our last words


our last words | the merry gourmet

There is a memory that sneaks up on me at unexpected times, usually in the quiet moments, while waiting alone for an elevator or on my walk in to work in the mornings. Or, just before I fall asleep at night, the memory jerking me to full awareness and heart-piercing pain. It shoves its way into my mind, and I’m helpless to stop it.

*    *    *

I am back in the hospital’s emergency room, standing at the foot of my father’s bed as the ER physician tells me he may need to shock my father’s heart to bring it out of the rapid and unstable rhythm it has adopted. The heart monitor alarms over my father’s head. The heart rhythm itself might not be worrisome, but his blood pressure is dropping as the heart races, and this has everyone nervous and hovering nearby. The nurses have wheeled the crash cart to just outside my father’s room. I notice it – a hulking, red box on wheels, filled with everything needed to revive and resuscitate a crashing patient – and I feel nauseous.

First, though, the doctor will try adenosine to break the rhythm. “His heart may stop temporarily,” he tells me. “There could be a period of asystole, and he could have chest pain.”

I know this, as I have used this medication before, when I was an internal medicine resident treating a patient with supraventricular tachycardia (called SVT for ease). The hope is that the adenosine will break the rapid heart rhythm, setting it back into its normal beat. But the ER doctor isn’t sure if Dad’s heart rate is due to SVT or to atrial fibrillation. He thinks this will help him figure it out.

I nod my assent. “I won’t look at the monitor,” I say, lying. I squeeze my father’s hand and smile reassuringly. Dad can’t really hear anything being said, so he looks to me for an idea of what’s going on. I am aware that he’s watching my reactions. The nurses wheel the crash cart in and begin making preparations. I step out of the way and let the doctor move closer to the bed.

I can hardly breathe as the first dose of adenosine is pushed into the IV. I find that I cannot watch my father, and despite my intentions, I cannot watch the monitor either. I focus on breathing. I squeeze my father’s foot. He is wearing white athletic socks, and his foot feels soft and warm under my hand.

The first dose slows my father’s heart but the fast rate immediately returns, and a second dose is ordered and administered. There may have been a third dose after that.

My father’s blood pressure is lower, but the rate has slowed some, which makes the doctor happy. He is not happy about the blood pressure, though. It may not be SVT, the doctor tells me. Maybe it’s atrial fibrillation. The nurses leave the crash cart in the room and hang a bag of saline on the IV pole, connecting the tubing to Dad’s IV. Hopefully, the blood pressure will return to more normal levels as his veins fill with fluid.

Later, he has stabilized some. The heart rate is high, but not as high as before. It is acceptable. His blood pressure is still on the low side, but not low enough that he needs medications to improve it. He will be moved to the Intermediate Care Unit when a bed is cleaned. Not long now, we are told. He is thirsty, and I have gotten him a styrofoam cup filled with ice water. Using a bendy straw, he drinks most of the water and then sighs heavily, closing his eyes. He leans back in the flimsy ER bed, shifting his weight, getting as comfortable as the bed will allow. I can tell he wants to doze off.

It’s a Friday night, and it finally feels like he is comfortable enough for me to leave him for the night. And I trust his nurses.

“I’m going to head home to Sam and the kids, Dad,” I say, loudly, into his ear. His hearing is terrible and has only worsened over the past year. Hearing aids don’t even work any more. I’ve resorted to inadequate sign language over the past several months.

He opens his eyes, as if noticing for the first time that I am there. He nods and reaches for my hand. I take it. His hand is clammy and damp, but his grip is strong. I rub my thumb over his thumb, the one that is shorter. Several years before, he cut the tip off of it with a wood saw, while making a cradle for my daughter, his only granddaughter.

I lean down and kiss his forehead, letting go of his hand. He smells like the nursing home. As I walk out of his room, I pause at the glass doors and look back at him to wave.

He looks more alert and says, “Do they think this is serious?”

“I’m not sure, Dad,” I say, telling the truth. I reassure him that the doctors will monitor him closely and probably do some more tests. I tell him that I’ll be back in the morning, that I will find him in his new room. I’m not sure how much he has heard, but he seems to understand. He nods and settles back on the bed, raises a hand in goodbye.

“I’m sure everything will be okay,” I say, smiling. He does not say anything more but smiles back at me. I walk away.

*    *    *

It is the memory of this last exchange that brings me to instant tears, even an entire year later. Those were his last words to me, and I had told him that everything would be okay. The stroke that would kill him within the week happened that night.

I can’t help but wonder if I could have prevented it in some way. I know the answer to this, I do. But this thought – this question – fills my heart with dread in the quiet hours of the night, before I fall asleep. When these thoughts happen, I question myself. I question everything.

I think the adenosine was to blame. I wonder if I should have stopped the ER doctor from performing the bedside cardioversion without first having a cardiologist involved, or without first ordering an echocardiogram to look for a clot sitting in my father’s heart. Was there an alternative that could have been – or should have been – attempted? Or was this stroke destined to be, either then or at another time? Is the adenosine to blame? Or is nothing to blame?

I torture myself with these questions. And just as I know that I am not responsible – and gosh, how egotistical it is of me to even think I could control the events of that evening – I can’t help but have these thoughts.

February 27 will be one year since my father’s death. I just want it to be another day, a routine and ordinary day.

But it will never be just another day.

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47 Responses to “the most interesting man in the room”

  1. Oh, MJ. What a beautiful, beautiful tribute to your father and to his life. I lost my mother in 2002, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her terribly. It sounds as if you have many wonderful memories and stories about your father, and thinking of those will certainly help ease the pain. *hug*

  2. Patty Hetrick — February 28, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

    Such a wonderful story of your father’s life, Merry-Jennifer. Sending prayers to you all. May your pain be replaced with the joy of all the memories you shared together.

  3. Alysa — February 28, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

    What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing his memory with us.

  4. Macaroni Mama — February 28, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    Beautiful, Merry Jennifer. He always WAS the most interesting man in the room.

  5. Christine (Cook the Story) — February 28, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

    He sounds like an amazing man, M. J. Thanks for sharing his story. Hugs, sweet friend. I’m thinking of you.

  6. Liz Larkin — February 28, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing your dad with us, MJ. A bittersweet, beautiful post. It reminds me of the movie Big Fish, about the life of an extraordinary man. So very sorry for your loss. XO

  7. Gail — February 28, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

    Thank you, MJ, for sharing your dad with us. As long as you write about him, and share stories about him, a part of him is never ever dead and gone.

    Sending you the biggest hugs ever.


  8. Di — February 28, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I believed you might have had his story in you all along. I am sure you will continue to give it a voice. I wish you well on this new chapter of healing in your life. With time and distance it gets easier, and better.

  9. Kathy - Panini Happy — February 28, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    I stopped what I was doing when I saw your link to this post, because I knew it would be more important for me to read than anything else I was in the middle of. Thank you for sharing your father’s story, and I’m so thankful that you have this platform (and associated community!), especially during this time. What an amazing man, and what an amazing daughter. Much love to you!

  10. Lisa @ Garnish with Lemon — February 28, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

    Merry Jennifer-I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful memoir you have written about him. Sending you wishes of peace during this difficult time.

  11. Vidhya — February 28, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    My heartfelt sympathy…

  12. Carrie Oliver — February 28, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    MJ, My guess is that you will always miss him and all that made him unique. But I think you’ll always feel him with you, too, and that Di is right, that you’ll find yourself continuing to tell his story as it evolves with time.

  13. Judy Turner — February 28, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    Merry Jennifer — Thank you for sharing your memories of your father. I knew him to be so articulate, funny, and an immensely talented artist. Fort White has lost a wonderful friend. Keep him close in your heart.

  14. Jayne — February 28, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

    What a lovely post about your father, thank you for sharing. One day those memories will make you smile. For now it’s hard and I’m so sorry for your loss. Hugs xx

  15. Denice Olig — February 28, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

    Beautiful sentiments.
    Heaven will be glad to see him coming.
    Healing thoughts to you and your family.

  16. Nancie McDermott — February 28, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

    Oh, what a wonderful, amazing, handsome, intelligent, fascinating, unique, determined, creative, generous and passionate man. Hail to the Mayor, the entrepreneur, the sweetheart, the Daddy, the storyteller, all that was and all that he did. I have loved reading about how he went out, though it made me sad. I loved reading how he came in and how he used his time here. I love seeing him smile, young and old. Grateful to have known him here, especially now, caught up on the Chapters I missed. Take good care.

  17. Rosemary — February 28, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

    Beautiful memories of an amazing man, I am so sorry for your loss and I am keeping your family in my prayers.

  18. No words MJ. A beautiful tribute to your dad. He was a lucky guy having a daughter like you. All the hugs and love in the world. XO

  19. Renée J. (RJ Flamingo) — February 28, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

    What an incredible man your father was, MJ. The lesson of his life and legacy seem to be “Do what you love, and love what you do.” In that, you make him and his memory, proud. He will always be with you. Hugs and healing vibes are sent to you and your family. xox

  20. Kate McDermott — February 28, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    Such heartfelt and beautiful words to remember him by. Thank you for sharing him with all of us today. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  21. Nineteen — February 28, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

    So, sorry for your loss. I lost my dad last year after suffering from dementia as well. It was hard to see him slowly drift away. Your words comfort me a year after. What a lovely piece. May peace be with you and your family.

  22. Geek Knitter — February 28, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

    Such a moving tribute you’ve shared with us. Thank you for telling your father’s story. My heart goes out to you and your family.

  23. Nancy Collins — February 28, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    My regret is that I never had a chance to meet him but we did get to know each other through emails. His death saddens me terribly and I must extend my deepest sympathy to you and your family, especially, your mother Merry.

    May he now rest in peace, leaving his last days of agony behind. You have left a special tribute to him with your words. God be with you and yours.

  24. annelies — February 28, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

    What a character. I love that he never stopped being mayor and that he pursued his passion for stained glass and made it his industry. He gave back to the people around him and dedicated himself to his community. From the stories you shared, he lived his life well. I’m so sorry for your loss. As someone who lost her dad four years ago (who was quite the character too), I know that particular pain and grief. I send you a big hug. Hang in there MJ.

  25. Brooke — February 28, 2014 @ 7:22 pm

    Thank you so much for this beautiful profile of your father. Thank you for your beautiful story telling and giving us the opportunity to get to know your delightful father, the life that he lead, and the wonderful things he did. Your memory and tribute of him makes him live on a little in all of us. Thank you.
    Hugs and kisses to you. Thank you for continuing his legacy of making the world a more beautiful place.

  26. Alice Martin — February 28, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

    A sign outside the Bar B Que restaurant in Fort White said, “Rest in Peace….Mayor George”. So many people will miss him.

  27. Jill Lucas — February 28, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I have greatly admired your eloquence in writing about your dad. I hope you’ll find comfort in a lifetime of happy memories.

  28. Carol Sacks — February 28, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

    Such a moving tribute. He was fortunate to have a daughter who so clearly cherished and revered him.

  29. Liren — February 28, 2014 @ 11:07 pm

    MJ, indeed, he was a most interesting man, I would have loved to have had a chance to chat with him and hear his stories. But more so, he was an amazing father, I can sense the love and respect you have for him, not just with this beautiful post, but in everything you write and in everything you have shared about him. I send you my sincerest hugs.

  30. Kevin — March 1, 2014 @ 3:47 am


  31. Paula — March 1, 2014 @ 7:36 am

    Of everything you have written on this site, this one is the most poignant, beautiful and important. Your father’s presence will remain in many hearts and in many rooms, spoken of often and fondly remembered by all those who knew him. My heart goes out to you and to all of them. Your Dad is in a place of peace and bursting with pride right now.

  32. Flavia — March 1, 2014 @ 8:30 am

    This is a beautifully written tribute, MJ. I am keeping you, your mother and your family in my prayers. May you all find comfort in the wonderful memories of your father. Much love to you, Flavia xo

  33. Eileen — March 1, 2014 @ 10:52 am

    I’m never very good with words at a time like this, but please know that my thoughts are with you and your family and I think this tribute to your father’s life is beautiful.

  34. jacquie — March 1, 2014 @ 11:18 am

    what a beautiful post about a wonderful man by his loving daughter. Thank you for sharing him and yourself with us. My sympathies are with you and your loved ones.

  35. Robin Schatz — March 1, 2014 @ 11:27 am

    My father, too, was always the most interesting man in the room, although he wasn’t gregarious like your dad (except around family and close friends). And like your parents, my parents shared an amazing love story; my father adored my mother until the day he died. I lost my dad nearly 4 years ago, and my mother a year ago today. I miss them both tremendously. My deepest sympathies for your loss.

  36. Katy — March 1, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your father!
    God’s blessings and love to you and yours.

  37. BC Pitcher — March 1, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

    You have so lovingly and bravely shared this long, sad walk with your father. It has been an honor to follow this journey, and with many of your loyal readers, you are in our prayers and we join you in celebrating your bigger than life father and his huge capacity for love.
    I look forward to following your journey to brighter days as your grief eases into a “scrapbook” of all the wonderful memories you shared a glimpses of in this morning’s post.

  38. Sharon — March 1, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

    I loved this tribute plus in the picture of him as an older man you can really see the essence of him..as a younger man with him his love shined through.

  39. Laura — March 2, 2014 @ 11:03 pm

    What a lovely, touching tribute. *hugs*

  40. Kathryn — March 3, 2014 @ 4:36 am

    This was a wonderful tribute to a remarkable man. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  41. thyme (Sarah) — March 3, 2014 @ 10:33 pm

    It’s funny your story intersects with mine right now. My in-laws just left our home after a week’s stay. They are the only parents I have known. We noticed my father-inlaws rapidly declining health. We are saddened by it and very needy for more time together. Your words are beautiful in the way you describe your father. It is so wonderful that you are capturing his spirit through your writing. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  42. vagabonde — March 7, 2014 @ 10:02 pm

    What a wonderful man with so many talents – your father certainly was the most interesting man in the room. Your post describing him is so warm and loving. I am sorry for your loss and grief.

  43. lucy — March 10, 2014 @ 1:46 pm

    Merry Jennifer, I am so sorry for your loss. What speaks to my heart through your writing is how very lucky you have been to have been the daughter of and loved by a great man. My heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.

  44. An absolutely beautiful tribute! I am truly sorry for your loss.

  45. Scott W — March 11, 2014 @ 11:38 am

    This was a wonderful article, it brought tears to my eyes.

  46. Ryan S — April 23, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

    Your dad was indeed a warm, funny, unforgettable man.

  47. Pingback: The Merry Gourmet everything's going to be okay - The Merry Gourmet

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