“I have my Dad’s hands. I’ve never liked that feature about myself. Most everyone would tell me growing up I was a picture of my Father, and I was okay with that, freckles and all. But I always wished God would’ve given me my mother’s hands; soft, delicate, and able. Instead, I was blessed with hands that look like they belong to an 11-year-old boy with black nail polish (because that’s my go-to nail color).
It’s funny the things that don’t really matter, isn’t it? You don’t always come to realize these things until it’s too late. Death of a loved one can often bring these things to the surface. Loss can often make us contemplative and ushers us into the sobering reality of what really matters in life. I’m in that place right now actually.
As I write this, my Dad died 3 days ago from complications with COVID-19. He had underlying lung disease and COPD and once this virus broke out, I became very worried he would contract it. Because of his lung disease, he was often having exasperations that would lead to him being hospitalized. When I got the call he had once again been transported via ambulance, we were both worried. The hospital was not the ideal place to be right now as the COVID-19 epidemic was continuing to peak and hospitals were full of patients with the virus.
Just a month ago, doctors gave my Dad approximately 6 months to live. He had been given timelines before, but he always had a strong will to live and would often say, ‘I don’t want to go home yet.’ He even wrote a song about it. He enjoyed writing songs and poems, sometimes just for fun, and sometimes as a gift for his 16-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa, a very talented musician. He lived and breathed for his grandkids and I believe that is what allowed him to hold on for so long.
A few years ago, I moved 3,000 miles away from Pittsburgh to Oregon and it broke his heart to be so far from us. He would Facetime and call us a dozen times a day just to get his fix. He would sit for hours on his iPad and listen to them read him stories and show real genuine interest in all their daily adventures. He would handwrite cards full of poetry and drawings personalized for each grandchild. He knew how to make you feel special. We did everything we could to stay connected and give him a reason to keep going despite his illness. When we would visit, we’d find napkins, paper plates, or anything he could find handy laying around the house scribbled with lyrics or words he thought of on the spot. He was a fountain of words, jokes, and trivia. He was hilarious and didn’t know it.
He was a serious cook. One Thanksgiving, I tricked him into thinking I was cooking my turkey in the microwave and I thought he would disown me. He had me in tears from laughter. He was smart, wise, and giving. Anytime he had a hospital stay he would feel so grateful for the medical team caring for him, almost to the point of feeling bad for all they had to do. He didn’t have much, but he was creative, and he began to use the tin foil from his lunches to create these sweet little foil rose rings for the nurses who cared for him daily. He probably made hundreds of them over the years and each one a different design. He was a diabetic, so his fingers were always sore from the lancet pokes, but he wanted to give them something. So, he used his hands. It was all he had. He began making these rings for people in his high-rise apartment building that he felt looked lonely or needed a smile. It wasn’t just foil rings he made; he used his hands to give in so many other ways. He would write poems for nurses thanking them for caring for him. He would stop to talk to the old lady who sat on a bench at the Dollar Store every day. He told me she seemed lonely and he felt bad for her, so he began to make small talk when he’d pass by her in his electric scooter. He would even buy her snacks because if you knew my dad, he hated to think anyone was hungry.
I mentioned he was a serious cook. He loved to cook for anyone who would let him. He made amazing bacon cheeseburgers, and no one could top his mashed potatoes or homemade noodles. This was just another way he used his hands to give. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be cooking for a half dozen teenagers my sister and I would bring home from school back in the day. He never complained, the more the merrier. He loved filling people’s bellies. That was one of the hardest things about his recent hospital stay. He loved good food and he was spending a lot of time in the hospital with a sub-par menu.
I had a friend in the area who would visit him and brought him Wendy’s chili which he craved so often, but once the coronavirus started to become more rampant, he wasn’t allowed visitors and had to survive on those late-night turkey sandwiches some of the nursing staff would sneak in for him. I found out my dad had tested positive for COVID-19 just one day before he was intubated and 2 days before he finally passed away. He wasn’t allowed to use the phone and I begged to be able to talk to him before intubation, but hospital policy didn’t allow a phone in his room.
I asked if they could hold the phone to his ear at least so I could pray for him and let him know everything would be okay, but they said it was against hospital policy. The doctor contacted me once he was intubated and passed along what would be his last words. ‘I love my grandkids.’ I knew when she told me he said that he must have been scared and he must have known there was a chance he wouldn’t be weaning off the ventilator. He wanted his grandkids to know he loved them.
We talked about COVID-19 just two days before. It was a Saturday and I was telling him he would be getting one of those stimulus checks and he was excited because he wanted to buy the grandkids each something nice. He also really hoped to buy a portable oxygen machine so he could travel to Oregon to visit us. It was always his dream to come here and to see the ocean for the first time. He spoke of it every day.
Once my dad was intubated, they contacted me and began to give me options. They said the virus had made him incredibly sick and his chances of weaning were slim to none. They began to talk about making him comfortable. At one point, his nurse started to cry and told me it was hard to watch this virus take control of him the way it was. They had to flip him on his belly every 4-6 hours to keep his oxygen somewhat stable as well as constant poking and prodding. I had to make the very difficult decision to remove his life support and make him comfortable so he wouldn’t suffer anymore. 12 hours after I made the very difficult decision, but one I felt was most humane and loving, he passed away. I received a call at 3 a.m. informing me and it felt so surreal. He was actually gone. I just talked to him 2 days ago and we were laughing and making plans for summer. I had to tell my children that their Pap, their best friend, was gone. They sobbed for hours. It was unreal how fast the virus took him. We never got to say goodbye. I didn’t get to hold his hand as he passed from this life to the next.
I logged onto social media and started to notice the memes and jokes about the coronavirus were suddenly hurtful and I was sensitive now. Photos of families gathering and not taking the virus seriously made me angry. I was one of those who didn’t think it was a big deal in the beginning but now realized the importance of being sensitive to those who have lost a loved one to this and the responsibility to keep our hands washed and to quarantine.
It’s only been a few days since my Dad passed away from COVID-19. I still have to say it out loud every once in a while, because sometimes I still don’t believe he isn’t here anymore. As I started digging through old bins and boxes in the garage searching for pieces of him in photos and old greeting cards, I realized the biggest part of my dad was right in front of me. His hands. My hands. I began to cry.
He left me with his greatest gift. The part of him he used the most to bless others whether it was giving my mother a good foot massage, washing windows for the elderly, cooking up something tasty, or squeezing the cheeks of my daughter, Juliet, and doting on how those freckles make her the prettiest 10-year-old around. He used his hands because he wasn’t a rich man, but he was rich in love and he was a giver.
Nelson Mandela once said, ‘It’s in your hands to make the world a better place.’ I hope I inherit his giving heart; the verdict is still out on that one, but for now, I have his hands and I intend to use them to make him proud.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristin Odell of Ashland, Oregan. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Twitter. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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