“When I’m Worri…

“When I’m Worried, And I Can’t Sleep, I Count My Blessings Instead of Sheep “

Last year sometime before or after Christmas, I was getting ready to leave my parents home. I had spent the evening watching college basketball upstairs with my dad. College basketball was something that I started watching often with him,  because it was one of the things that he loved watching on tv during the season. As I was giving him a hug, and saying goodnight, he paused and asked me if I had ever heard of the song “Count Your Blessings.” Much to his surprise, I responded with “Yes I have, in fact,  it was on Amy Grant’s last Christmas cd that she had released a few years ago.” I think he was probably surprised that I knew what song he was talking about since our music tastes were quite different. The version he had always listened to was by Bing Crosby. That night he told me he counts his blessings every night while he is going to sleep. From that day forward, “Count Your Blessings,” had a new – and special – meaning for me. I cannot listen to the song now, without picturing my sweet daddy.

It gives me hope hearing him say that he went to bed each night counting his blessings, knowing that he had a tough road a head of him. He never let the difficulties that he was facing bring him down, instead, he rose above and kept moving forward with his life to the best that he could.

Here are the lyrics to the song “Count Your Blessings”

When I’m worried
And I can’t sleep
I count my blessings
Instead of sheep
And I fall asleep
My blessings
When my bankroll
Is getting small
I think
Of when I had
None at all
And I fall asleep
My blessings

I think about
A nursery
And I picture
Curly heads
And one by one
I count them
As they slumber
In their beds
If you’re worried
And you can’t sleep
Just count
Your blessings
Instead of sheep
And you’ll
Fall asleep
Your blessings

I am so grateful that I was around my dad so much last year, that I got to hear even the simplest comments that he made. For those who knew him, this story might be  a surprise. I know that, because it was to me.


4 months seems so long ago, yet just like yesterday

I am jumping all the way to the end of my dad’s story, because today marks 4 months that he has been gone. I’ve reflected for most of the day today about my final time with my dad. Thinking back to four months ago – July 12 – I woke up and never thought it was my dad’s last day of life. I was incredibly depressed, stressed, exhausted – both physically & mentally, because it had been almost 2 weeks of practically living at the hospital. I think I got out of bed late in the day because I just didn’t want to face reality for one day. Laying in bed, or sleeping, let me pretend that my dad was not sick, and I didn’t have to accept reality. I have so much regret that I chose that day to stay in bed for most of the day.

I remember telling my mom that I didn’t feel good, because I didn’t want to admit that I was just in bed all day avoiding reality. She had suggested I not come to the hospital, because my dad couldn’t risk getting sick. I ended up getting up, and going to eat with Justin before we went to the hospital, because he insisted I needed to eat. (Throughout the course of my dad’s illness, I would often forget to eat, or simply not have an appetite due to worrying about everything that I had absolutely no control over.) We went to Old Chicago, which was close to the hospital. By the time we got done it was around 6:30-7:00pm.

Justin and I went to the hospital to see my dad after dinner, and when I walked into the room there was a book on the bedside table. “Gone From My Sight,” was a short book that hospice had left for my family to read. I was internally freaking out, but trying not to let it show because I couldn’t let my dad see me scared. I was a bit confused why the book was there, I did not realize that it really was the end of his battle with cancer. We had thought through certain moments within his hospital stay that there were chances we may lose him, but I never actually thought it was going to happen, let alone that night.

My brother left shortly after I got there, and it was just mom, Justin, and I sitting around my dad. After a little while, maybe 15-20 minutes, my dad told us all to leave and that the wanted to go to sleep. Something inside me told me the inevitable was going to happen, but I kept trying to convince myself that I was overreacting. My mom and Justin kept telling me to respect my dad’s wishes and leave, but I had a bad feeling. They left the room and I stayed to have some alone time with my dad. I asked him if he wanted me to stay , he responded with nodding his head to say “yes.” He followed the  “yes” with “I love you so much.” Hearing him say, “I love you so much,” something about that moment confirmed what I had already felt was going to happen. I stayed in his room for a while and just sat there holding his hand and staring at him, and continuously asking if he needed anything, and saying I love you. I did not want to leave, at all. When the nurses came in to take his vitals, they told me the vitals were good, and so I decided to leave. I had a very unsettling feeling , however I know my dad wanted to go to sleep. As I left the room, he told me to come back early in the morning around 7:00 am before he was scheduled for dialysis.

On my way home, just as I was about to get home, a weird feeling came over me and I felt that my dad had died. I glanced at what time it was. I got home, but didn’t get ready for bed like I normally would have. I actually sat down in my hallway and read the book from hospice, “Gone From My Sight.” Why I chose to sit down and read that short book immediately after getting home is beyond me. As I read it, I could relate every symptom of actively dying to my dad. Just as I finished reading the book, Justin called me and told me that my mom had called him to come pick me up to go back to the hospital. I said no, that I would meet him there, because otherwise it would take to long. We didn’t know what was going on, because my mom didn’t say.

I vividly remember driving – speeding – to the hospital, I pulled up right as Justin pulled up. We went through the emergency room entrance because we thought the main entrance was already closed. My mom and Uncle Gary were in the main entrance waiting for us, they didn’t realize we were going in through the ER entrance. We took the elevators closest to the ER up to my dads floor, and I just almost ran down to his room, I wanted to get there as fast as possible. As we turned the corner to his room, the chaplain was leaving his room, and there was a flower on the door. I think I looked at Justin with the most horrified look because my worst fear had happened/was happening. He tried holding me back and I ran into the room. My dad was gone. The “rock” of my whole life was gone. I think I was in shock because I couldn’t accept that he was gone. I just kept thinking this is not happening. I truly didn’t know how to comprehend that I didn’t have my dad in my world anymore. I also realized that when I had the premonition of his passing, he actually did pass away around that time. God works in mysterious ways and sends signs/messages if you pay attention. It may have slightly prepared me, having the premonition that he had passed away. Why else would I have immediately sat down and read that book, instead of getting ready for bed like I normally would have done?

I learned in that moment at the hospital that life is such a precious gift, because in a fleeting second, it can be taken away. I also realized that I never had a “final” conversation with my dad and I never told him how much I appreciated his love, generosity, forgiveness, and just his sense of being present, and being my dad for 28 years. I know he knew I loved him, but I regret not accepting the inevitable and taking advantage of the time that I had with him to tell him how much he truly meant to me. I also carry around this guilt that I shouldn’t have left the hospital that night. People respond with, “He waited till you left,” but that honestly does not make me feel better. I should have stayed with him, but there is nothing I can do now to change the past. I have to move forward and rebuild my life, because life keeps going on. – Plus, my dad would be furious if I didn’t move on.

My reason for writing this in-depth description of the night my dad died, isn’t to necessarily relive the night. It is a night I will never forget, but most of the time, I want to forget what transpired after I left the hospital when my dad was still alive. This blog post is to try and get across a message that many people often tend to forget – Please enjoy and cherish the time that you have with family and friends, because there is no way of knowing when it will be the last time you see someone. Don’t skimp on saying “I love you,” because it may be the last time you get to tell that to someone – don’t skimp on the hugs either. Everyone can always use a hug. I’ve noticed people don’t hug others as much as they used to. A simple hug could make someone’s day “that” much better. That is one of the things I miss the most from my dad. He would always randomly give me hugs and tell me he loved me. Appreciate all the little moments that you have with someone. It doesn’t have to be the big events that you share with people, it can simply be a moment where you are sitting on the couch watching television. Just being in the presence of others should be something that is appreciated, instead of being taken for granted.

Family and friends are so important. If there is any other advice I can give from this posting, it would be to tell a friend “thank you” for just simply being a friend. I do not know how I would have gotten through these last four months without the support and love from my friends and family. I still have hard days, but I’m able to get through them with all of the people around me. True friends and family stay by you through thick and thin, in hard time and in good times. They won’t judge you if you have to have a mini breakdown on the phone for a couple hours one night, or if you have an angry moment because you don’t understand why things in life happened the way that they did. Luckily, I am blessed with a few of those in my life, and I thank each of you (you know who you are) for being there for me.

July 12, 2013 was an end to a part of my life, and a beginning for another. I know that my dad is in heaven watching down on me and that he will always be my guardian angel until the day that we meet again.

My parents and I when I was little

My parents and I when I was little

My dad and I through the years
My dad and I through the years

How the word “But…” Changed Our Lives Forever

Early last November, after urging my dad to see a cardiologist, he was told that he would need to have bypass surgery – very soon. I remember thinking how strange it was that my dad was going to have surgery at the end of the month. During all the years of my childhood, I cannot think of a time where he was ill. Maybe a cold, every now and then, but nothing that would make him unable to go to work. Working was my dad’s life, and he enjoyed it immensely. Aside from family being his first priority, his clients were his second. He didn’t work as hard as he did to make any money, he did it because he genuinely cared for his clients. My dad, being his workaholic self, was more worried about scheduling his bypass and it affecting his clients, than he was himself. All of his questions revolved around, “When can I go back to work?” He even thought he would be able to work from the hospital, because he simply did not want to let his clients down. Now that is truly a loyal attorney!

After the surgery was scheduled for November 30, I believe my parents, brother, and I were faced with the real possibility of what could happen during the surgery. We all began spending more time together. My dad and I went to a Creighton Basketball game, which ended up being the last game that he went to. I am so glad that i got to go see one last game with him, as it had been his tradition with my brother and I for years. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving and appreciated the time together as a family. It will always be the most memorable Thanksgiving to me. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks, and opened my eyes as to what was important in life. NOTHING is more important than your family. I started clinging to my dad, and wanted to be with him and take as many pictures together as I could. – Which probably drove him nuts, because he hated my constant persistence  with capturing everything on film. I did not get as many pictures as I would have liked with all of us before the surgery, but at least I was lucky enough to work with him every day at his office, and those memories will forever be in my heart.

My dad and I at his office, after our Sunday breakfast - less than a week before he had bypass.

My dad and I at his office, after our Sunday breakfast – less than a week before he had bypass.

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

The day before his surgery, he and I left his office around the same time. I remember thinking to myself as I watched him leave, with tears starting to build up in my eyes, that this could be the last time I see my dad walk out of here as the person that I’ve known him to be. We went to dinner that night, and I could tell he was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? I get nervous by simply going to the dentist. I couldn’t imagine facing quadruple bypass. I didn’t let it show that I was so scared for him, instead I had to be strong for him! I couldn’t sleep that whole night. I was scared – plus nervous that I would over sleep, but most of all I just wanted everything to be over, and my dad to be ok. I needed to see my dad before he went into surgery, so I arrived at the hospital around 5 AM. (For those that know me, I am sure you are shocked that I woke up at 4 that morning!) My mom, brother, and I took turns going into the pre-op room talking to him and trying to distract him so that he wasn’t nervous. I will never forget that the ceiling in the pre-op area had these twinkling lights on the ceiling. When you are in the hospital with a loved one, its strange what you remember. Once the medical staff had us leave the pre-op area, we began our very long wait.

It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that I am NOT a patient person. 7:00am – 3:30pm seemed like the longest hours of my life. We had friends and family in the waiting room, and I honestly cannot tell you what any of them talked about that day, or who all was there, because I just kept staring at the television screen that had his patient number with his status. I remember people trying to get me to eat, I simply just did not want to do anything. I just wanted to know that my dad made it through and was ok.  A huge relief rushed over me around 3:00-3:00 when that television screen finally showed “recovery.” Around 3:30pm, the doctor came out and took us into a room. My dad had made it through his bypass and was doing well. Then came the infamous “but..” I literally at that moment felt like life had stopped. If he was ok, then why was this doctor starting off a sentence with “but..?” During the surgery they had found a tumor within his chest wall, and the initial flash test was benign. It had been sent off for further testing in the lab, which would take a few days for those results to come back. I had been so scared that my dad wasn’t going to make it through the bypass surgery, it never crossed my mind that they would find something else.

All that I remember after that, is making a bolt for the elevator because I needed to go outside and get some air, and break down where no one could see me. I was so angry. How could this be happening to my dad? He just had quadruple bypass. It was just supposed to be heart surgery. I am the one who urged him to go see a cardiologist. What if the tests result came back with a cancer diagnosis? My world changed in that consult room, when the doctor mentioned the word tumor. I just wanted to see my dad at that point. Nothing else mattered.

I finally was able to see him in the ICU as he was coming off of the anesthesia, and he was being quite the jokester. To all of our surprise, he was not in horrible amounts of pain, because due to the diabetes, the nerves around the incision sites were damaged. That comforted me, because that would make recovering much easier. I still could not get the thoughts of the tumor out of my mind though. It was all I was thinking about. I was at the hospital early the following morning, and by that time, they had told him about the tumor. I couldn’t bring myself to bring it up to him, because if I didn’t mention it, it almost did not seem like it was real. He did not bring it up to me either. It began to consume my thoughts, and I started researching what type of tumor would be in the chest wall. There were so many that it was hard to narrow it down to a specific one, especially not knowing if it was benign or malignant.

I believe it was the following Tuesday, December 4, that my worst nightmare came true. I was sitting on the window ledge, drinking some coffee  and kind of looking around the room. I heard my Uncle Mike ask my dad if he found out anything from the labs. My dad nodded his head to say “yes.” The next question my uncle asked was, “Is it cancer?” That was also followed up by my dad nodding his head, “yes.” In that second, I didn’t even know what to do, say, think, and to top it off, they did not know that I had just heard this. I think I sent my mom a text because she was across from me, and she and my Uncle Gary took me into the hall and told me. At that point they did not know what kind of cancer it was for sure. More tests needed to be done, most importantly a CT Scan, which uses iodine. Since he had low kidney function before the bypass surgery, and even lower after the bypass, they had to be careful with the amount of iodine that my dad was given, as it is hard for the kidneys to flush out.

Everyone in my family was upset, but we had to pull it together and be positive for my dad. We did not want my dad to know how terrified we all were. I was freaking out inside and just wanted to cry, scream, and blame someone for what was happening to my dad. As scared as I was, he had to have been one hundred times more scared. His world had literally just been torn apart. The only thing, at that time, I could do for my dad, was be there for him and let him know how much I loved him. I continuously sat next to him, rotating breaks between my mom, brother, and both of my uncles. We were all in a state of shock and wondering how all of us were going to get through this.

In the short time period between November 30 – December 4, our lives were forever changed and were never going to go back to how things were before. We had to adjust to what would become a roller coaster – both mentally & physically.

You never know what is going to happen tomorrow, so always appreciate each and every day. Most importantly tell the ones you love, that you love them, never let it go unsaid.