Two years from right this minute, I was sitting in the living room, shocked, numb, sick to my stomach. Mom had just left with my brother Gil to go to the funeral home to plan arrangements. My sweet sister-in-law was with us, making us turkey sandwiches and trying to force us to eat. The house was quiet and empty. It was windy and rainy a cloudy outside. My husband and I kept glancing at each other with looks of "did this all just seriously happen?"
Thursday night we were all just hanging out at the house. My friend Emily was over with her new baby and we were watching some dumb movie about an Indian man with autism who fell in love with a girl. It was super cheesy and we were all making fun of it. Not because it was about a special needs guy in-love, but because the acting was HORRIBLE. Earlier that night I had over heard my dad on the phone with a nurse, telling her that he had had chest pains for a while now, that even just walking down the stairs holding his grandson just now, that he felt like he was almost going to pass out. Since he had open-heart surgery just a few years before, there was enough concern that they told him to come in the next morning to be seen. This of course made him giddy with excitement that he was going to get to call in to work and get catered to by us, his family. So all night we were doting on poor sicky dad. We fed him ice cream. He made sure he was comfy as he snuggled up to mom on the floor and watched the movie with us.
The next morning I was rushing to get out the door to a playdate. He said "come on, stay and have breakfast with us! I'll cook!" I got irritated and said "no dad! I gotta go!" And out the door I flew, with both kids in tow. DUMB. I should've just stayed. Dumb.
Friday I got a call from mom that they were keeping dad for tests. That they'd keep him over night, and in the morning they would do a stress test. No big deal. Later that day dad called me and told me the food was bad (I know he secretly like it) and that he needed some comfy pants. And that I should come visit him. Matt had just gotten home from being gone for a few days in Kansas City, but I felt like I should make the effort to go see him. "Leave the kids with me" Matt said. But I refused to leave Max, for some reason I felt like I should bring Max to see his Bapa.
I ran to Target to get dad a fancy deli sandwich and a goat cheese salad. And comfy lounge pants. When we got to United, Dad was sitting back, watching Office re-runs, and he happily greeted Max with a hug and lots of sloppy kisses. We just sat with him. He told me about a story he had just seen on the news about a little boy who had gone in to cardiac arrest. That they cooled his body temp down, and then warmed him back up. The boy was fine, no neurological damage. Total miracle. I thought it was a cool story, but wondered why dad was so interested in it. We laughed at The Office, talked about our plans for the next day (dad was planning on bringing Max to Fort Snelling) and he complained some more about the meat loaf, that I know he secretly liked since the plate was empty when I got there.
The time came for us to go. Dad put on the pj pants and they were about 6 inched too long. I told him I'd hem them for him. He hugged me. Kissed me. Hugged and kissed Max, and then I told him we would pray for him. At the end of my prayer Max said he wanted to pray for him too, and in his 3 year old little voice, he said "though I walk... thwough the vawey... of the shadow of death, i wiw feaw no eviw, fo you awe wiff me" from Psalm 21. Matt had been working on this passage with him and he remembered that part! I was in shock, and I think dad got a little teary eyed. We told him we loved him, and that we'd see him the next day. As I left, a twinge of fear swept over me. I thought to myself that this good bye was so beautiful and memorable, what if it was THE good-bye? No. It's a stress test that they are doing. It'll be fine.
The next day, Saturday, Matt and I had the van packed up with the two boys, and we were off to an apple orchard that was like an hour away. We were almost there when mom called me around 10am and said "SIERRA! Dad had a heart attack! But they have him stabilized, luckily doctors were only feet away from him, so he is ok!" He was on the treadmill for the stress test, and minutes in, he collapsed. His heart had stopped. I was shocked but relieved that he was ok. Lots of people have heart attacks right? Some are even able to finish the work day and drive themselves to the hospital right? So I asked her if we should turn around and come home, and she told me we better, just in case. So then I started making the arrangements for childcare so that Matt and I could be at the hospital. i felt overly dramatic as I called my friends and some family to tell them what happened. It wasn't that big of a deal.
Hilary met us at the hospital and took the boys. We walked in to meet mom and she explained to us that it was more serious than she had thought. That dad was actually in the ICU on life support. Still the severity of the whole situation wasn't hitting me. She warned us that it was going to be hard to see dad, that he was connected to tubes and wires and all sorts of machines. When I saw my dad laying there, it felt surreal.
|With Gabe tied to me, I barely left dad's side all weekend.|
|We talked to dad, told him he was going to be okay.|
|We stayed close by, prayed over him, talked over him, let him know we were close.|
|Our sweet pastor reading scripture to dad|
My friend Shannon spent the day with us. numerous friends and family members came. They brought food. Flowers. Hugs and words of encouragement. We talked to dad, even though he was unconscious, the nurses said that many times the patient can still hear when we speak. Grandpa, Aunt Rosemary and my brother Gil flew in right away from Chicago. Again, it felt surreal.
|Grandpa stayed strong for his son.|
|My sweet brother|
|Dad's sister Rosemary comforting dad.|
The were a 36 hours are a blur. They decided to cool his body temperature down. This would help with any brain damage caused when he had gone 9 minutes with out oxygen. We thought that he had a heart attack. but it was not. He had gone in to cardiac arrest. The cooling process would take 24 hours. As he cooled down, he shivered. Mom kept covering his feet with the blanket, but the nurse said he could not be kept warm at all. Mom knew he hated being cold. it was torture on her. They shoved ice packs under his arm pits and around his body, and we watched as his body temp went down. We continued to speak to him, to pray over him, to hold his cold hands.
More visitors came. More food came. We were not afraid. We knew he would pull through. Everyone who came to visit was shocked by our positive and hopeful energy. No way were we grieving over him yet, his situation was promising. The nurses said they had seen cases like his all the time, and that he was doing great. Finally Sunday afternoon came and it was time to warm him back up. Early Monday morning they would begin to take him off of the life support, and start neurological tests. They would see if he could breathe on his own, if he knew his name, etc. We waited and waited, so excited to see him back. Sunday night came and I needed to bring the boys home. We all were so tired, especially mom. She hadn't slept at all. So I took Grace and the kids home, and Mom went to Aunt Rosemary's hotel to get a few hours of sleep before the time came when he would wake up.
At 3am I got a call from Matt, that dad was going in to cardiac arrest again, and that I need to get to the hospital. I had to wake my sister, and get a five month old and a three year old out the door by myself. I was able to reach my friend Hannah, she came to the hospital to watch the kids. Gabriel was still exclusively nursing so I couldn't be far from him.
Right when I got there he was having his third cardiac arrest. Me, my mom, three brothers Gil, Sam and Dave, and sister Grace and my aunts were all there watching the nurses do CPR and compressions on my dad. It was traumatic. So traumatic. Finally they were able to get him stabilized again. We were all crying, completely terrorized by what we had just seen. We stood outside his room, held hands, and begged God for our dad's life. I made it back to the waiting room where I had to nurse baby Gabriel. Again, the alarms went off, calling for all staff to get to my dad's room. I handed Hannah the baby and walked back down the hall. my stomach turning, but with hope that he was going to get through this one too.
Time was passing, and they were still trying to get him back. we watched in horror as no progress was being made. We began to yell, scream, cry, begging dad to come back, to stay with us. I began to see the nurses make eye contact, with stares that showed they were losing hope. The doctor asked my mom what we wanted to do, they were out of options. She told them not to stop yet, that she couldn't make this choice. A few minutes later another doctor came in. This one looked older, wiser. Not freaked out and scared like the younger doctor. He told her it was time. So After 17 minutes with out a blood pressure. They stopped. It was like everything went in to slow motion. Our eyes were stained with tears and we were in total shock. That was it. It was just before 4:30am I think. It was finished.
They asked us to leave the room so that they could clean dad up, take the tubes out and clear out the room. We all quietly walked out, weeping, and went and waited. I walked in to the room and told Hannah, I remember that it totally caught her off guard. She cried with me. When they called us back in, our pastor and youth pastor arrived and came with us. We sat around dad and hugged and kissed him. We held his hand and reminisced. We prayed. We sang. We cried. Grandpa showed up, and stayed with dad for a little while. then it was time to go home. How do you leave after that? You have to. Because it's over.
The wake was beautiful. Over 500 hundred people came. The funeral was a huge celebration, at least 300 were there. We learned things of dad that we never knew about, funny inside jokes, stories from his students and friends. He touched so many people's lives.
Since his death we have been invited to numerous ceremonies and events where he has been honored and even given awards. He was well known in the culinary culture, and we still run in to people that knew him and loved him.
Tonight, in honor of him, we are going to Le Cordon Bleu where he was a beloved instructor and mentor. They have even invited us for dinner, so we will be served by the students.
Thanks to everyone who has been by our side through all of this. We couldn't have done it without our friends and family, and most importantly with out Jesus. If you don't know Jesus, get to know him. When life hits hard, the only way to find your ground, is through Him. We have full faith that dad is in heaven with our maker, and we cannot wait for the day that we see him again.
|closing the casket at the funeral|
|I'm so glad I spoke about him.|
|arrangement of some of his things|
|mom, grandpa, gil, sam, dave, grace|
|the Le Cordon Bleu students lined the walkway as they brought the casket out, |
they were stoic like soldiers. it was amazing.
|watching the hearse drive away|
|up north at six mile, where we scattered dad's ashes|
|my beatiful mother, sharing at the funeral|
|shot of the sanctuary|
Gil D. Gaitan 1953-2010