didn't matter that his dementia worsened from the stress and he spent much of his time deep in the past. Physically, he was getting stronger every day. Who among us wouldn't want to go back in time to a farm in Italy on a warm summer day given the chance?
Eleven days later, he came home and we were thankful. He was weak and unsure of what happened to him. His memory was bad and I was having a hard time getting his new medications adjusted. He developed swallowing problems and a nurse was coming twice a week. At night he raided the refrigerator eating foods wasn't supposed to have. He refused to wash until I would fill a basin to bathe him. He couldn't be left alone even for a few minutes. There went xmas shopping; but he was alive and we were thankful.
I was exhausted and I could feel the tears building behind my eyes.
I wanted to cry all the time, but I didn't.
I wasn't the weak one.
I was the caregiver.
Then the phone rang. It was my stepbrother calling. My father was being rushed to a hospital in Florida.
"Start praying," he said. "He has pneumonia and a collapsed lung. At 84—and with lungs nearly destroyed by over 50 years of smoking—the doctor offered little hope he'd survive the emergency surgery he needed. "I'll call you in an hour or so, once he's out of surgery."
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I prayed and I prayed, and while I was doing that I started packing for a trip that I knew in my heart I knew would end with my father's funeral. And I waited for the call.
Two hours later it came. When I heard my stepbrother's voice I trembled, bracing myself for the worst.
"He's OK, he said. It's not pneumonia or a collapsed lung. Once the pulmonologist saw the x-rays he canceled the surgery. Dad's dehydrated and they have him on IV fluids. His vital signs are stabilizing. He's in the ICU for now but he's going to be OK. I'll call you later with an update," and with that he was gone.
Stunned, I hit the end button on the phone and put my head in my hands and I cried.
It wasn't a dainty cry, with gentle tears moistening my cheek. It was a hard driving, gut wrenching, chest heaving, sloppy, ugly, sobbing cry. My nose ran and my eyes burned from the force of it.
There were moments when I thought I might never stop. But I did. And then I started again. And again after that. And again after that, until my eyes were nearly swollen shut, my head was pounding and my heart had stopped aching.
I cried. I let it out.
But you know what? That didn't make me weak. I was still the caregiver and I was thankful. I was thankful both men survived, and I was thankful for a good hard cry.
Do you hold it in when you feel the need to cry? Do you feel better once it comes out? What reaction do you get from those around you when you do cry?