This is a very special Valentine’s Day tribute for my dad, a man that lived a simple, quiet life with great love in his heart for God and family. For nearly eighty three years my dad developed the ability to love deeply and care intently for his family, friends and God. Dad endured many trials during his life with his final trial enabling what was perhaps the greatest outpouring of love a family could receive. On this Valentine’s Day I would like to share how my dad’s strong heart was able to facilitate an outpouring of love in my family.
|My mom and dad in their kitchen just over a year ago.|
My dad was in skilled care for his Alzheimer’s. I wrote a post about the disease and the impact it had on our family that you can read about here. Mom made regular visits to see dad and my siblings and I made visits as often as we could. My last visit to dad found him somewhat hunched over in his wheelchair and sleepy. Mom and I started talking to him and wheeling him over to a table. A meal was about to be served so we continued to talk about this great meal including a hamburger was going to taste. I was able to give dad a small bite of his hamburger that he chewed very slowly. At one point he dropped his head down. I bent down real low to make eye contact with him and as he saw me he followed me back up with a little smile on his face. That smile warmed my heart and was the last time I would receive that gift of love from my dad.
|The majority of our family made a visit to see dad over the Christmas holiday.
In this photo are two of my sisters, a niece and our daughter, Ginger’s, family.
The group text message came at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 31st. “Dad is not doing very well, he’s unresponsive and they’re taking him to the ER in Grand Island”. I was my hotel room in Nashville going over my schedule of meetings for the Cattleman’s Beef Board. First there was shock. My siblings and I were also at least two hours or two flights away. My sister-in-law stepped right in and assisted my mom as they met the rescue squad at the hospital. Text messages continued to fly as the six of us tried to learn more details. I sent a message to the CBB officer team with my news and immediate reply of heart-felt support to do what I needed to do.
|I did manage to get a photo with these three lovely ladies
that serve with me on the CBB. We had just finished supper
after a day of interviews and/or flying in to Nashville.
One by one my siblings and other relatives started to journey towards Grand Island to be with my dad and mom. My sister, Sharon, arrived first to feed us the latest updates on dad’s status. One by one each of us arrived to be with one another and my parents. We took shifts staying the night in the hospital and continued to send social media requests out for prayers. The staff at St. Francis provided a cart of coffee, water and snacks to take care of us as well as my dad. On Thursday morning dad’s teary eyed doctor gave us news that involved the decision to place dad in hospice care. A prayer was answered when we learned there was an opening at the VA Hospital in Grand Island. We were told it would be a short stay.
The VA Hospital in Grand Island was not unfamiliar to my family. My mom, siblings and I had many numerous trips to the hospital with dad to visit a variety of doctors over many years. We walked the familiar path past the accordion player in the lobby, the check-in desk, the pharmacy and then to the elevators. Our new destination was the third floor, unfamiliar to us at the time but soon to become our second home.
Upon arrival at the VA our new doctor concurred with doctors at St. Francis that my dad was very sick and had anywhere from 6-18 hours to live, through Sunday if we were lucky. We sent the word out to extended family members, grandchildren, friends and the parish priest. I was even blessed with the opportunity to talk to Bishop Hanefeldt over the phone to receive his love and prayers. The outpouring of love and prayers also continued through family and friends via social media updates.
|My mom is wrapped up in blankets in the chair used
also as a bed when needed. The nurses were great
at getting us warm blankets to snuggle up in.
What I would like to share next are the many experiences that unfolded during dad’s hospice stay. My mom, siblings and I pretty much moved in to dad’s room. The staff introduced themselves and gave us another room with a fold out bed in it. We continued praying rosaries, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, singing praise songs and old familiar songs, crying and laughing over stories from our childhood. Grandchildren came with their own love and support for their grandparents and each other. Our granddaughter, Ella, drew a picture for her great-grandpa that has been saved by her great-grandma. We brought in food, more food and still more food as my dad’s steady and strong heartbeat continued to take him through the weekend and through one weekday after another. The excellent nurse care made sure dad was comfortable to the point of having him on an air controlled mattress that we named “the cloud”. Dad’s two sisters were able to spend hours with us sharing stories from their childhood. My siblings, mom and I continued our round-the-clock presence with dad with several near death episodes that were draining everyone emotionally. We continued prayers, the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes, songs, stories and more meals together with the bonds of love growing between us with each passing day.
|My Aunt Stella had this picture in her purse and shared
with us the story about my dad (sitting) and his friend
converting my grandma’s lawn mower into a go cart.
Some of our significant moments included my dad opening his eyes long enough for my sister, Sandy, to get that one last look into what she called his baby blues. One morning my dad gave us a few second of a lift of his head with eyes open and a big smile. That would be the last physical response I would see. One of the nurses came into the room at the close of her shift and saluted dad from the foot of his bed. That was a very powerful moment. Dad defied all predictions of time with that very strong heart of his until on Thursday, February 9th he took his final breath.
|We had a beautiful slide show for the services showing dad in a variety of
situations including camera man. The painting by my niece, Megan McCoy,
was the response to our request for the painting to honor the many times we
sang “You Are My Sunshine” to my dad with our own memory verses.
|Several of the grandchildren pooled their creative
minds together to create this memory tree using some
of dad’s tools, ink hand prints and memory leaves.
Though many tears continue to fall we have so much to rejoice in from the love, support and prayers we have received. The rosary and funeral brought the majority of the family home to share final thoughts, prayers, reflections, art from several grandchildren and an ice cream salute. My dad’s funeral was on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a very special day for my parents as they had made a pilgrimage to the shrine in France many years ago. My dad left us with an experience of such profound love and the mystery of faith that no amount chocolate or flowers on this Valentine’s Day could ever match.
Here is the poem written by our daughter, Ginger Eikmeier, that she read for the rosary and funeral mass communion reflection:
Alzheimer’s had a firm grip on your mind,
crowding out most of those you knew and loved.
But it’s okay, Grandpa, because I still remember you.
shiny silver tools filling the drawers,
the smell of grease permeating the air
as we made our way back to the workbench to greet you.
I remember your trips to Ace Hardware,
usually resulting in a special present
for the lucky grandchild who got to go along,
like my prized white Barbie Ferarri.
I remember your fifty-cent-piece collection
and how excited we were to come across one of those coins
because you’d trade us three quarters for that one piece.
I remember your clunky rectangular video camera
perched on your shoulder as you chased us grandkids around,
never staying a silent cameraman
but always adding your own colorful commentary.
I remember your chair at the end of the table,
the bottom spring stretched past its limit
from years of leaning back during kitchen conversations.
I remember your metal canes,
whose primary purpose was to help your hips
move like they couldn’t move any more
but whose secondary purpose was a comedy prop,
ready to draw the attention of a great-grandchild.
I remember your conversation with me just over a year ago
when, in a moment of clarity, you asked if I still liked teaching,
and as you watched me play with my six-month-old,
you said you didn’t understand how anyone could ever hurt a baby.
I remember your black beaded rosary
used in prayer on so many occasions,
a symbol of the deep faith you developed.
I remember your quiet chuckle,
sometimes in response to a funny story,
more often in response to some private joke.
I remember your generosity, your playfulness,
your love for God and Grandma,
for your kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.
Your own memories may have been taken away,
but these are the things I will remember,
long after God has called you home.
|Signs of God’s presence are all around us if we look. This sunrise on the Monday morning following dad’s funeral gave
me more than the beauty of color, it gave me the beauty of a gold cross to remind me of the beauty of the resurrection.
|You can read more about my dad here.|