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I said my final goodbye to my dad, then went to the hospital to have a baby

What the most challenging week of my life taught me about love and grief.

At 40 weeks pregnant, I walked into my dad’s apartment knowing this would be the last time I would talk to him, forever. I felt overwhelmed with emotion and also somehow felt a sense of calm wash over me.

Hospice told us that he only had a short time left, so I felt some sense of relief that he wouldn’t be struggling to live a good quality of life anymore and would no longer be in pain. The biggest shock of the situation was that it was all happening so fast. I didn’t expect to lose him the very week that we would be welcoming our son.

For the previous 14 years, I had been his primary caregiver. I was the one who bought his groceries, took him to doctor’s appointments, held his hand when he had hard days and sat by his side at the hospital every time he was admitted. He had been living with heart failure for many years and had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer, too.

Lisa McCarty and her father.
My dad and me.Courtesy Lisa McCarty

Earlier that day, I was at my weekly OB checkup appointment when my husband, Ryan, called me to say my dad was rapidly declining. When I told my doctor the news, she looked at me with an empathetic nod and held my hand for a moment. Then she told me that my fluid had dropped significantly, and that they needed to induce me that evening. I thought to myself, How much can one person take at once?!

Hours later, as I sat down across from my dad on a cold metal chair, I reached out to hold his hand. It felt weak. He was seated upright but barely functioning, with a dazed look in his eyes. I stared into them, hoping to catch a glimpse of the person I had known my entire life. But I could see that he was already half gone, and already disconnected from the life he had here.

I caught his attention for a moment and said, “Dad, I’m here. Can you hear me?”

For a brief moment he looked at me, struggling with his words. He held back his tears, as it appeared he had some realization of what was happening to him. Then the words tumbled out at a slow pace: “You are the best daughter I could have ever asked for, and I will always love you.”

At that moment, my heart hurt and I felt years of my seeking approval from him all melt away. I began to cry, but I closed my mouth to try and muffle the sound so I didn’t upset him. He saw my face and the corners of my mouth turning down, struggling to keep it together. He squeezed my hand and gave me a brief smile and pursed his lips.

I said, “I love you too. I’m so grateful I had this time with you. You are the best dad I could have ever asked for.”

A moment later, his bedroom door opened and Ryan knocked quietly. He gave me a gentle look and I stood up and gave my dad a hug. He hugged me back and kissed the top of my head, for what would be the last time.

Just after talking with my dad, we left his room, and my niece snapped a photo of my daughter, Ella, hugging my overly pregnant belly, and my dad standing in the background looking glazed and disconnected. That was the last photo taken of my dad and me. 

Lisa McCarty while she was pregnant.
Just before I left to go give birth, my niece snapped this photo of my daughter and me, with my dad in the background. Courtesy Lisa McCarty

At that moment, I felt torn between saying goodbye to my father and leaving to have another baby.  

When we got home, Ryan started to get Ella ready for bed, and I packed my bag to go to the hospital alone. Ryan would join me there the next morning. I knew that I needed to find a way to compartmentalize the grief I was feeling and prepare to go have a baby.

I grabbed my pillow and my cosmetic case and added them to my bag. I said goodnight to my daughter and kissed Ryan goodbye.

He looked at me and hugged me, and said, “Are you OK?”

I just nodded and figured if I kept moving that I would somehow not fall apart.

At certain points over the next day, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. One moment I was present and focused on bringing my son into the world safely, and the next I felt as though I was lost in another world. My heart just wanted to get up and run back to my dad’s apartment to give him one more hug before it was too late.

But I couldn’t do that. I had to let go and focus on what was best for my son and me.

Lisa McCarty so, Noah.
My son, Noah, was born the day after I said goodbye to my father for the last time.Courtesy Lisa McCarty

After 24 long hours in labor, and an entire day after saying goodbye to my dad, I had a new baby boy in my arms. My son, Noah, was born at 5:05 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2019. It felt like everything had come full-circle.

One life was just beginning, as another was preparing to end. 

One life was just beginning, as another was preparing to end.

I held my son tightly in that moment and looked into his eyes. He looked just like Ryan and me, and he reminded me a little bit of my dad too.

My dad passed away just one day after I arrived home from the hospital with Noah. I was holding him in my arms when Ryan got a phone call with the news. We hugged and cried together, holding our beautiful baby. It felt as though he had waited to leave his physical body until he knew I was home and that I was OK. 

I thought to myself, how will I get through this? Grieving the loss of my father, my confidant, my sounding board for my entire life. But I did. I got through it all and I am stronger than before. 

In those difficult moments, I learned a few things. 

We are stronger than we think we are

I found an inner strength I never knew I had. 

Even the hardest moments can be beautiful

The day that I said goodbye to my dad and left to go be induced, I felt the situation was both devastating and ironic. It felt bittersweet, but also beautiful.

 Finding a place of gratitude helps

Although it was terribly hard to grieve the loss of my father, I am grateful for our time together, especially those final moments before I had my son, and for all the lessons he gave me in his lifetime.  

The leaf I saw while hiking on my dad’s birthday, about one year after he died. I was looking for a sign he was with me, and I believe he sent me this heart-shaped leaf.
The leaf I saw while hiking on my dad’s birthday, about one year after he died. I was looking for a sign he was with me, and I believe he sent me this heart-shaped leaf.Courtesy Lisa McCarty

Loved ones are with you even after they are gone

My father is still with me even now, four years later. I think of him often and tell his jokes and share his sarcasm. He will always be my dad, and that will never change.