When I regained consciousness in ICU after open heart surgery, bleary eyed and with a raging temperature from an infection that made me feel like I had landed at the gates of hell, the first thing I remember seeing was my Dad’s red coat. He was coming through a door, and talking to me, as though we had been in full-scale conversation, saying he had brought me some apples because they might be good for me, and wondering if the fan blowing the vital life line of cool air onto me, was in fact, putting me in a draught.
Each day in ICU and later in the high dependency unit, my Dad ensured that from the very minute visitors were allowed, I would never be alone. The visiting hours were limited to two hours a day, twice a day, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9. If he was 200 miles away at home minding my kids, while I fought for my life, he would still be aware of the roster and who was scheduled to visit me in his absence. If it was his day, the minute the clock would strike 2, I’d see my Dad standing outside the security door in an overhead monitor waiting to be buzzed through.
Of course, no one, including me was surprised. My Dad had always been doubled down in a desire to be there for me. Sometimes growing up, too doubled down for my liking, too ‘knowing’ and ‘interfering’, but as I got older, I got more appreciative and less irritated by these moments, more aware that this man was 100% for me, and that it all came from a place of pure love.
On the night of my emergency open heart surgery, he asked the cardio thoracic surgeon if he could swap my heart for his. That my heart had suffered three heart attacks, a cardiac arrest and two rounds of resuscitation didn’t put him off being willing to have it in place of his own. That it was sub-standard for transplant into anyone, was inconsequential to him. That this act would be immoral and murderous to himself, no problem in his eyes. In his world, it could keep me alive to be a mother to my children, and that for him that was worth giving up his life for. Even when the surgeon said no, he pressed on that it might at least be worth a try.
In the time during and after illness, if my Dad wasn’t in ICU, or buying me apples, he was in my home, bringing my seven and nine year olds to school, or feeding, changing and singing to my new born baby. My mother and mother-in law were also very much in the fray, keeping the home fires burning, and the washing machine rolling. My Dad was not bothered that they were the chiefs in charge of operations in the home and that he was dispatched according to their requirements, all he cared about was helping, doing and making sure that the kids were alright.
It was a saving grace for me to know that he and ‘the mom’s’ were at home minding my children, while I was in ICU and later in high dependency. I knew they were getting expert care. Had I had to worry about childcare as well as trying to deal with the medical bombshell that had just entered my life and the huge scale of illness as a result, I think I simply would not have gotten through. Their presence and loving actions for me, my husband and the kids were what was getting us all through, and allowing us to do whatever we had to do, to improve my health and healing.
When I got home, the love and care continued. I wasn’t medically allowed to lift the baby for ten weeks, and my energy depletion meant that I couldn’t do anything much, or for very long. I was frighteningly weak and terrified of dying. My heart was functioning at a very low level after going through so much, and my body was shattered. But my Dad, and ‘the Moms’, kept the rotation going, while my husband worked, allowing me to sleep when I needed, making food for the kids, keeping the show on the road. Even my kids got in on the act of loving deeds, pouring my measured water supply for the day, flushing the loo for me, because that action felt like it was ripping open my chest scar, and asking me if I wanted anything if I was stretched out on the couch. And my husband helped enormously too when he got home from work.
Had I not had such loving support, I dread to think what would have happened to the kids, my husband, or me. Our family unit was held up by love in those days, big almighty love.
When we hear of tragedy in someone’s life and ask ‘what can we do?’ the answer is simple, ‘love’… a‘loving’ deed, a ‘loving’ word, a ‘loving’ gesture. No action of love is ever wasted. I had neighbours and friends arrive with everything from pots of jam, to bunches of flowers, little notes in my door from people I barely knew offering to collect the kids from school, prayer cards sent in the post, masses said by relations. Even the local priest came to pray with me and bring me communion. They were all the actions of love and felt so powerfully healing to me.
My Dad continues to bring me apples and lots more besides. In the nine years since my illness, he has never stopped thinking, or planning my roster of support. He is always worried about me having enough help and rest (because of my ongoing heart failure). My recent marriage breakdown broke his heart and raised his concerns for his daughter ever more, who still has a heart function about half of that of my peers. ‘Are the lads helping you?’ he asks routinely and anxiously, of my teenagers every time he phones, and at least once a fortnight he’ll arrive up the drive for a few days stay with tonnes of tools and bits and bobs to do some ‘jobs’ for me. And he’ll turn his hand to anything… folding the washing, hacking at the briars, even recently one morning brushing the tangles out of my daughter’s hair, so that he could help ‘spare’ my energy.
My Dad is a King among men. But he doesn’t demand a status. He is one of those unsung heroes that is there in the background of life, keeping the show on the road, especially when someone whom he loves is falling apart. When his brother had Motor Neuron disease, he turned up like clockwork for a day each week to look after him, feed him, chat to him, give him a shave. When another had cancer, he hopped on a plane to Canada at 76 , to sit by his bed, give him drinks and chat to him, as he slowly died.
Last week was my Dad’s 80th birthday. He told me his prayer now is to live another 10 years, to help me out until my youngest has reached adulthood. Once again, it’s for those he loves he wishes to give the rest of his life.
I am the luckiest girl in the world, to have got the Dad I did. His reassuring presence, love, words, encouragement, and deeds have without question helped me heal, both in my time after heart illness and marriage breakdown and many, many more times too. He is my biggest champion and supporter, always reminding me that I am talented and a ‘great person’ as he says, especially in those moments where I feel anything but.
I am lucky too to have had and still have the love and support of ‘the moms’, my own family, and those lovely friends and community too. There is no way I would have healed, or remained well, without them either.
But today I especially want to celebrate that wonderful man that has gotten to his 80th year and is still powered by love, my Dad, Patrick (Paddy) J Hurley, my King of kings, who God willing, will be around for many years to come.
Thank you Dad for all that you are, for all that almighty love, and for all the healing it has brought to my life. Put simply, Dad, I love you an almighty amount too.
© Pauline O’Shea
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