Saying Goodbye to My Dying Father
Don't wait to say the things you've always wanted to say to those you love.
My father was in the ICU in Toronto, his health deteriorating. Ten days before Passover, in the midst of a Covid lockdown, my brother and I managed to get into Canada to visit him, we assumed for the last time.
It was a difficult trip. During our last day of the 4-day visit, when we were scheduled to fly back to Israel, my dad wasn't able to communicate like the previous days. His oxygen levels were all over the map and he was not really with us. We left with heavy hearts, sad to see our towering father in this terrible state, and disappointed we didn't have the opportunity to properly say goodbye.
We said goodbye to our brother-in-law who dropped us off at the airport, presented our documents showing we were vaccinated as well as our boarding passes to the Air Canada representative, and then everything went south.
We left with heavy hearts, sad to see our towering father in this terrible state, and disappointed we didn't have the opportunity to properly say goodbye.
"In order to get into Israel, you need to show me your new Covid test and entry permit for returning Israelis," she told us matter-of-factly.
"We got tested in the Toronto airport just a few days ago and we have no idea what permit you're talking about. We have Israeli citizenship and proof of vaccination."
"I'm sorry sir. We need to see a Covid test done in the last 72 hours and the entry permit for Israelis, or we cannot let you on the flight."
I quickly took out my laptop to find the results of our Covid tests that we took four days ago upon landing. The results came a day later, which would put us within the 72-hour period. We were stressed out. Our father was dying and we needed to get home to our families before Passover. We were so concerned about getting into Toronto, we mistakenly thought the Green Passport was all we needed to return to Israel, and we had no clue what this entry permit was.
I showed her the results of our Covid tests.
I'm sorry sir. Your test is 20 minutes over the 72-hour period. We can't let you on the flight.
"I'm sorry sir. Your test is 20 minutes over the 72-hour period. We can't accept it. Your brother's test just makes the cutoff." Upon landing, I got tested before my brother. That made a huge difference.
"And I will need his entry permit."
I was sweating profusely, my stomach was in knots, and I was slowly coming to the realization that I was not getting on that plane. I could not imagine calling my wife to tell her I was stuck in Toronto.
"That's absurd!" my brother yelled. "You're not going to let him go home to his family because his test is 20 minutes over the line? Come on!"
She wasn't budging. Rules were rules.
Meanwhile, we had to get my brother's online entry permit filled out so that at least he could head back home.
With tensions mounting and the woman at the counter telling us they are about to close the gate, for some inexplicable reason the online permit was not being approved.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said to my brother. "I can't let you on the flight, and we are closing the gate." And with that, she left us both stranded in the airport. We were flummoxed.
God was obviously orchestrating something, but we were left in the dark as to what it was.
By the next morning, we had a flight scheduled to leave the next day, which gave us enough time to get a new Covid test and properly fill out the entry permit forms online. It also gave us the chance to visit our father one last time.
It turned out to be the most important visit of our trip.
My father was alert. His doctor convened the entire staff by his bedside to discuss crucial decisions about the medical course of action in his case. Although my father stated in his will that he wanted all decisions regarding his medical care to be made according to Jewish law, the doctor in charge of his case was skeptical that this is what he truly desired and wanted to clarify the issues directly with my father.
"If your oxygen levels go low, do you want to be intubated?" the doctor asked him.
My father nodded yes, and with the aid of a large sheet of the alphabet pointed to the letter Y.
"If necessary, do you want us to trach you? This will likely be permanent and you'll never be able to talk again."
My father responded with a yes.
"And if you go into cardiac arrest, do you want to be resuscitated? This will require us to break your ribs which will be excruciating painful. And there is no guarantee that it will prolong your life."
My father looked at us in the eye and responded with a clear yes. There was no doubt – he wasn't going down without a fight. Although the medical staff didn't fully agree with my father's decisions, it was abundantly clear that this was the course of action he wanted. They were going to respect his wishes.
We don't all get a second chance to say the things we've always wanted to say to those we love. Don't wait. Do it now.
It was time for my brother and me to leave. This time my father was awake and alert, and we got the chance to properly say goodbye. Through tears I told him that I loved him and felt so fortunate to have him as my father. Being raised in a family that was not prone to overt expressions of emotion, I was relieved to say these long-held words.
It was sad and painful, but I wasn't crushed with disappointment. The Almighty gave us another chance to reach some form of closure, and I left feeling a profound sense of connection with my father, one that I will always cherish.
The Jewish year is coming to an end. Our lives our being evaluated; there's no guarantee for continued existence. God is hitting the reset button and everything in life is up for grabs.
We don't all get a second chance to say the things we've always wanted to say to those we love. Don't wait. Do it now. You won't regret it.