NaBloPoMo Day 9: Extraordinary Exhaustion

When you have gone “too far” and know it… and keep going anyway. That’s the idea behind today’s prompt:

Talk about a time when you used up an extraordinary amount of energy and were exhausted.

The week before my dad died, I got a phone call from one of my sisters. “You need to come. If I were a betting woman, I’d say Dad has less than a week.” That was a Thursday. By Friday morning, I had a ticket and was on my way to the airport. In less than 24 hours, a community of people at home began providing rides for our girls, meals for our table and prayers to keep us all going.

The call wasn’t entirely unexpected. Dad had battled Non-Hodkins Lymphoma for many years. He had weathered other health challenges in the years since his diagnosis. But he contracted shingles which then disseminated thanks to a crashed immune system. We had enjoyed a wonderful time at Christmas. Now the odds came crashing down against us.

As family gathered, some driving and some flying in from around the country, we moved into action mode. One night Dad fell in his hospital room, so to help my Mom get enough rest and not worry as much, we took turns with the “night shift”, staying nearby as Dad needed help. We could call and get it for him. Between a lounge chair in the family area and a chair in his room, I would nap in bits and snatches, relieving my sister when she needed a break. Other sibs handled meals, errands for mom, little chores or repairs needed around the house that Dad had wanted to do but didn’t have the energy to finish. There were phone calls to be made as well.

The blessing in all of this was that Dad had a private room with negative pressure because of his shingles. It was quiet and relatively soundproof. Once Mom arrived with the “day shift” sibling, the “night shift” would go home and collapse in a bed. ANY bed. Then we’d get up and do it all over again as one day blurred into the next.

Sibs had to leave to go home after several days. It was devastating to say good-byes. Finally Dad slipped into a coma. His breathing became more and more irregular. The nurses gave extraordinary care. We managed the PCA pump since Dad was not able to press the button any more. On a Thursday afternoon, just as Mom was going to go eat a late lunch, his breathing stopped. The doctor came and pronounced him, and we kissed him good-bye one last time.

The next days were a blur of phone calls, visitors, meals, food and cards. Some of my siblings left to go home and tie up loose ends before returning for his funeral the following week. I stayed and tried to help Mom, among other things, by resolving the complicated medical bills from several months of visits, treatments and hospital stays, and tracking the many kindnesses which would need a thank-you note.

The day before the funeral, my husband and daughters arrived, and I had to shift immediately back into the role of wife/mom as well as sib/daughter. After a short stay, I flew back with my family to our home, leaving a piece of my heart forever behind.

We finally had to leave Mom and go home. I was so tired. Actually I was exhausted, yet I couldn’t sleep. Grateful for the support of church and friends, we made it through the next several weeks. Probably the kindest act was someone who brought me four frozen casseroles (all different!) along with our dinner one night. She said, “Heat these up when you just don’t feel like making a PBJ sandwich for dinner.” She also brought a dozen purse packs of tissues and told me to “sprinkle them” in every coat pocket, car and purse, “just in case you need a tissue.”

Several months later, I realized how exhausted I was and how I got through these days with a lot of grace, prayer and love, and God’s faithfulness reflected in so many ways I can’t count them all. I think it was also how I began my journey toward becoming a chaplain. Once you experience the grace of God in times of extreme grief, you want to offer it to others.

I am a blessed, grace-given woman.

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