It’s taken me a while to sit down and put the past six months into words. Words that are not only my own, but my father’s words. Words that I thought for a brief moment I would never hear him speak again. Words of wisdom, love, and humor that only a father can whisper to his daughter.
My father, Pete is what I call him, is my best friend. I am his mini me, he made me into the woman I am today and he doesn’t ever let me forget that. I get my zest for life and grit directly from him. My can do attitude and strength is a direct result of his parenting. He’s been at my side with comforting hugs during the bad days and cheering for me as loud as he possibly can on the good days too.
After my son Emmett died I needed to go for a drive, Pete suggested we just keep on driving up the north shore until we reach Grand Marias. In which we did and during this drive Pete knew I was angry at God. He knew I was deep in my grief licking my wounds that God had just freshly laid on me. I asked him “do you think God really works?” He paused for a moment “ya know I’ve seen God work every day since October 1982. It doesn’t matter what happens to you or who hurts you, you Mannie you dust your self off and you rise up with a smile. You should have died twice, but here you are. All be it you are walking this earth with a broken heart, yet you do it with faith. I get to see God work every day, you are a testament.”
I looked over and realized he had tears in his eyes and that his faith was deeper than I could ever begin to imagine. My father has more faith in God than any human I know. He always tells me “keep the faith.”
On December 11, 2021 my world broke. I got the call no daughter wants to receive, a call that I’ve received twice before. My mom had found my dad unconscious and he was being taken to the hospital by ambulance. Covid came home that day. He was very sick and his chance of survival was slim. Because he tested positive I was not allowed to see him before they put him on the vent. I was able to video chat and Pete said a word he never says, he said Goodbye. Goodbye doesn’t exist in our language, it’s always see you later. When I heard that word my soul knew what he was preparing me for, he wasn’t coming home.
I stood in an empty ER room watching the flight nurses load him into the helicopter with tears running down my face all I could do was pray. Jay and I held hands and prayed that God was going to give us a miracle. A miracle that seemed impossible in the days that followed. I was loosing my best friend and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The ICU doctor called to tell me that Pete had Covid + Covid Pneumonia + bacterial pneumonia and that he was in septic shock. Plus he was in acute respiratory distress and in acute kidney failure. The doc said I need to focus on quality over quantity of life and that Pete’s chances of coming off the vent were very slim.
That Monday December 13, 2021 was his birthday. He turned 70 while on the vent and that was also the day I made the choice to end life support based on the Doctor’s advice. I knew in my heart that my Dad wouldn’t want to be connected to these machines and what would his life look like if he did come off. That doctor had me speak to two others plus a social worker to ensure I was of sound mind to make such a decision. The third doctor I spoke to told me to sleep on it, because this is a decision we cannot come back from.
I decided to go for a drive that night. I ended up at our cabin well after dark. That night was so unusually still the only sound was the crunch of the snow under my boots. The moonlight lit up the valley so I turned off my lantern to soak in the stillness. I had never experienced a stillness like that before. In that moment I knew, I knew Pete was in his body fighting to get back to me. I asked him for a sign, a sign to let me know that he’s still fighting. If I didn’t get a sign, I was going to pull the plug. I also knew that he would be very mad that I was out at the cabin alone after dark, he’d doesn’t like it when I drive at night.
I heard rustling in the woods and decided that was my queue to head home. I stopped off in Durand to get gas and a sandwich. As I drove through the country side, I looked up at the night sky. As I came to a stop sign mid sip of my now watered down iced coffee I noticed not one, not two, but three stars shoot across the sky. A peace came over me and the tears began to fall, Pete was fighting and I was going to keep on fighting right along side of him.
The next day the doctor had told me that Pete had improved a little bit over night, he wasn’t out of the woods and I should still think about quality over quantity. I nicknamed that doctor “doctor gloom.” He never had a positive tone to his voice and he could ruin my day with just a “Hey AJ do you have time to talk?” Wednesday came and his nurse said that the vent settings had improved and that his heart was maintaining his blood pressure without medications. Which to me was a good sign.
We had a weird weather day that day. Temps were in the 70s in December. I went for a walk and while out on my walk I asked my dad to send me a sign. Something told me to walk out on the fishing dock. I took a seat, soaking in the December warmth when I spotted a girl walking with what looked like her dad. This in turn made me ugly cry, thank God no one saw me, otherwise they’d think I was crazy. I collected myself and as I got up something told me to walk over to the right side. I almost didn’t, but I turned back and went to the right side of the dock. I looked out at the frozen lake and then down at the ice.
I saw cracks in the ice, but the more I looked at it the more I realized this wasn’t just any old crack. I’ve seen this before….. it’s a doodle. You see Pete doodles on anything and everything he can get his hands on, including my mother’s table cloths. He doodles, trees, flowers, animals, and people. I wasn’t looking at a crack, I was looking at a doodle. A doodle of a tree with a snake wrapping up the trunk and flowers on the branches, my Dad sent me a doodle, a sign to let me know it was going to be alright. I took a bunch of photos as darkness crept across the lake and started back for my car.
As I was walking back my phone range, it was the dreaded 507 area code, I answered. It was Pete’s second doctor letting me know that Pete had turned a corner. He passed the lasix test, his kidneys were making urine and and he was initiating the breaths from the vent. That’s right he was making the vent work! I dropped to my knees in the middle of the trail and began to cry. She realized I was crying “oh AJ sweetie you’ve been through a lot. My advice to you is continue to give your dad more time ok? Call back if you need anything.” I was getting the miracle that I so desperately sought.
The next day doctor gloom called and I heard something for the first time in his voice…. I heard HOPE!!!! He explained that Pete improved so much that he no longer needed the surgical ICU floor, he was being transferred down to the Covid ICU floor. this doc said to me “you know every time I walked by or into his room I thought about what you told me. You said Pete has died twice and he came back twice, if anyone can survive this, it’s him. He will be the one who walks away. AJ, if I didn’t see this with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe the outcome we are seeing. You are getting your dad back, it’s going to be a long road, but he’s coming back to you.” I said a tearful thank you and we hung up.
My Spotify kicked back in and the song “Rattle” began playing these words made me ugly cry so hard that I had to pull over, the words were:
So I prophesied as I was commanded
And as I was prophesying, there was a noise
A rattling sound and the bones came together
Bone to bone
I look, and tendons and flesh appeared on them
And skin covered them but there was no breath in them
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath
Prophesy son of man and sing to it”
This is what the sovereign Lord says
“Come breath from the four winds and breathe
Into this land, today live!”
Come breath from the four winds and breathe….. Pete would be on the vent until December 20th, his vent stay was shorter than they initially thought. They had prepared me for a 45+ day stay and here it was only 10 days. He was once again downgraded from the Covid ICU to the regular Covid care floor. On December 22, I got to hold my best friends hand again. I got to physically touch the man who I had so desperately prayed for. I got to sit by the side of a miracle. His death bed became his resurrection bed and I never left his side.
Each day was a struggle, yet each day he got stronger and stronger. Seeing what he went through will always weight on my heart. His muscles were so atrophied from the vent that he had to learn how to use his hands again and how to walk again. Which he did like a champ. Not to mention the thickened liquids and puréed food, it was three weeks before he could have a beloved Diet Coke. I spent pretty much every day from December 22 through January 10th at his side. He came into the Mayo Clinic alone by helicopter and I vowed to him that we were walking out together and we did just that.
I got a miracle, a miracle that so many other daughters have so desperately prayed for. It weighs heavy on my heart knowing that Covid has taken so many fathers from their daughters. That so many daughters have had to say goodbye to their fathers while I got to sit at my fathers side. I think of all of the fathers who last the battle while I soak in every sweet drop of time with mine.