This past week was one that no one really wants to face in life. The really hard kind of stuff that reminds you of how delicate and precious life is. This past week, I received one of those dreaded phone calls. Just after leaving the NW Garden show in Seattle on a high and feeling so happy for the upcoming spring season, my phone rang. My brother’s dad (a man who has been apart of my entire life), who is in a nursing home, doesn’t seem like he’ll make it very long. Things are bad. Tears rushing, I make all the phone calls I need to. Our family bands together, my husband is rushing home, and my plane ticket is booked for the next morning. I felt as if I was racing time and I couldn’t get there fast enough. I was impatient and irritable, but didn’t dare take a moment for granted. I was on a mission. I arrived the next afternoon and made a straight line to see Sam. Some of my earliest memories are with him. His music. California. It felt like this couldn’t be.
I rush through the doors, scared of what is awaiting me. As I make my way to the nurses desk, I look to my right and there he is tucked away in a room. Bright blue eyes, sitting in a wheelchair, hanging out with his friends and watching TV. He doesn’t realize it’s me yet, but as I say his name a few times and tell him, “It’s Rikki. I’m here Sam, I love you. I’m here.” The nurse looks from me to him and asks him, “Do you know this young lady?” He looks from her to me and back again, “Yes. That’s my daughter,” he almost laughs. The nurse breaks into tears. Sadly, while I’ve been absent much more than I should have, a neighbor and acquaintance had told the staff he didn’t have family. “Ma’am,” I said, “There are eight children mixed in this family. Endless grandchildren. His brother and sister. This man has family. He is well loved, I assure you.” With that cleared up, I saw her teary eyes, and I held back my tears.
That first day we spent an hour together. He talked of his old work stories and I was happy to listen until he wore out and needed to rest. A few days later, my brothers, nieces, and I were able to get together for the first time in a very long time, and we spent the afternoon with Sam. We sat outside while he had lunch, the sun shining, talking, laughing, and being together. When we took him in, my youngest niece held the door open as her dad and uncle wheeled her Grandpa in the door. He held up his hand for a high five just as they passed. I loved that moment. Unbeknownst to us, it would be his last good day. By Monday he was no longer lucid and his life was coming full circle.
My brothers, their daughters, and I were together for the first time in a long time, and while our hearts were heavy, we were soaking in our time together. Life is precious and we were getting a full dose of that reminder. We cooked dinner together, stayed up late talking, laughed, and read stories to the girls. Making memories.
There was a volunteer social worker who came in as I sat with Sam, hours before I had to catch a plane back to Seattle. I was irritated to have my precious time interrupted, but it turned out to be a blessing I didn’t know I needed. He reminded me that the time we spent during his last few good days, his family being together, the photos we took, is rare. So many people don’t get this. We each had our final hug. Kisses. Laughter. Photos. There has only been one other time in my life when I cried as much as I did over those six days. And that’s when I lost my Grandmother. We didn’t get this kind of goodbye with her. I’m not an emotional person per say, but the world without the people we love is not a place we want to see. I was grateful to share some of Sam’s story with the nurses, the social worker, and anyone who came in to talk with us. We listened to Bob Seger, The Eagles, and Santana on guitar until I left, and I recounted his heroic, admirable, and well lived life. In the end, a life well lived is more than we can all ask for.
These photos. They are everything. One week later, he went home to the Lord. I’ll never ever forget these moments and I’ll hold them dear for all time. I keep telling myself that I am more blessed than anything to have had such an impactful, inspirational person in my life. While time never seems to be enough, while there are never enough photos to remember the moments, that I have these and I have that little bit of time. I’m lucky. I’m so very lucky.