Theodore Wayne Hannegan
His eyes would light up when any of his children entered the room. This was the first time he’d been hospitalized since 1944 when he was treated for malaria.
My dad was dying.
The doctors were amazed at how healthy his heart was; all channels clear. “Ted”, his doctor comments as he looked up from the monitor. “Your heart is beautiful.”
HIs lungs were not. Seventy years of smoking had shredded his lungs. Pneumonia was settling in and gaining ground; slowly drowning him.
He was 87 years old and still funny as ever, trying not to laugh at his own smart remarks he loved to make. I can’t recall his comment, looking back to my visit with him to his doctor. But I remember his belly laugh. It would start deep inside him and gain momentum and shake his body and have anyone in the room laughing with him. Even in the midst of his own bad news, Dad made a joke about his failings and had us laughing again.
The laughing starts the coughing. He grabbed hold of the bed frame and doubled over in pain.
The coughing, he said, feels like he’s getting beat up. HIs face reddens and he gasped for air. The portable oxygen tank that he always carried with him now, helped to force more pure air into his lungs but he was fighting a losing battle and he knew it and we all knew it.
He shook his legs in response to his suffering.
I laid next to him in his hospital bed and held his hand and pet his head as he’d done for me when I was a child, sick in bed, and waited with him while the spasms subsided. Yesterday hadn’t been this bad. But today he was much weaker.
I got up to straighten his blanket and get him a drink of water. I place my hands around his ankles and feel the love energy transfer to him immediately. “Oh honey”, he says, “that feels so good.”
My sister Molly was with me on this visit. She held Dad’s hand, petting his arm, tears in her eyes.
He had us in giggles moments before and now we were trying to calm him, sooth him, his body, fighting for air, fighting for life.
In between his coughs and laughs, he answered his calls from a few of his twelve children, all sending love and checking in on his condition. There’s the shy son who can’t handle the thought of losing Dad, and the angry son who calls to comfort. No man could be a perfect human being, a perfect father, a perfect husband. But what I knew of TW in my lifetime, his mistakes were few and and his attempts to shower us with love were many.
All of us and his fifty grandchildren are praying to keep Dad with us a bit longer and somehow ease his pain and suffering with a phone call, holding his hand and rubbing his feet.
Mom died two years previously. Not one of us were prepared to be on this planet without a mother or a father.
Our dad was a father who loved unconditionally. He was always available with a warm hug, a visit to our bedroom with a good night wish or a check in to see how we were. He could open one bedroom door and be greeted by two to four of his children at once. All happy to see him, feeling this love and humor and knowing we were each special in his eyes.
From my Dad, I was shown how to talk with people and represent myself, but even more importantly, I was taught how to listen. Dad was a listener. He made his living as a salesman but what he really brought to my world was his kindness and patience with people and his humor in so many moments. While Mom was the stricter disciplinarian, Dad was the warm hearted listener. I never saw him get angry. I’ve been told of his anger from an older sister in regards to one of of my brothers. Dad had confessed he’d always regretted losing his temper. A father of six daughters and six sons would no doubt have had tough moments with any of us.
I recall when he tried to talk me out of getting married at 17. It wasn’t an easy talk for him but he made a serious effort to change my mind and really consider what I was deciding for myself. There would be no changing my mind. I was set on my plans to get out into the world. I was not shamed or talked down to. I married despite his talk. The marriage didn’t last but it did bring my beautiful daughter Leah into this world.
There were years inside my second marriage where I was trapped in a psychologically damaging marriage and had been persuaded to stay away from my family. Dad tried to reach out to me. He never judged me or turned away from me. Both the strong love my parents and my family had for me, brought me out of that abusive life and back to my family, My Dad treated all his children with all encompassing love. He knew who we were.
And now I watched him slipping away. I felt desperate to keep him here always. To lose my Dad was to lose an anchor that kept me in a safe place. I was not ready to see life without him in it.
I had a few moments alone with him in the hospital room one evening during a visit. Dad had been extra talkative for a couple of hours. He’d been sitting up comfortably and able to walk on his own to the bathroom.
We sat together on his bed, holding hands. I was getting ready to head home.
“Dad, I want you to tell me something and I don’t know what it is.”
He turned his full attention to me. “What can I tell you?,” he said.
“I don’t know. I need something. Tell me something.”
Without hesitating further, he answered.
“Honey, don’t wait to do something you really want to do. Go places you really want to go.” He went on to tell me about a golf trip he’d wished he’d taken with his golf buddies.
“And why get married again? Just love the man, have fun, keep your space when you need it. That way you can still go out on a date and it keeps things fun.”
He squeezed my hand. “That way if you want to watch “All in the Family” and they want to watch something else, then, well, you don’t have that problem.”
I guess dad had missed a few episodes of AITF.
“Tell me everything’s going to be alright, Dad.”
“Oh, everything’s gonna be great!”, he grinned. “I’m gonna be okay and your life is going to be wonderful.” His eyes filled with tears as did mine. We both sat quietly together for a minute and took turns with the tissue box.
My Dad’s love was always true and honest and available. He had a way of making all of his twelve children feel better just being with him. No matter who we are, where we’ve been, or what we’ve done or not done, Dad was there to cheer us on and support our ideas.
He confessed to me at one point, that he regretted not getting a college education. He felt he’d failed and should have been less selfish.
“You’re all so smart!”, he beamed.
“Dad you gave us love; a college education doesn’t teach anybody how to be a father. You gave us all what we needed most Dad. All your children love you and respect you.”
“Well, I love all you kids.”
“We know, Dad.”
Before my Dad died, he was able to say goodbye to all his twelve children, his innumerable grandchildren and great grandchildren. Dad never knew a stranger and made friends everywhere he went. He left no unfinished business.
I was with my Dad when he died at my brother’s home where he came to live and finish his last two years of life. He had been making sure he phoned any of his children who lived away and couldn’t be at his death bed.
He had visiting grandchildren up to the last few hours before he died. No one missed out saying their I love you’s and goodbyes. He’d made sure, as hard as it was for him, to rally at the end.
It had been important to me I was by his side and helped him cross over. I was holding his hand, and whispering that he was loved, we were all going to be okay, it was okay for him to leave now. His breath struggled in his chest. Death had come and was taking away his soul from his body. It was beautiful as it was mysterious and powerful.
A few deep sighs, as his body held on for a moment’s struggle, then he was gone. After spending the last two days making sure he stayed awake and aware to visit with his children and their children, he waited until they’d headed home to sleep and it was just he and I in his room when he decided it was time to fly away.
It was Dad’s final gift to me. He showed me something I didn’t know what it was. In telling the story now, four and a half years after his death, I know what my final lesson from my father was.
He taught me how to die if one is lucky enough to have the hours to do so. How to say goodbye and let your loved ones share those last moments, those last days so that the words could be said. That saying goodbye is something we should consider in our living every day.
Dad had always shared his love for us throughout our lives, but he didn’t shy away from sharing the intimate moments that brought death to him. He wasn’t afraid. He made jokes and made friends with the nurses and staff who cared for him.
By sharing Dad’s farewells, he left all of us a wonderful example of courageous dying.
Only when we have truly loved our lives and the friends and family it has brought to us, can we be fearless in facing and embracing our final farewell.
Yesterday after I’d pulled into my parking spot at work, I found my farewell poem I’d written for him and shared at his funeral and photo of “Pops” on a sheet of paper I’d forgotten I’d tucked into the back of my car seat. It was a wonderfully warm feeling to see him smiling back at me.
Wishing you another Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thank you for reminding me you still watch over me.