One Last Road Trip

There’s a saying that if you wish for something long enough you need to be prepared to receive more than you asked for. Nothing is more true than this when it comes to the one wish I had growing up.

Living on a farm in a family of nine meant you hardly ever had alone time with yourself or with another family member. Being the middle child and the oldest of the girls meant my time was mostly spent doing domestic chores in the house, alongside my mom and younger sisters. Time with my dad, alone, was very limited. Providing for a family of nine as a farmer meant he was out of the house early in the morning to start his day. He would return to the house briefly for family meals throughout the day, followed by going back outside to continue his work until mid- to later evening.

There was something about my dad that made me yearn for more time with him, especially one-on-one time. He was one of those people you just wanted to be in the presence of. It didn’t take long to figure out that one way to make this happen was to earn the coveted ticket to ride with him in the truck when he took livestock to sell at the Omaha Stockyards. It guaranteed one full day alone with Dad. We wouldn’t talk a whole lot on those day trips, but we didn’t need to because Dad’s actions always meant more than the words he spoke. At least once during every trip I could count on him reaching across the cab of the truck and grabbing my hand to hold it. Riding down the road, together, holding hands in silence was enough to fulfill my yearning and to remind me that I was always loved by him.

The yearning to spend one-on-one time with my dad never went away the older I got. The image of still holding hands with my dad and the feeling of love and security it gave me didn’t either. I found myself wishing for one more road trip with Dad, alone, and holding hands.

On April 19, 2019, at the age of 88, my dad started experiencing ongoing health problems. It started with kidney failure that resulted in doing dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life. A month after his kidney failure diagnosis, he got a staph infection in a knee replacement. He underwent surgery to remove the knee replacement and he had to live in a rehab center for two months without a knee while treating the infection and before undergoing another surgery to put a knee replacement back in. He returned to the rehab center to learn to walk again with his new knee and two months later he went back home to the farm walking – but now with a walker. Four months later, in early 2020, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent treatments and eight months later a scan showed the cancer was in remission. Two months later, in the fall of 2020, a tumor was discovered in his ureter and a spot was also found on his bladder. In December 2020 (at the age of 89) he had surgery to remove the ureter and kidney it was attached to. It was a major surgery to recover from and doctors believed he would need to go to a rehab center following it. Ten days after surgery my dad recovered well enough to return home from the hospital. Shortly after, early this spring, he started treatments for the bladder cancer. He finished his treatments in May and initial follow-up scans showed he was free of cancer – again. We had so much to celebrate on his 90th birthday on May 24th and even he said he felt like he wanted to live to be 100 years old. However, it all changed when in late July tests indicated cancer had returned and this time it was aggressive. He had a tumor in his rectum, cancer in his bones and a spot on his liver. On July 26, 2021, my dad was told he had terminal cancer and was given weeks to live.

On April 19, 2019, my instincts told me to drive back home and go to the doctor appointment with Dad when I heard his kidneys were failing. So, I did. It would be the first of many doctor visits and hospital stays I would accompany Dad to.

And so it began…a 2 ½ year road trip with Dad, many times one-on-one, holding hands in silence.

This road trip, however, was a bit different from those in the past. This time it was a grown daughter reaching across to grab her dad’s hand, holding it, and letting him know he was loved and cared for.

Our road trip ended when Dad passed away on Monday, August 30.

I may have had to wait many years for my wish to come true, but it was worth the wait. I received more from this last road trip with Dad than I could have ever imagined.

P.S. Thank you for walking alongside me these past four months as I journeyed with my husband and dad through their final days and weeks of life. Through your many messages I felt your hands reaching out to hold mine and offering me hope, comfort and strength. As the saying goes, I received more than I could have ever asked or wished for from you. Thank you for going on the road trip with me.

P.S.S. In my last blog on July 28 I also shared that my mom was diagnosed with a severe heart problem at the time of my dad’s prognosis. Fortunately, she was able to avoid surgery. Her condition is being managed by medication and it allowed her the time to be with Dad at home in his final weeks. Blessings abound!