Practicing Parents

Attending Death

Joanna's dad

About a month ago, on a Sunday night, my mom took my dad to the emergency room because he had a fever that wouldn’t go away. After discovering his blood pressure was extremely low, they admitted him to the hospital. Then they sent him to another hospital. By the time I got there three days later, Dad  was on oxygen and every kind of antibiotic they could pump into him.

I slept in his hospital room that night so my mom could go sleep in a bed. Dad woke me up about four in the morning with kidney pain. The room was soon buzzing with nurses and technicians, with phone calls to doctors, and finally we were moved up to intensive care.

My husband, Ryan, brought the kids to see their grandpa that weekend. They gave him hugs, said, “I love you,” heard “I love you.” Jasmine played her viola for him. Ryan watched a Jayhawk basketball game with him. Then we all headed home Saturday night.

It was Tuesday evening before we had a diagnosis: aggressive killer cell leukemia/lymphoma.

Yes, it is as horrific as it sounds. A disease so rare and so brutal that there is not even a treatment protocol.

I got to the hospital Wednesday morning. My brother and my mom were already there. Dad was waiting for me before he officially signed onto Hospice.

That afternoon we moved into the Hospice room. That night my brother, my mom, my husband and I all slept in the room with Dad, taking turns sitting up with him; listening for his breath, turning the washcloth on his forehead to the cool side.

The next morning my kids came again to see their Grandpa, who was too weak to speak. My youngest had made a sign on the trip over: “I love you Grandpa.” She set it on his bed where he could see it–if he could manage to open his eyes.

Finally, all five of his grandchildren were there and able to say, “I love you.” And able to know his love for them. And my daughters, aged eight and fourteen, stayed in the room. They sat by Dad’s bed, held his hand, and cried.

My girls sat there, intent on their grandpa, fully present with him for the hour or more it took for his breath to become shallow and slow and finally stop. They were there, looking at him, holding onto him, when he died.

It was heartbreaking and amazing and achingly holy.

That was March 7.

So this year, Good Friday is more real to me than I wish it were.

This year, I am feeling the story, not just telling it.

This year I understand better what it means to stay at the foot of the cross and weep over a beloved and broken body.

And this year I know that my children understand too. That they can inhabit the sacred story–the entire story–in a way I never thought possible.

Joanna's family

~ Joanna Harader


8 thoughts on “Attending Death

  1. My Dad died 7 years ago on Good Friday. I remember sitting with him those last few days and hours. Thanks for sharing your story. I am a friend of Mark and Roanne Gale. God bless you.

  2. Your writing is part of your dad’s legacy and it will always remind your family of the moments you shared. I hurt with you.

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  4. I ache with you, Joanna. Thank you for the simple and powerful connections to Jesus’ suffering. And thank you for sharing your family’s precious final moments with your dad. What a gift they will be for all of you — always. Walk tenderly in the Resurrection.

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