The flight to get home was a prelude to the turbulent emotions that were yet to be felt as I made my way east in hopes to arrive at the bedside of my dad in the hospital in hopes he would still recognize me somehow and be able to communicate with me. As I listened to people screaming in the rear of the plane, and another in front of me bouncing out of his seat, I knew that my hopes were close to being dashed and the desire to get 'home' was all the more the goal. I was handed a standby ticket by the airline agent as our flight arrived an hour late in Houston due to bad weather. The skies were black as the rains washed over the runways grounding plane after plane. There were people in every seat, on the floor, and standing all waiting for a way out to their destination, and I was one of them. My belly growled with hunger not just for food, but with the longing to make it home before it would be too late to say my goodbyes to my father as he lay in the hospital on life support, as all hope for improving was dashed only days before my travel plans to get home.
I had just gotten off the phone with my sister in law who had turned half way back as I called to tell her that the flight to the mountains of NC where we had lived several years earlier had been cancelled, and my earliest hopes of arrival were possibly the following morning. The idea of spending the night in the airport was not on my bucket list by any means. Within just a couple of minutes after hanging up the phone I heard the announcement that the plane to Charlotte was loading...I was given a standby ticket and stood with heart clenched in hopes that there was a seat waiting for me...within the next half minute and a prayer breathed below my voice my name was called and I literally ran to the desk to assure my seat would not be taken by another. I was on the plane!
It was after 3am when we arrived from the airport to the hospital, my dad was sleeping, a ventilator was keeping his lungs working and he was comfortable with a drip of medications slowly making their decent into his veins. Over the years I had seen my dad 18 years earlier hooked up to machines and tubes when he'd had his heart surgery, but this was different and I knew it was only a matter of time before our goodbyes would be nothing more then unspoken memories.
I gently took his frail hand into mine and there I sat for hours until the sun rose bringing a new day. He was never at a place to speak verbally to me, but there were several times where he held tight to my hand with his strength I remember as a little girl, and then it would be quiet again. In my heart I do believe he knew I was there, I stroked his temples and his now soft gray hair that cradled his head, in my hand. The once strong vibrant father I had known that would swim for miles into the disappearing ocean horizon with me holding tight round his neck, now gently making his way to a new horizon that I was unable to go with him to.
Over the course of the next couple of days the rest of my brothers made their way in from the west and southeast as we had been called to all come home knowing dads time was short. My brother from the west coast was the last to arrive, and I do believe dad was 'waiting' to depart until he was able to see all of his children together for the last time. It was an emotional time of 'gathering' as a family at his bedside. At one point I felt like we were having a huge 'slumber' party in his room, laughing and telling stories as we were all together sharing old times...tears would well up between the laughter in silence, then broken again by the stories bringing the laughter once again. This would be the next two days of visitation until we came together as a family to make the decision to remove the ventilator. Dad's sedation was cut so he could somewhat awaken from his slumber to recognize all of us around him. It was a very intense and emotional time as we all held our breath not knowing how long he would hold on. He opened his eyes and locked into my youngest brother and they had a conversation without words that in those moments could fill the pages of a book.
We each spent our time to say our goodbyes, how much dad could understand is hard to say, but from the look and the intensity of his eyes, we knew he comprehended the depth of the moment. The oxygen mask was placed on his face to help with his breathing, and he was given morphine to ease the pain and slipped back into the place of willing rest to accept the journey that was ahead. It was hard to watch such a strong father so weak and so frail. Near midnight, his blood pressure began to drop as he began making his way to crossing over. I began to pray with my brothers and his wife at his side, and within only moments his eyes opened once again and he smiled a gentle smile as if he was invited to come by a loved one who journeyed this way before him.
His last breath was taken, as we participated in the blessing of his crossing over, it was a somber moment full of so much emotion. Sadness, yet joy to see him finally at rest, no more suffering and finally whole, healed and at peace. And so, one chapter closed, and another opened in a moment, in a breath he was gone and in a new place while we all fumbled finding our new place in the same place.
We had a wonderful public memorial for my dad at their home on the New River in the mountains of NC. The home had been their nest for 18 years, and held wonderful memories for Cip and I, and the rest of my siblings as we spent time there over the years. A perfect place to celebrate the memories of our dad. As the friends left, the family departed down to the river to share in the memories of dads favorite place on the river, a huge rock where he loved to sit and fish.
There is so much more to this story that will be included in my writing of 'Views from the window Seat' as there is so much to share. The drive home from the hospital was my last that night, as all the family, with mixed emotions my flesh cried out for dad, but my spirit longed to jump out of the car and shout with incredible joy knowing he had finally met the Divine road that travels to only good.
This trip started with an incredible support from so many of you, friends and art enthusiasts as the efforts were made to help me purchase the ticket to make my way home. It is hard to put into words how encouraged and loved I felt from the outpouring of prayer, kindness and acts that enabled me to get home. The trip ended with the blessing of re-connecting with brothers, and extended family that I had not seen in years. For this I will be eternally grateful to my father for bringing us all together again, and to friends and family who were there to make the journey with me, with us, with dad.
'Bob' De Benedictis Jan 27-1931 to May 12-2014
Dad and me on the coast, he was an incredible swimmer and loved the ocean.