My dad died on April 10th. He had chosen to have surgery to repair a problem with his heart. It was an elective surgery. He chose to have the surgery hoping he would live longer to take care of mom who was starting to have problems with Parkinson’s disease.
Dad was suppose to be in intensive care for two days then on the main ward for four or five more days, then come home. He remained in intensive care for almost two weeks. During the surgery his diaphragm had been damaged making it impossible for him to draw a breath on his own. He made some improvement and was finally put on the main ward. The very next day he was moved from the hospital to a nearby rehab facility. We were all relieved. We just knew they wouldn’t have moved him from intensive care, and even from the hospital, if he wasn’t getting better. I let the kids all know the good news. Robin went to Modesto to see that grandpa was all settled in. While she was there she rubbed his feet. He still had the tracheotomy in his throat but he managed in no uncertain way to let her know how thoroughly he was enjoying his time with her.
I got a call from the rehab saying dad had been having trouble breathing and he had been sent back to the hospital. When I asked if we should go to him the answer was it would probably be a good idea. The person on the phone had not sounded like there was a need for urgency. I asked Heidi if she’d like to go. I picked Heidi up, then mom, and we headed for Modesto. I called Robin. We had a good visit on our drive but wondered if dad would need to remain in the hospital for a few more days.
When we went in the main portion of the hospital we were told he was in the Emergency section of the hospital and we needed to go there. It was a short walk around to the other side of the building. When we entered the Emergency area I told the receptionist who we were there to see. She got an uneasy look on her face and asked us to follow her to a room. We expected to find dad in the room but it was a tiny room with just a couple chairs in it. We were told to sit and someone would be with us in a minute. All three of us began to suspect the news on dad was going to be a little more serious.
A woman doctor came in. She verified who we were there to visit. When we told her it was Rodney Starn she took a deep breathe and blurted, “Oh I’m sorry, but Rodney has indeed died.” We were all in shock! We had been told he was having trouble breathing not that he had quit altogether. In a very matter-of-fact tone she then opened the door and pointed down the hall. His body is in the first room to the right. You can stay as long as you need to.” Then she scurried off in the other direction.
Mom started repeating “Holy Moses, Holy Moses,” over and over. Slowly we entered the room followed by a very quiet little nurse. Dad was lying on a bed covered by a sheet. His hand was uncovered and laying by his side. Mom grabbed his hand and held tight as the nurse pulled the sheet from his face.
Immediately mom began to talk to him. “Rod, you lied to me, you said you’d never leave me. Now you’ve gone and left me, what am I suppose to do? I can’t take care of myself, who will take care of me? How could you lie to me like this? Holy Moses, Holy Moses.” Her eyes left his face and gradually turned downward. She would not sit, she remained standing beside him.
I called Larry and Phillip and David. I called Pastor Don. After a few minutes mom wanted me to call EL and Margie Howard, lifelong friends since grade school. It seemed imperative they know dad had died. Next she wanted me to call Brian and Barbara Miner, who were neighbors. Heidi and I both concentrated on comforting mom. Finally, when her legs grew tired, she sat. Mom started listing people she and dad had known all their lives and asked me to call them. By now it was after 11:00. I finally convinced mom calling everyone who ever knew him in the middle of the night wasn’t necessary.
Larry and Phil arrived. Adam and Robin arrived. Greetings, hugs, and tears started over each time someone new entered the room. We started telling mom it was time to go home. She argued saying the nurse had said we could stay as long as we needed to and dad’s friends hadn’t arrived yet. I told mom his friends weren’t coming. They would see her the next day or soon after that. She seemed puzzled, like she thought everyone dad had ever known was going to hurry down to the hospital and look at him. I thought that was curious.
We finally convinced her it was time to leave. Phil took her home and stayed the night with her. The rest of us headed home. I remember turning the TV on in our room and staring at it for the rest of the night. A lifetime of little memories flashed through my mind as I laid there. Wonderful memories, silly memories, and little flashes of memories kept me from sleep. I remembered how Robin had loved for grandpa to rub her feet and now, as it turns out, she was the last of us to see him alive and what was she doing? She had been rubbing his feet!
I thought it had been incredibly mean for the rehab to give us such an inaccurate message concerning dad. “Mr. Starn was having a little trouble breathing you might want to come see him,” hardly seemed appropriate to me.
The morning after he died I was so weak with grief I was actually unable to life arms above head. I remember I was going to put on a slip over blouse and couldn’t raise it above my head. I had to wear a button up shirt. I felt as though even my body was in mourning.
April 10th is our Cari’s birthday. He died on her 27th birthday. Our Joyce and Jayne were born on the 27th of August. This could be coincidence but I always thought it was God sending me a message that Cari, Joyce, Jayne, and dad were all just fine and all together. That may seem ridiculous to some but if he had died a day earlier or a day later it wouldn’t have worked. I truly believe God knew I needed that bit of encouragement and comfort!