A few weeks ago, while I was visiting and caring for my parents, my dad’s heart stopped.
The first time, he fell flat on his back in the kitchen, but because he seemed pretty much fine (and we weren’t sure what had happened), I had him rest in the front room and watch TV with my three younger children while my oldest daughter, Alia, and I got my mom changed for bed.
Then it happened again.
My children scream from the front room, “Mom! Grandpa stopped breathing! Come help us!”
I sprinted across the front room, frantically trying to call 9-1-1 as I ripped off the gloves I’d been wearing–not sure what I was about to see or what was going to be required of me.
Alia pulled out her own phone and said, “I’ll call 9-1-1. You take care of Grandpa.”
So I threw down my phone and bee-lined to my dad.
He was staring straight forward. His body was rigid. There was no breathing. No response. Only a quick gasp or a jerk every couple of seconds, like his body was fighting to live.
In that moment, I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t lift him out of the chair. I didn’t know if this was something related to his diabetes or not. He hadn’t had any chest pains or any problems earlier (other than that fall) and he’d been totally fine when I sent him to rest.
So I did what I have been taught to do my whole life.
I wrapped my arms around him, I closed my eyes, and with all the faith of my heart, I asked God to please help us.
Within three seconds, my dad started breathing again. His body calmed, and he looked me in the eyes and began talking to me…totally unaware that anything had just happened.
“Dad,” I replied as I hugged and kissed him, “We almost lost you. You weren’t breathing or responding. The ambulance is on its way.”
At that point, Alia handed me the phone, and the emergency operator guided me to take my dad into the living room and help him lie down on the floor.
Now the short story is that my dad received a pacemaker the next day–after a frightening night of flat-lining twice at the hospital. Although he has had to go into the hospital a second time since then, he is gratefully still with us, a blessing for which I can’t thank the Lord enough.
But what I need to record here is one of the most precious moments I have ever experienced. And it’s the kind of moment for which we all need to be prepared.
It happened as I knelt by my dad’s side while we waited for the paramedics. I didn’t know if I was ever going to be with him again in this life.
I kissed his cheeks and his forehead and said, “I love you, Dad. I love you so much.”
He kissed my cheek and replied, “I know you do. And I love you, too.”
Such a simple moment, really. But it’s one that put everything into perspective for me.
If I were to have lost my dad that night, I would have had zero regrets.
Because of my mom’s Alzheimer’s, I have been at their home practically every Thursday evening for years. I have been going through photo albums with him, we’ve had fun at the beach, we’ve eaten dinners together and laughed at funny memories. He’s listened to each of the chapters of the book I’m writing for my mom.
In addition to all that, we have a lifetime of beautiful experiences together…vacations as a family, late-night poster-making for my student council campaigns, hours and hours when I got to snuggle next to him while he read the newspaper or watched TV at night.
We obviously want to make many more memories together, but when the time comes for us to part, I have a powerful feeling of peace–because we’re ready.
This idea has gotten me thinking about all of my relationships.
If the situation had been different–if I had been waiting for the paramedics to come for my husband, one of my children, another member of my extended family, or a dear friend, have I lived my life and prioritized my relationships in such a way that I would feel that same peace?
One of the biggest lessons my dad taught me was this:
“If there is something that needs to change in your life, do it now. Don’t wait until tomorrow or the new year. Make it happen today.”
How do you feel about that question? Is there anything you want to change?
Here are a few of mine:
(1) I’m going to do a better job taking care of my husband, Eric. He gives me shoulder massages and takes me on dates and puts me down for naps. Although he says he’s just fine and that he doesn’t expect more from me, I want him to know–every single day–that he’s my hero and my true love.
(2) When Spencer (my seven-year-old) puts something on the “Wondering List,” I’m actually going to do the research with him. (We looked up tanks and machine guns on Saturday.)
(3) When Ethan (my 11-year-old) tells me about his Lego designs and goes into detail about everything he loves in the Lego magazine, I’m really going to pay attention. These mean a lot to him, so they mean a lot to me. (I am learning a lot about Legos…)
(4) When I have the chance to spend time with my 12-year-old, Grace (who seems to miss me the most when she’s at school), I am going to savor those moments and make sure she knows how much I adore her…even when I’m feeling tired or grumpy.
(5) When my 14-year-old, Alia, asks me to help her with her book or wants to record a podcast with me, I will make it an appointment — instead of always saying, “I’m too tired tonight.”
(6) When I visit my mom and dad, I will record as many details as I can…especially asking my dad to tell me more stories from his early years. My children and grandchildren need to know these amazing people who came before them, and what a gift it is that we have this time together right now.
Am I going to be perfect at all of this?
Well, definitely not.
But the more experiences I have, the more I know that being perfect isn’t the point. It’s this trying–this consistent work in the midst of the “stuff” of life when we get to take care of the people that we love.
I have no idea how many years, months, or days I have left with any of the precious people in my life. But if those final moments come sooner than I expect, you can be sure I am going to do everything I can to be prepared.
QUESTION: Considering your most precious relationships, is there anything you want or need to change?
CHALLENGE: Take a couple of moments to think about the people in your life who mean the most. Assess how you have been prioritizing your time, and if there’s room for improvement, decide today to make that happen.