My son Evan has a habit of measuring himself against his growth chart. He stands up tall, shoulders back, chin up and anxiously awaits how he will “measure up”, so to speak. After one of his recent sessions, he walked off dejected, shoulders sagging and head hanging. I followed him out of his room to offer some comfort, but before I could say anything he turned around and stated, “I’m still not a grown up, I keep waiting and waiting…” and off he went again. I thought to myself that they should make growth charts to include not just a cold hard number, but your current stage in life such as toddler or big boy as a warmer measurement. My heart broke to think my little boy was in such a hurry to grow up. It immediately took me back to a hospital room in a small Texas town when I welcomed him into the world and our family. It also took me back to another hospital room…this one the place where Evan’s mommy became a grownup.
My dad was an amazing man. He approached life with a passion for living and a love of family. Weekends at our house always seemed like a celebration with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends always gathered for some kind of potluck event complete with music and dancing. For my grandparents, he was the last of eleven children but throughout his life he was the first to offer a helping hand and welcome a newcomer into our family circle. His friends ranged from a Corporate CEO to the guys who picked up our trash every Tuesday and Thursday. He was a hard-working man and preferred working with his hands and outdoors whenever possible.
So, it came as a huge shock to all when he was stricken with cancer and deteriorated immensely within a matter of months. I was a sophomore in college and my siblings and I flew back home during those final weeks. We did the usual round the clock bedside vigil with him at the hospital during long days and even longer nights. One particular morning I remember getting to the hospital and sitting by his bedside. As I held his hand and looked into his eyes I knew there was something he wanted to ask of me. He softly whispered, “Please take me home. I don’t want to die in a hospital room. I want to be home, surrounded by those I love, celebrating my life.” Had there been a growth chart in the room at that moment my measurement would have suddenly changed from carefree college student to full-blown grownup. I jumped to my feet and made all the necessary arrangements to transport him home. My mom rode with him in the ambulance and I headed to the pharmacy to fill his pain medication only to leave that same pharmacy without the meds but with an urgency to get home. He arrived to find a houseful of family and within a couple of hours of being home he looked around him trying to take it all in. He asked my mom if all his loved ones were there and when she reassured him they were, he took a deep breath and finally went home.
For some, losing a loved one is an immediate gateway to adulthood. For me, it wasn’t the moment he took his last breath that I became a grown up. Instead it was the moment I realized I was able to fulfill his last wish.