Departures

7 Aug

It wasn’t easy leaving.  But I did it…in record time.  I was on the phone with my family in the US at 2am Korea time.  After that phone call, I was clear. I needed to get home and no time was to be wasted.

We had known for some time that my dad was sick.  More recently, I knew I had to be on the alert for a possible quick departure.  I had made arrangements with my employer to leave Korea in two weeks.  But after that phone call I was clear… two weeks was too long and I had to leave right away.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, I called the airline and began searching for a flight leaving the following day.  There was one that left at 5:15pm from Korea with only two seats left.  If I wanted to see my father again, I had no choice but to book that flight.  I was taking a risk in doing so as I made this change at a time when I was unable to consult first with my employer.  But I took a leap of faith hoping they would understand the circumstances.

After that I started to pack, wrapping up my year and half of life in Korea in the early morning hours. I was intently focused and by noon I had minimized the expansiveness of my personal belongings down to two suitcases, a backpack, and one box to be shipped to the States.

I quickly made my rounds at work, doing my best to smooth over in person the quick changes I had made in the night.  I cleaned my apartment and completed the sale of a few household items to other teachers. Next, without time to spare, I took a cab to the airport.

The flights passed quickly and I soon found myself landing around midnight at an airport in the midwest. My sister picked me up and we went directly to the hospice where my father was being cared for.

When I saw him he smiled and I am grateful for that recognition.  Later in that day he called me by name a few times.  I cherish those moments that I would not have had if I waited even a day longer to leave. What unfolded next was the witnessing and ushering in of my father’s passing.

My mom, my sister and her family, and I were constantly at his side.  Even during the night my sister and I took turns sleeping on the couch in his room.  He was receiving impeccable care from the nurses at his hospice, but we wanted to be there nonetheless.

As the days went by the nurses continued to share the signs that let us know he was getting closer to his end.  We watched daily until the nurses with precision suggested that he had just a few hours left.  We all gathered around and were present as he simply just stopped breathing.

It is quite something to see a parent go and the swarm of emotions that follow.  Feeling strong one moment and being swept away by a surge of tears the next.  When my father passed away I felt honored for having been there for his last days. Strangely, it felt like we had accomplished something in being there for him every step of the way.  In some ways no different from birth and ushering in a life, we participated in the important process of being with someone, comforting, keeping and caring for them as they make their departure.

For now I am riding the quiet waves of grief in the strange space of his absence as my family and I prepare for his memorial service.  As my family migrated a few hours west of our home town, we are grateful to receive family and friends arriving from out-of-town for the service.

As life carries on… I am noticing all the little spaces that are now empty since my dad’s departure.  The thoughts of him that are now memories and the commonly spoken phrases that are no longer true. I am grateful that my dad and I did our best to stay connected with one another during this last year of his life and the journey of his illness.

And so, this journey of mine is detoured in the quiet lands of the midwest, stopped for now at this important family passage.

 

Featured photo – This quote was featured on the wall of the hospice where my dad spent his final days.

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