Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Dad's Hands

A (blurry) picture of a picture of my family when I was about 5 or so.  You can see my Dad's hand on my shoulder.
A few days ago, I received a call from my mom at about 10 p.m.  She was at the hospital with my Dad.  He had a stroke as they were leaving the women's minimum security prison where they do church work and was rushed to the hospital.

He was transferred to a big hospital in Seattle that night.  The clot of blood in his brain that caused the stroke had burst.  Now it is just a matter of keeping his blood pressure down, waiting for his body to absorb the excess, and hoping that he can heal.  His left side has been greatly affected--he can't wiggle his toes or fingers, move his arm or foot, or feel touch on his left side.  He is very, very tired, and his speech is slurred.  He can't eat normally yet, and gets most of his calories via a feeding tube that gives him what the nurses jokingly call "chocolate milkshake."  

His doctors and nurses are very capable and kind, and between my mom, my brother and my nephew, he has had around-the-clock care.

I've been to visit him three times so far.  The first day, I felt fine.  In fact, I felt bad that upon leaving the hospital, my thoughts immediately turned to what I should make for dinner for my family.  How can a person simultaneously cope with something huge and be worried about dinner at the same time?

The second day, what is going on really hit me for the first time.  When I came in his room, he woke up a little.  As I approached his bed, he reached for my hand with his right hand and pressed it to his lips.  I sat down next to him, and tried to make small talk as he held my hand.  He made a couple of jokes in his slurred speech about how he's felt better, and then grew quiet.  His eyes were on me, although he seemed to be struggling to focus.  Finally, his eyelids started to close and he fell asleep.  

He fell asleep holding my hand. 

We held hands as he napped, and I looked at his hand on mine.  The IV tape made the skin under it look whiter and smoother than the rest of the skin on his hand and arms.  I let my mind wander.

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by my Dad's hands and arms.  They were so much bigger than mine, first of all.  I remember when my whole fist could fit curled up with his big hand all around it.  His hands could  do amazing things like drive a nail in a board with one blow of his hammer, but still manage to do gentle things like deftly remove slivers from my toes when I spent much of the summer barefoot.  

Dad's arms were always so strong.  When he came home from work, we ran to meet him and jumped all over him like a pack of playful wolves.  After we grew tired of the tickling and play wrestling, he sometimes caved into our demands that he flex his muscles.  When he did, all four of us hung onto his biceps, trying with our little fingers to flatten his muscles.  It never worked, but that was okay--we all ended up in a heap of giggles, so proud of our papa's strength.  When he would give hugs, they were big, strong hugs that blew half the wind right out of you.

The other thing that made his arms interesting to me as a kid was his tattoo on his right forearm.  I know tattoos have become so common that they are pretty ho-hum these days, but when I was growing up, tattoos were somewhat rare and spoke of rebellion and a checkered past--both kind of fascinating to contemplate, especially in your own dad.  On warm summer days, I liked to watch him fold up his long shirt sleeves carefully to 3/4 length--about 2 1/2 times--just enough that you could just see his tattoo peeking out under his cuff on his forearm.  It always made me smile/snicker to hear little children see his tattoo and ask, "What's that?" and then hear his classic reply, "That's a mistake.  It's just a mistake."

Dad worked outside in the days long before sunscreen was a given.  He wasn't a shirt-off kind of hooligan when he worked, so that meant he always had a ragin' farmer's tan.  When we went swimming as a family, we kids were always amazed at the impossible contrast between his forearm and his upper arm.  He always pretended to think it was funny when we teased him about it. 

Maybe some of the most tender memories I have of my father's hands are when he would hold each of my newborns with such gentleness and expertise.  He liked to hold the babies in front of him and look in their eyes, talking to them in a quiet voice.  When my oldest was born, we were actually living with my parents since the baby was due right after the end of a school semester and before we were heading off to an overseas internship in Germany.  When Brendan was finally born, he was fussy and I was inexperienced--we were a pitiful pair.  My Dad had just had a hip replacement, so he was something of a captive audience.  He would willingly hold Brendan on his lap, and gently keep his binky in his mouth so I could grab a quick shower and feel sort of human again.    

His doctors can probably cite cases like his where patients have experienced recovery, but also those who have not.  I feel like at minimum, our family has been put on notice, and it is a blessing to be able to have more time with him.  However, if this is his time to go, I feel ready to say good-bye if I need to.  I love him, and he loves me.  We have a little understanding, the two of us...  

And I know that this is not the end for him or for our family--he's just closer than we are to a glorious beginning.  He is truly in God's hands.

In the meantime, his hand still feels warm and comforting as it holds mine.  I don't know what the next weeks and months will bring, but for now, that is enough.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about this. I'm glad you get time to truly cherish your dad and your memories together. And no matter what his future holds, I hope he has the best care available (and it sounds like that is the case so far).

  2. Hi Emily! Thanks so much for your kind words. It is a blessing to have time, and to know that our family is in a position to give him care and time. But getting old stinks. Sigh :).

  3. Emily, I just happened upon your blog.  And, I your news today is so sad for you, your Dad and your entire family. 
    I don't know you, but my heart goes out to you.  Stroke is so hard to understand and deal with.  It sounds like you have a very strong faith and it will be so important to you in the days to come.  I sincerely hope that your father can recuperate, but if that is not to be, you know that he is just where God wants him to be.  
    You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Jamie (McLaughlin) CraseJanuary 5, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    So sorry to hear this news.  I will be keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. 

  5. Hi Sue! Thanks for your visit and your sweet comment. I feel like I'm still sort of in denial/shock. I'm sure there will be layers of understanding and acceptance as we face whatever comes during the next few weeks or months. I really do feel peace that he's in God's hands, and that makes such a huge difference--but it still isn't easy. Thanks again for stopping by and for your empathy.

  6. Hi Jamie! I was hoping to run into you at the Outlook reunion, but that was the night after I found out about my Dad, and I just wasn't in the mood to be social. Thanks so very much for your note on my blog :).

  7. Hi lovely girl,

    What a very bittersweet post. How wonderful to have all those incredible memories of your father....and to know that he might soon be going on ahead (I love that phrase - it sounds like only a brief pause before we meet again) but on the other hand, you are living with what must be terribly sad for you.

    I wish I could pop over and give you a big hug but this will have to do...*squeeeeeze*


  8. Hi Sarah. Thanks for stopping by--you are so sweet. I love that phrase, too. It's true, isn't it? I think the sadness comes because it's hard to keep that perspective all the time, and you know you'll miss the person. Thanks for the virtual hug :).

  9. Mary {The Tall Chick}January 26, 2012 at 6:06 PM

    I just had to pop over to read this post about your dad.  I just LOVE it.  Isn't it funny all those little things you remember when you really sit down and think about it?  Just goes to show you how much our little kids are really paying attention to every single little thing you do... including showing off a great farmer's tan!  :)  Thanks for sharing such great memories about your dad.  I will be praying for him and your family.

  10. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for visiting and reading my post. It is a little scary how much children notice. Hopefully my kids will mostly remember the good things, like I do. I appreciate the prayers. He is making some slow progress, which is wonderful.


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