The last few weeks have been a TOTAL whirlwind.
On the morning of Thursday, November 29th, my dad went to his local emergency room because he had been up all night vomiting with severe stomach pain. If most people heard this, they would think "virus", "flu", or some other simple illness that typically rears it's ugly head around this time of year. But as soon as my sister called to tell me, I knew that it was more. Little did I know how right I would turn out to be.
Not long after my dad was admitted, they began an IV of morphine, and yet...that wasn't touching his pain. They soon realized that he had two large kidney stones...7mm and 8mm. They said that they were too large to pass and that they would have to be surgically removed. So until the OR was available, they had him on pain meds. Well, shortly after they left...they came back. They said his bloodwork had returned with an indicating that there was a problem with his pancreas. My mom called to tell me that they were sending him for a contrast CT. We all held our breaths and waited by our phones for the results. This was so out of the norm for my dad. A few hours later, we had an answer. Critical pancreatitis. It seemed simple enough. He was in horrible pain, but they were admitting him. They were going to take care of the kidney stones and put him on strong antibiotics. Thursday night, more news. He also had a gallbladder full of stones, and one large one was blocking the duct leading from his gallbladder to his pancreas. The pancreatitis was worse than they originally thought. They immediately took him to surgery to remove the blockage. By midnight on Thursday, he said he was feeling better and he sent my mom back home to rest. Something was screaming at me, "Tell her not to leave him there!" as soon as she told me she was going home. She got mad at me for "giving her hell".
Friday morning, my mom returned to the hospital around 9am to find my dad having trouble breathing. He had gotten worse overnight. His original pain had returned. By lunch time Friday, mom called to tell me that his liver enzymes were off the charts, he was having trouble breathing and they were moving him to ICU. Now, let me explain that when I got this call, I was sitting at Pepboys (where my husband works), waiting on my oil to be changed. I was in the waiting area, my husband was in the shop working, and I remember mom telling me that he was being moved. I looked out the window to my husband and I had the worst feeling in my gut that our lives were about to change forever. I called my husband from my cell, told him what was happening and that I needed to go to my dad (he lives about 2 hours away). I told him to make arrangements to leave work early, that I was going to get our daughter from school early, stopping by home to pick up a few things, and that I'd be back to get him. I left Pepboys around 1:30, returned at 3pm and we were on our way. I got to the hospital around 5pm, and when I called my mom to ask her where I was supposed to go, my dad was in AFIB. I left my husband and the kids in the waiting room and rushed to my dad's room. I knew that this was going to be the worst thing that I had ever seen, so I tried to brace myself.
When I got to the waiting room, my mom was there, my older brother (one of them) was sitting beside her, crying. My parents' preacher was there, along with an elder from church. Again, my heart sank even more. My mom told me to prepare myself...that daddy was having trouble breathing, that he had an NG tube in his nose. I walked into his room with a smile on my face. "Hey daddy!"...and I immediately grabbed his hand. He had IV's in both hands. He was struggling to breathe, but trying to act like his usual self. He nodded and said in between breaths "Hey baby". I rubbed his hands...took everything that I was seeing in and said to him "You know dad, if you just wanted a little extra attention, you could have just told me". He smirked, nodded at me and said "I thought I was doing good. I've made it all this way and now everything is going wrong, all at once". My dad was scared. My strong, brave superhero was terrified. He had always been nervous around doctors...and this was his worst nightmare. They were waiting for another dr to come in and start a central line. My mom asked daddy if he cared if my husband came in, and daddy said no, he didn't care. So I went out and got my husband. As soon as I was out of my dad's eye line, I broke down. My mom had to stop me in the hallway of the ICU and calm me down. I held his hand as tight as I could, bracing myself again for what I was about to see. As soon as daddy saw Dayton, he perked up (as much as his tired body could) and said "Hey Dayton!" in between breaths. Dayton tried cracking a few jokes with him...both of them are notorious for joking in inappropriate situations to lighten a mood. I followed suite and told daddy that this was a pretty extreme attempt to get out from under Obama. He appreciated that one. Soon, the dr came in and said they were going to start the central line and we had to leave. I asked the dr (audibly, in front of my dad), "You ARE going to numb all this (motioning to dad's chest and neck area where they were going to put the line in) FIRST, right?"...I wanted dad to hear me clarify that with the dr. Daddy was terrified and it showed. The dr assured me (but mostly daddy), "YES. ALL of it will be numb before I do ANYTHING". The dr must have known what I was trying to do and I was grateful for his cooperation. I squeezed dad's hand and told him that I loved him.
We left the hospital that night and came home. I knew this wasn't going to end well. My dad had been in the hospital before...but he had never looked like this. Something was just off, and I knew it in my gut.
Saturday morning around 10am, I got a call from my sister with a call immediately after that from my mother. They were putting my dad on a ventilator. He had been struggling so hard to breathe (and it had only gotten worse) that his heart was beginning to give out. They explained to dad that they were going to sedate him and then intubate him. They also assured him that as long as he was on the vent, he would be sedated. I think that eased his mind...but again, he was scared. Again, I called Dayton and told him to come home. I told him that I had to go. About an hour and a half later, the door swings open and there stands Dayton holding bags of snacks for the kids. "Get your things together. I'm taking you to your dad. I'm not letting you do this by yourself, and you need to be there". We did a load of laundry, got the kids fed and down for naps, and were out the door around 3pm. I dropped the kids and hubbs off at my sister's house and went to the hospital. I got there about 5:30pm and went in to see my dad. I followed my mom in and while she went straight to his bedside, I hung out by the door trying to stifle my tears. I was so close to falling apart, but I knew that daddy couldn't hear me be upset. I took a few deep breaths, wiped my face, and went to his other side and picked up his hand. I asked my mom to leave the room so I could talk to him alone. She was mad, and resistant, but she finally stepped outside. I told him how sorry I was that I hadn't talked to him in the last week, that I was sorry I had given him so much trouble as a teenager, that I needed him to be strong and fight, and that my youngest baby still hadn't shared a cup of sweet tea with his papa yet. I reminded him how much we loved him and told him how badly we needed him here. A little while later, I went in with my older sister. She stood on one side, and I stood on the other and we held his hands. I saw her tear up, and right when I thought she was about to lose it, she looked up at me with an angry face and started fussing about how badly he had been taking care of himself. I ended up riding with her to go feed my mom's dogs before we went back to her house that night. We got back in around midnight. Dayton was waiting for me...and with open arms, as he knew I was ready to fall apart. Sunday morning, we woke up and we went back by the hospital so I could see my dad one more time before we left. I went to the waiting room first...my mom was sleeping, so I made the decision to go ahead and see him alone, without her there. I walked in and his nurse was there. She told me that his vitals were great and had been all night (about 10 minutes of hope). She walked out and I had about 5 minutes alone with daddy. As hard as I tried, I couldn't stop the tears. I told him that I needed him to fight, that I was sorry, and how much I loved him. I told him that he couldn't leave me alone with this crazy family of mine, and that I couldn't go on without him. I told him that I wouldn't know how to live in a world without him. Then I told him that I was sorry, but I wasn't sure if I would be able to handle coming back. Just about the time I finished talking and kissing dad on the shoulder, his doctor came in. He was a very nice, reasonably young guy. He asked me if I was his daughter, and I said that I was. And he laid it on me. He explained that overnight, my dad's kidney function had drastically declined and that they were currently operating at about 17% ....he said they would need to start dialysis asap. I looked him square in the eye and said, "So...his kidneys are failing.". It wasn't really a question, but he held eye contact with me, while his eyes started watering and said, "Yes ma'am. They are". Again, I just knew.
I went and woke my mom up, gave her the doctors card and the information. She raced out of the waiting room and I made my way back down to my car, bawling my eyes out as soon as I stepped outside of the hospital.
We came home and tried to go on with life as usual. With 3 small kids, that was our only option...and the only option that dad would find acceptable. Over the next few days, we got the news that he went septic, that his lungs were filling with fluid, that the infection in his pancreas was getting worse and not responding to antibiotics, the dialysis wasn't working, and then they decided to open him up to try and get the gallbladder (which was the main source of all the problems). When they opened him, his insides were too inflamed. All they could do was scrape out some of the infection, and they left his incision open to try to relieve some of the pressure. He went through three of the surgeries with no luck. Saturday afternoon (the 8th), I had to slap a smile on my face and throw a party for my daughter's 6th birthday. Dad would have killed me if he woke up to find that I had canceled it. On Friday, they had given my dad less than a 1% chance of surviving through the weekend. He was still sedated and had gone from the original 60% oxygen on the vent to 100%...life support.
Monday afternoon, we knew we had to go back. We all knew what was about to happen, but no one wanted to come out and say it. I went to the hospital Monday night and saw my dad. I told him that I had heard on TV over the weekend that Kramer (from Seinfeld) was coming back to TV...and that he absolutely had to stick around for that. Some stupid show that dad would hate was on his TV, so I found The Soup on E! for him and left that on. He always loved that show. I wasn't allowed to stay long. I sat in the waiting room with my mom for a little while. I asked her if he passed away, if she would let me have some of his ashes (dad's wishes were to be cremated) for a memory necklace. I was surprised that she agreed. I also said that I wanted to speak at his service. She replied with, "Cara, you're not going to be able to do that". I told her that I had to at least try and she said, "No. If you break down, I won't be able to handle it and you're just too soft hearted not to have a meltdown in front of all of those people". I insisted, and she humored me by giving in. Tuesday, I went out to my mom's house for her and when we were leaving I got a call from my sister: "Cara, I want you to get in your car and go to the hospital RIGHT. NOW." *Okay* "Cara, do you understand what I'm saying to you?". I knew exactly what she was saying. She was telling me that my dad had minutes to live and I needed to be there.
Dayton drove about 80 mph through town to get me there. I raced in and ran past all of my brothers and sisters in the hallway, ran into the waiting room, and waited for my mom. She came and took me to see him, reluctantly. She had my brother walk with us, in case dad coded, my brother could help me out. She told me that they were stopping his blood pressure medicines, as even with two...he was struggling to keep his bottom number in the low 40's. One had already been stopped. They were waiting on her to tell them to stop the second. It would be a matter of hours. I stayed with him as long as she'd let me. I cried. I held his hands. She walked out (without a fuss this time) to let me talk to him. It was a blur and it still is. I told him how much I loved him, and again, how sorry I was. I told him to please not leave me alone, that he was the only one that ever loved me unconditionally. I didn't try to stop the tears this time. Dayton wanted to see him again, but he didn't have the heart. He walked back to the ICU waiting room, but couldn't bring himself to see daddy.
We left with the kids and headed home, silently. We all knew what was about to happen. I fell asleep on the way home. We left about 1:30-2pm. Around 3:30 I woke up and texted my sister, "Any updates??". About 2 minutes later, my phone rang. It was my mom. I knew. I held my breath and answered the phone. "Cara? Where are you?....Is Dayton driving? Your daddy passed away at 3:23 very peacefully". She went into details but I looked at Dayton with tears streaming down my face and couldn't bring myself to say anything because I knew I would lose it and I didn't want the kids to see me that way. I tuned back in in time to hear her say "Cara, you have to hold it together. You look at what you've got in the back seat and you hold it together for them. That's what daddy would want". I don't remember getting off the phone. I cried the rest of the way home with Dayton holding my hand the whole way. As soon as we got home, I went to sleep. I couldn't deal.
In the week since he's been gone, I've written my eulogy and said goodbye to my dad. I didn't think I'd manage, and almost gave into the pressure to let someone else read it...but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't try to say what I needed to say to honor my dad. I was amazingly calm during the service. I got up and spoke to the crowd about my dad and what a special man he was to everyone who knew him. People teared up, people laughed, and ultimately, I think I did a good job and daddy would have been happy with it. I started to choke up 3 times, but was able to take a breath and keep my composure. We sat down and they started a slideshow. Pictures all throughout my dad's life with the song Against the Wind by Bob Segar and the Silver Bullet band. I heard and felt Dayton start crying, and then there was nothing I could do. I fell apart. I watched these pictures, remembered all these times, stared at my daddy's sweet face.
It seems like he's already been gone for months. Everything else is going in real time, but when it comes to him...the minutes seem to be dragging. I haven't been as upset since he died as I was when he was sick. I don't understand that. There are a lot of things that I don't understand. I'm feeling pretty bitter about the whole situation. I'm including a copy of the eulogy that I wrote. I started out reading it and ended up adding a few more things once I was up there, but you'll get the idea.
We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon.
My dad was the best man that I have ever known. He was the best man that a lot of people have ever known. He was the best father a child could ever have, and the best example of a generous man that anyone could ever look to.
The memories that I have of my dad are simple: hitting a baseball in the back yard after school, taking long bike rides on Sunday afternoons (but only during the boring part of the Nascar races), and going to Sunday school every weekend...but they are the best memories. As I got older, the memories changed, but my dad's dedication as a father did not, even when it meant supporting me in something that he didn't necessarily agree with. Because that's the kind of man my dad was: strongly opinionated, but ultimately committed to being the best father that he could be.
The fact that he was such a good dad has meant that every day since he has been gone, my world has been a little darker, a lot scarier, and much less funny. And daddy would hate that.
He hated the idea of someone being sad, and if it meant cracking inappropriate jokes or teasing someone, he would do it. Even in the worst of times, daddy could find a way to make someone smile...and that is exactly how he would want to be remembered.
There are no words to adequately express the sense of loss felt by my family, my dad's church family, and his friends today. And I have no idea how we're supposed to move forward without him, how I'm supposed to explain to my son why he can't call his papa 6 times a day just because he wants to, or how I'm ever supposed to manage sitting in church without looking over and seeing him sitting at the end of the pew. But starting tomorrow, I'm going to wake up every day and try, because that's what daddy would want me to do, that's what dad would insist that I do, and that's what would make my dad proud. And if I can make him just a fraction of how proud he's made me, I'll be doing okay.
William "Bill" Clegg, Jr.
July 14, 1943-December 11, 2012