Death of a Dad

Death is so final. I’m sorry to sit here and tell all of you who just lost somebody extremely close to you, that it never gets any easier. I wish I could say it does. The counselor in me can tell you though, that you can indeed successfully make it through the stages of grief and come out to a degree of normalcy on the other side. I was told by a wise person during my greatest time of grief that time does not heal all wounds, but it will give you the tools you need to handle the wound.

This weekend celebrates 6 years since my dad went into the coma that ultimately claimed his life. It was on Father’s Day Sunday that we sat in the family living room with him for the last time. I wish I could do that day all over again. What could I have said or done differently? He had just been discharged from the hospital that weekend where he was admitted for his long term battle with kidney issues. His transplanted kidney was failing again, but we had been down that road before and had it covered this time. As children, when his kidney first failed, my brother and I were not even considered to be kidney donors. We were too young. This time around though, we were adults and ready to be tested to see who the closest match was and to give him one of our kidneys. Although it was a struggle for us to face again, we had this path routed out and knew we would come out ahead. Life had other plans though.

While he was admitted to the hospital, my father, in his transplanted immune suppressed state, had somehow contracted meningitis. We did not know this until that Father’s Day, 2004, when he was acting drugged in the living room. He could barely stay awake and the man that was a wordsmith and genius, could barely put sentences together. We thought perhaps he was just still a little sick and exhausted. This behavior continued all day, but we had grown rather use to health problems in the Bentley home, so the worst case scenario was not even considered. The Monday after father’s day, I got a call at work to tell me to go to ICU immediately because my dad was dying. I raced out the door, with hardly an explanation to my co-workers or boss. I didn’t care what they thought and could barely comprehend what was even going on. I think at some point I must have picked up Jonathan because he ended up at the hospital with me, but I have little recollection about what happened in those following hours. All I know is that the dad I knew was gone. He was hooked up to Life-support and in a coma. We had to wear surgical gear to even go into him because they didn’t know what strain of meningitis he had. It eventually led to encephalitis and led to complete brain death. During his 3 months in a coma, he came out of the coma for a couple of days and when they put a voice box over his tracheotomy, the first thing he did was to begin singing, “How Great thou Art”. What a great anthem to our heavenly Father and enormous tribute to the kind of man my father was.

I still can’t talk about these moments very easily and even while typing them, the dam I have built around my emotions has broke loose. I had a few treasured moments with him during these days, but still carry around loads of regret. Could I have done something to change the outcome of this? I know, as an intelligent person, that I contributed nothing to his death. I imagine it is just natural to feel guilt and regret about monumental life events that alter the course of our destiny. Could we have prayed more, loved harder, pushed further? I know that logically, I couldn’t have. After a couple of days out of the coma, he went back in it? I still have no idea why. The doctors offered all kinds of explanations and did numerous tests, but they were always telling us something different. Even the doctors couldn’t agree completely. Their theories ranged from West Nile Virus to “fill in the blank” and “you name it they theorized on it”. The one thing they could all agree on though, is that during the 2nd round of coma, he had lost all brain activity. There was no way he was ever coming back.

This giant of a man, this genius of intellect, this warrior for God had renewed his mind for the final time. I ask myself almost daily why he only got 51 years on this earth, but then, almost simultaneously, I give thanks for the 51 years he did have. Not everyone gets the privilege of being raised by a dad of his caliber. I’m thankful that he was there through my entire childhood, on my wedding day, and at all of my academic graduations. Sure, he never got to meet my children, but God, in his mercy, has blessed both my boys with their own giant of a father. If your father is still alive and is even half the man my dad was, please, don’t miss out on celebrating him this weekend.

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