Andrist family prepares for a difficult goodbye
Posted 1/16/18 (Tue)
By Steve Andrist
From time to time there were 33 of us gathered in and around the palliative care unit at Sanford Hospital in downtown Fargo.
In some respects we were like the disciples of Christ, waiting and watching while he went to Gethesemene to pray.
But we were waiting and watching the man some of us call Dad, others Gramps, others Grandpa, others Papa John.
The patriarch of the gathered clan was resting, mostly comfortably but unresponsively, after having suffered a massive cerebral stroke sometime after 4 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018.
It was the one thing that could end a streak of more than 3,000 of his weekly John-a-Dreams columns. That’s approaching 60 years’ worth, but last week’s was his last.
But that’s only one of the things this four-generational group of family members had on their minds.
For most of us, though, this wasn’t about what was on our minds, as much about what was in our hearts.
Mostly a mixture of grief and love.
At first, grief was front and center, as it would be for any family under these circumstances.
For some, tears flowed freely and easily. Hospital-sized boxes of tissue were quickly used up and discarded.
One of the great-grandsons couldn’t bear to leave Grandpa’s side, but when he was at it he couldn’t control the sobs.
For me it came out of the blue.
I’d been holding Dad’s hand, telling him, certain he at some level understood what I was saying, about all the people from Divide County and from the worlds of newspapers and politics, who had sent greetings and well-wishes.
Finally it felt like time to give someone else a chance. I stood up.
But as soon as I moved to release his hand, it clutched mine and I was overcome by a tidal wave of emotion and a flood of tears.
Flowing even more freely than the tears was the love.
In our family that means music.
Circling Dad’s bed, we sang hymns: Abide With Me, How Great Thou Art, Faith of our Fathers.
We sang patriotic songs like America the Beautiful, folk songs, and old time family favorites like Bicycle Built for Two, Casey Would Dance With The Strawberry Blonde, Mares Eat Oats and even the yarn about Johnny Roebuck and his sausage machine.
Most of all -- four or five times -- we sang The Lord Bless You and Keep you, just as we did when John was honored at a roast and toast in Bismarck, just as we did when Mom was hospitalized with terminal cancer.
We sang it at her funeral, too, just as we will at John’s.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord lift his countenance upon you.
And give you peace.
It’s a beautiful choral piece that finishes with a climactic nine-fold “amen” that sends shivers down your spine.
It’s precisely how we feel about the hundreds of people who have visited, called, and sent messages in this time of grief.
And it’s precisely how we feel about Dad, Gramps, Grandpa and Papa John.