This week, we post Part 1 of a Special Edition of TOB Tuesdays where Katrina reflects on the recent birth of her first grandchild followed by the death of her father. We hope it speaks to your heart.
Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
About 10 years ago, I attended an evening of praise and worship. Unexpectedly, the worship leader burst out, “Lord, I love your timing!” My immediate and uncensored reaction was, “Lord, I don’t love your timing!”
That moment surfaced an important spirit of resistance within me. I obviously had “issues” with how I perceived God’s timing in my life as less than ideal and sometimes even painful. Nevertheless, I resolved to try to change my interior response by trusting God’s timing more even though I didn’t know exactly how to carry this out.
Fast forward to September 2019. My first grandchild was due on September 12. My son expressed a strong desire for me to be close by during the delivery (i.e., in the hospital waiting room), which corresponded perfectly with my own grandmotherly desire. In advance, I tried to anticipate the timing by making four separate plane reservations so I could mix and match arrivals and departures from Phoenix to Reno to be there for the birth. (BTW, Reno is a 14-hour drive through unhospitable desert, so a quick car ride was out of the question.)
I cancelled the first outbound plane reservation for September 8 since not even the slightest hint of labor was taking place. My next outbound flight was for September 10, and I quickly realized that if I didn’t take that flight, I would be incurring a $400, last-minute one-way airfare. I rapidly concocted a plan to hang out in Reno at a hotel or Airbnb, doing my professional work while awaiting my grandchild’s birth.
And that’s what I did. I flew to Reno, settled into my Airbnb and happily enjoyed dinners with my son, Michael and his wife Morgan, while reveling in her very pregnant belly and the rippling movements of the child within. Her due date, September 12, came and went. So did September 13, 14, and 15 with no apparent signs of labor. Now, I was in a conundrum. My last plane reservation to return home was only 2 days away and my Airbnb accommodations ended the same day. Despite the fact I was having a great time hiking and golfing with Michael and admiring Morgan’s end-of-pregnancy energy, my trip’s intention was not a vacation, but to see my grandchild born. So, back to the Internet I went.
I cancelled my return flight, emailed my boss saying I would not be back until later in the week, and found yet another Airbnb reservation for three additional days (can you read “stress” in between the lines?). I hoped against hope that my efforts would be rewarded in the way and the timing that my son and I both desired.
In the middle of that Sunday night, Morgan went into labor. I got the text at 4:40 am and made it to the hospital via Uber by about 5:30. Armed with my Bible and Rosary, I prayed and read and waited and prayed. Shortly after 7 am, as I was praying the Rosary, the long-anticipated text arrived – my beautiful and very petite granddaughter, Sutton Olivia Zeno, had entered the world!
My heart soared. Morgan’s parents arrived. We chatted delightfully about their family history. Michael showed up, escorted us to Morgan’s hospital room, and all three grandparents lovingly took turns holding and bonding with their newborn granddaughter. Sutton was cute as a button (even at two hours old!), her big eyes alert and her sweet disposition capturing our hearts. My heart swelled even more with gratitude and thanksgiving for the privilege of being close by, of praying the Rosary at the moment of her birth, and then sharing in this newborn bonding time.
Fast forward 7 days. I had planned to visit my father (who lives in San Diego) after returning from Reno. My strong, athletic Dad was finally succumbing to the end stages of lung cancer after his initial diagnosis eight years before and ceasing all treatment two and a half years ago. Knowing my schedule would be tight, I decided to fly instead of drive (6 hours), so I’d made plane reservations for late September. Then, my schedule started to shift: I missed 3 additional days of work due to my extended stay in Reno and my new administrative assistant was due to start the Monday I planned to be in San Diego, which was 6 weeks later than originally anticipated. Suddenly, my life felt overly crammed and too demanding to be leaving town again so soon. So, I rebooked my plane reservation for two weeks later, delaying my San Diego visit to mid-October.
Upon informing my siblings of my decision, my brother sent me a text saying Dad might not still be around in mid-October. This jolted me as I didn’t think his decline was so rapid. I found myself in a new conundrum: Should I rearrange my schedule, including my assistant’s start date, so as to drive over to San Diego (it would be too expensive to change my plane reservations) or did I peacefully leave things as is and trust that if “it was meant to be,” my father would still be alive in 2 ½ more weeks? As I considered the decision, my Dad’s conditioned worsened, and I could see the stress it was causing my siblings. I wanted to help lighten the load, so I launched into a new flurry of activity in order to reconfigure my next six days and head to San Diego.
After leading a lunch-time book study on Friday, September 27, I drove six hours to San Diego, arriving at my father’s retirement community around 8 pm. Upon entering his apartment, I hugged my sister from New Mexico, who had been caring for my father for the past two weeks (not an easy task). Then, I went to my father’s bedside. He lay in a hospital bed, oxygen streaming into his nose and a kind of gargle occurring every time he breathed, but his eyes were alert and present. He recognized me and asked how my week was (so thoughtful!). I told him the “best news” was that Michael and Morgan’s child had been born. “A daughter,” he said. Yes, indeed, he was still very aware of all that was occurring.
My sister left shortly after, and I assured her I would be again at his bedside early in the morning so she could take a bit of a respite from her daily 10 to 12-hour shifts.
Over the past two years, my father and I developed a predictable routine for my visits. I would arrive around 8:30 am, we would have breakfast together and then participate in communal chair exercises. We always spent part of the day (or even twice a day) on the putting green as my Dad was an avid golfer, so much so, that the retirement community named the putting green after him when it was refurbished. Other activities included working on jigsaw puzzles, eating dinner in the community dining room, and watching nature shows. I would normally leave around 8:30 pm, with the promise of repeating our routine the next day.
But that Friday night, he seemed restless and agitated. He kept opening and closing his eyes, with a kind of questioning look. The gargling, which accompanied every breath, dominated the airwaves and his speech was becoming almost indecipherable. He kept trying to pull the covers up and then push them off, and he asked repeatedly to be taken to his own bed (which he was already in). Although a caregiver was at his side, I didn’t want to leave my father until I had seen him fall peacefully asleep. I waited until 9 pm…10 pm…11pm… I stroked his arm and sang to him, but he still seemed agitated and far from sleep. I asked the nurses for an additional dose of morphine, but even that didn’t seem to settle him down. I finally left at 11:30 pm, hoping sleep for him would follow close behind.
The next morning, I awoke at 7 am and was at his bedside by 7:45 am. The caregiver said he’d had a rough night, not fully falling asleep until 3 am. However, when I arrived, he was sleeping peacefully, eyes closed, with the persistent gargle accompanying every breath. At 8 am the caregiver shift changed and so did the whole tenor of the room. The new nurse immediately took charge, made my Dad more comfortable, swabbed out his mouth, and asked me if I practiced a religion. I told her I was Catholic. Within seconds, she whipped out a brown scapular, placed it over his head, and asked me, “Do you want to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet?” My guiding angel had arrived.
I responded, “Of course,” and headed to my purse to retrieve my Rosary. Before we started to pray, she instructed me to tell him I loved him and to give him permission to go. Interiorly, I hesitated because I knew my eldest sister was to arrive that afternoon around 3 pm, but then I also knew she wouldn’t want Dad to hang on for her sake.
So I told him I loved him, thanked him for his faithful fatherhood, and encouraged him to enter into eternity, to allow Jesus the Bridegroom to come and take him home. Then, the nurse and I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet and somewhere along the way, the gargling stopped and his face became beautifully peaceful and serene as he continued sleeping. We finished the Divine Mercy chaplet, and I took out my guitar and began to play and sing praise songs to him. As I was singing, my 92-year-old father, the paternal light of my life, passed into eternal life.
I will never forget those moments. After anticipating his death for almost 8 years, it came so peacefully, without any kind of protracted struggle – just one restless night and then Divine Mercy came to take Him home. And I was there to be with him, but I shouldn’t have been.
If I had kept my original plane reservation, I wouldn’t have arrived until after 11 am (he passed at 9:15 am). If my brother hadn’t emphatically informed me of his rapid decline, I would have waited 2 weeks to visit. If I hadn’t opted to push back the start date of my new assistant, I would have been six hours away. If…if…if…there were so many variables that could have written the script in such a radically different manner.
And yet it was I and the amazing Catholic caregiver who clothed him with the brown scapular and initiated the Divine Mercy Chaplet who were at his bedside at the moment of his death. And although my eldest sister didn’t arrive until 3 pm (notice the timing), her one request to me had been that she and I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet together at my Dad’s bedside. Even that smallest of detail had been accommodated in God’s mysterious timing, albeit in a different way.
Of course, I cried and cried, amassing a small mountain of saturated Kleenex beside me. I stayed by his bedside, soaking in the last glimpses of my earthly father. My in-town siblings arrived; more tears followed. The mortician arrived, wrapped him in a white sheet, and I sobbed. Emotions swirled inside of me, although I couldn’t quite put words on what I was feeling. It would take me the next few days to identify what I was feeling, and most especially, why. (To be continued next week.)
©by Katrina J. Zeno, MTS