By Lisa Kenny
It was the oddest Valentine’s Day of my life, but the one that taught me most about true love. My Dad had been diagnosed with kidney cancer several months before, and it was clear the end was near. With his wife, children and grandchildren filling the little lakeside cabin, Dad dozed in and out all day, sitting in his favorite chair. He was uncharacteristically quiet. While he slept, we kept the grandkids occupied outside in the lightly snow covered yard, and played, laughed and cried all at once.
In the mid-afternoon, my brother Jay took Dad into the doctor, while we prepared dinner. When Dad and Jay arrived home, the sun was setting over the lake, and we heard the news we had dreaded for months. This was the end. It would be just days now, maybe a week at most. His remaining kidney was failing again, and his other organs were shutting down. Hospice was to arrive in the morning, no more hospital rooms or lifesaving measures. Just pain relief as needed.
That was the quietest dinner of our family’s life. We all wept while Dad did his best to sit up at the head of the table. I knew it was the last time I would share a meal with him, and words couldn’t express my deepening sorrow. Dad had been my hero, my friend, my confidante, my mentor…and I couldn’t imagine life without him.
While the others cleaned up the dishes, Dad, Jay and I went back into the living room. As was customary, I rubbed my Dad’s feet while he relaxed in his reading chair. Ever since I was a little girl, I would rub Dad’s feet after a long day at the store, helping him wind down and get comfortable. We had wonderful conversations this way and shared stories of our days. I watched as his knitted brow relaxed, and the pain left his face and shoulders. Sitting next to his chair, I took Dad’s hand in mine, and told him it was okay to go. Although we would miss him, he didn’t have to stay for our sakes. He squeezed my hand, tears in his eyes, and smiled softly, then opened his eyes.
Just like that, he was alert and awake again, ready to talk. He asked me to pick up a stack of newspapers nearby. I did, and with his uncannily strange sense of humor, he pulled out a full page ad on sale packages at the local funeral home! We laughed as we planned his funeral with him…it was the strangest sensation. He cautioned us to only spend what was necessary for us to say goodbye…just rent a casket, have him cremated, and have a simple burial in the summer near his childhood home. He signed a blank check to pay for the funeral, and handed me the register. He had all his final paperwork arranged in his well-worn leather barrister’s briefcase. Another lesson on saving money. Another fatherly way of helping us through a very difficult time.
Then we knew it was time to say The Final Goodbye. Jay, Dad and I were in a three way hug, saying our last words. Dad advised me to balance my reading with more fiction, to keep smiling, to always be a good wife to Scott, to continue volunteering, do rewarding work, and be mindful of the less fortunate. We discussed the afterlife, and he said no matter which religion was right, we will be together again someday and he would be waiting for us. We thanked him for being such a loving Dad, who taught us so much, who encouraged us to follow our dreams, who supported our marriages and wanted happiness for each of us. He thanked us for being such ideal children… for being creative, loving, hard working, well traveled, good people, and for loving him. Choking back sobs, I said, “Thank you for always showing us unconditional love.” He squeezed us harder, crying, and said, “It’s the best kind.”
Author’s note: That was our final conversation. Dad died peacefully in his sleep three nights later, after enjoying a bowl of strawberry shortcake before bed. He would have been proud that we took that sale flyer in to plan his funeral! Jerry Gohsman lived from August 9, 1929 until February 18, 2006.
Lisa Kenny is a Marketing Specialist at Sanilac Broadcasting and owner of On Target Marketing in Sandusky, Michigan. A lifetime Sanilac County resident, she is passionate about helping small business succeed so future generations can enjoy the benefits of small town, rural living. She grew up working in her family’s clothing stores in Croswell, Sandusky and Bad Axe, and started her first business at age 15 to pay her way through business school at Northwood Institute. Lisa is President of Woman’s Life Chapter 867 of Sanilac County, and loves raising awareness and funds for worthy causes in the area like the Sanilac County Humane Society. She is happily married to Scott and they reside just outside Sandusky with their pack of rescue dogs, cats and a bunny.
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