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  • Zeb Carlson

The Facts

It’s important to write this now, when all is fresh in my memory. Maybe this way, it won’t be forgotten. These are just the facts.

I got a text on Wednesday morning around 3AM from Cheryl. I left for Sioux Falls around 11 on Wednesday morning. When I got to Sioux Falls, I could see that this was different.

First, he was in the Sioux Falls hospital, and they don’t prefer that hospital and instead go to Yankton for their cancer treatments.

He was in acute care, under an observation status. Observation status means a lot to insurance and the care he is receiving. Lots of talk about this with the doctors and many, many questions to better understand what it means in layman's terms.

He didn’t know where he was; was stuck in a different time. He was doing chores and digging a well. Moving cattle. Working on the farm. His confusion was immediate and intense, and he didn’t know who I was. He called me Lowell or Lloyd, his oldest and youngest brothers.

On day 2, it was more of the same. They were trying to get him into an MRI, but he couldn’t sit still. His body was moving almost like a seizure. He was very restless. The nurses struggled with him. 24-hour watch. There's always someone with him, too dangerous to leave him alone.

Wait. Actually. He's dying.

Friday, he recognized me when I got to his room. This was around 7:30 in the morning, and he was groggy from the night before, but able to see my face and know my name. He asked me to hug him. I cried and hugged him very hard. He hugged me back and it felt amazing. Our connection felt genuine.

Lowell came to Sioux Falls to see him, and Muriel came with him. I asked him if he had ever moved dirt with dad, and he said yes. On the Glick place, a farm they lived on for a number of years when they were kids, they did dig a well for Grandma Carlson’s garden. This was in 1937 and he helped move the dirt from the well for his dad and brothers.

This is when I started to feel the strangest feeling. Its like when you see a magician and can't understand what they are doing right in front of your face.

Lowell seemed to have a difficult time yet was able to spend the day with all of us. Dad was put under for the MRI and they were able to get a scan of his brain. They also gave him a spinal tap. The reasons for doing so was to a) find out if there was a dementia or stroke and b) to look for any infections in his body. This will impact his treatment. He had neither.

He was far along in the dying process. This is real, this time it is real. Not a drill.

We were told that there was nothing else to do but treat him with respect. This was the doctor’s advisement. We had met the palliative care folks and also meetings with numerous doctors. He went onto 6th floor on Saturday night, and that is hospice care. He was put on a morphine drip and we wouldn’t be able to hear his voice or see his eyes again.

Treat him with respect. Her words were precise and telling. Her confidence of these words, they will remain true in my memory. Respect. We spoke to him as he was there. We never stopped speaking to him. The nurses told us to make sure he hears our voices as he is in-between. They mean heaven, I supposed, and I started to focus my energy on whatever place is here or there, it's just important to ground him with things that are comfortable. Be present, give everything you have to him. I talked to him and joked with him. I reminded him over and over that I love him and thanked him for his love. I thanked him for his patience with me over the years.

I built up courage to ask the nurse about timing. Actually, I couldn’t ask her in these words yet she knew what I was attempting to ask. The words couldn’t escape my mouth. She said by 8:30 tomorrow morning. He was gone by 6:30, about the same time he woke up for work every morning.

Cheryl and I were with him in the room. I was sleeping, and she woke me up. It took me a long time to leave his side, and I held his hand and rested my face on his hand. I cried a lot. His hand was still so warm, so soft. There was so much comfort there.

Where ever you are going, and where ever you are. You are loved. You are traveling with love and support. And you are safe, you will always be safe.

These are the words that I repeated to him over and over.

A human will never know for sure when the soul leaves the body. But I believe he didn’t leave for a while after he died. I felt his connection so strongly and needed to wait until he left before I could leave. I wanted him to know I am strong enough to wait. About an hour later, it felt safe to leave. He was gone. He is gone.

My connection to felt almost immediately to get stronger. Or maybe different?

I don’t know what it means yet. That’s why it has to be just the truths right now. I don’t know if I am sad about losing him or sad that I couldn’t be closer to him geographically, physically in being his son that lived on the farm or in the next town over.

This is probably why it’s important that I said everything I could think of saying to him, and when I thought of him I picked up the phone or planned a trip to see him. I do not have regrets. I am not sure that I will miss his physical presence, here in the earthly sense, as his time was over. Check it out,'re done. Move it along. Time to go.

I accept that. I accept all of this. I am comforted by his connection to me and the ability to be strong for him. For myself. For my friends and family and the strangers in the world that need patience and love.

And now I'm an orphan. The ritual of life, losing a parent, makes me an orphan.


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