My sister Cindy called me at 6 am on Monday morning, June 27th, and told me my dad was dying.
Since he was in the final stages of Alzheimer's, he'd been dying for a long, long time, but this was it. She had called a month ago and said we were getting close to the end, but this was the final curtain call.
We had planned on going out mid-July, but I had made it very clear to both my mother and Cindy that if anything changed that we'd drop everything and come out earlier. A month ago, they said we should just continue with our current plan. Monday morning, everything changed. Dad had had four bouts of double pneumonia since January. Four times he was dosed with antibiotics and three times he bounced back.
Not this time.
I answered the phone, voice rough with sleep, to hear Cindy's voice choked with tears. "You need to get here. Soon."
Suddenly, our leisurely search for a house/plant/cat sitter plunged into full gear. Mountains of laundry were washed; e-mails mailed; plans made; friends contacted.
All of the plants that I'd grown from seed that were still on the back deck needed to be dealt with before we left. Tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, and parsley needed to be rescued. I couldn't just run off and let them die. At some point I would be back and would regret it if I didn't take a few hours to pot them all up. It was also something to focus on instead of freaking out while all of the laundry whirred in the washing machine and dryer. Something to keep busy with instead of sorting through memories of my father. I asked Eric to buy me 3 large bags of potting soil, two more very large pots and set to work. Later, I'll be glad I did it, I assured myself.
Finally, at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, we were ready to go. I'm sad to admit that a great deal of yelling occurred as we rushed the kids into the car. One of the main reasons we bought the minivan, in all of its hugeness, was to make this very trip. Trying to fly was prohibitively costly: well over $6000 for all five of us and there was no way I was going to go alone. I knew I'd need my support system. I also knew my mom would want to see everyone. So we yelled. We hollered. We packed. I baked 2 dozen muffins for the trip and finished writing up my Taking Care of Hatchetville note to leave for my friends who were watching the house.
Then we hit the road.
We drove for 12-14 hours the first day and slept in a hotel somewhere in Nebraska. We repeated that long day of driving and slept somewhere in Pennsylvania. On Thursday, we hit the road around 10 am local time and drove forever. Eric was beginning to flag after about 12 hours, but my urgent need to be there kept me awake and sharp. I drove through the night. Through upstate NY, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and finally saw the sun rise while flying through Maine.
Just before the border into Canada, I stopped and let Eric take over. It was 5:30 am and I had just driven us to the edge of my ability. Now we only had an hour and a half to go to get to Cindy's house. I had slept for a total of 2 hours in the last "day".
At 7:30 am we pulled into Cindy's driveway and knocked on her bedroom window. "What does it take for a girl to use the bathroom around here?!" I called to my befuddled younger sister. She was amazed we'd made it there that early. We checked in with mom and my older sister and dad was still hanging in there.
Waiting for us.
Waiting to say goodbye.