Lying on the stretcher, waiting for an angiogram after a horrendously bumpy two week ride, her father was clearly in distress. We had been communicating for a week now, since he had been in the Emergency Room four days before. That followed a week of a diagnosis of congestive heart failure with fluid buildup that caused him great pain, made breathing laboured and took away his sleep.
In her mind, she knew what she expected. Her father is old and had had health challenges before, including stents in his heart. The outcome she expected was simple; he would survive the procedure, but the doctor would come out and tell her that the heart was damaged and there was nothing they could do.
Watching him suffer there, she was emotional. And in the chain of text messages we had going, she asked if she could call me for the second time that day.
I took care of my parents full time for a decade, and the last 18 months were very challenging with medical difficulties.
“He looks so frail, so fragile,” she told me. “It stirs up my feelings.”
“Does he know you are there?” I asked.
“Yup. He was even bragging to the attendants in the ambulance that transferred him that I got there before them because I had good apps.”
“Does he know you love him?” I asked.
“Yeah. When the nurse asked him a question about his health, he told her that I could probably answer it better.”
“Great, so he knows you are working hard to care for him,” I said.
“Then you are doing all you can do,” I continued. “I don’t know if he has another day or another decade — no one does, not even the doctor — but I know that you are giving him one more good day of feeling loved and cared for. That’s all you can do. None of us can control nature, can make everything right. We can only be there as fully as we can.”
“But,” she asked me, “but, does it count? I know you remember all the things that went wrong with your parents, all the struggles, but do you remember anything else?”
“Yes,” I told her. “Definitely yes. I have so many memories of one more good day with them, one more smile, one more laugh, one more warm touch. Those stories are always with me, stories of being there and sharing love.
“Love counts. Love always counts,” I assured her. “It costs, too, sure, because you have to put yourself aside for service and giving, but it counts.”
“Thanks,” she told me. “Thanks.”
The crew at this hospital were great, staying late to get him in after a messed up transfer, letting him keep his glasses and his Kokopelli necklace on.
And when the doctor came out, the news was far from bleak. He had found an 80% blockage which he was able to clear, and while he was in there, he upgraded the stents he had put in previously. He understood how her father had been mismanaged and promised a better team to watch his atrial fibrillation, his blood thinners, and his general health, cardiology and family practice together.
Her father looked good, in other words. She had struggled and fought and found one more ally to help her, coming out of nowhere, like the ex-coworker of his she ran into that morning, who, when told of the struggle to get a power of attorney done, announced that she was a notary public and would be happy to help.
I well understood her struggle, understood how challenging and futile she felt, how hard it was to endure the million screw ups knowing that in the end, she would only end up losing her father anyway. I understood her heart break, the shattering of a caregiver fighting the world.
Out of that breaking heart, though, came her love and her presence. She wasn’t staying away to avoid the hard parts, she was right there, doing the impossible work, offering a laugh, holding a hand, giving what she could far beyond her own comfort level.
That love, well, it counts. And it endures. And that’s what she needed to hear from me yesterday.
Even in the face of inevitable loss, love counts. Yes, yes it does.