Here is an incredible man. We had no idea he would be taken from us so soon.
Shortly after we moved to Anthem, my dad's health was going downhill. He had some pretty rough weeks in June and July. His pulmonary hypertension was making him really uncomfortable. This is a disease that affects the lungs and limited the amount of oxygen his body was able to circulate. We were told this condition was a result of not wearing his sleep apnia machine. Since spring of this year dad had been on an oxygen tank. He kept feeling very tired and had no energy.
My Uncle Dudley passed away on June 10 from a bacterial infection called C Diff. Joanna and Mom were able to go out and visit him just before he passed away from complications of a surgery. We were able to commemorate Uncle Dudley at our Keith Family Reunion and had a sort of mini-funeral. We had no idea that just a few short months later we would be having my own father's funeral.
Dad was air-vac'd one early morning on August 20th. Kelly called me early that morning and told me I needed to meet him at St. Thomas hospital in Phoenix. Everyone was very worried. Unfortunately, Mom, Joanna, David, Jim, and Kim were all in Florida trying to take care of Uncle Dudley's house and get his affairs in order. Kelly, Richard, and I were the only ones here in the state.
Kelly had been with dad for a week while mom was away. Apparently he had aspirated on some type of cracker that had gotten into his lungs. This became pneumonia. Because of pneumonia he contracted the same C Diff virus that Uncle Dudley had.
Shortly after dad was in the hospital, I had my first Anthem Triathlon. I decided to do this for dad. To run, bike, and swim for his set of lungs that were giving him such problems. I did it all alone. No one was able to come out and cheer me on this time, but that's ok because this was all for my earthly father who had given me so much. I was third place in the swimming portion of my age division too! Not bad. (Let's not talk about the biking. That is always my nemesis.)
He was in St. Thomas hospital for a few days trying to battle this very serious infection and it came to the point where he had to go in for surgery. This surgery was extremely risky and he wasn't given very good odds for survival. The day he had the surgery was another surprise because sometimes he seemed that he was doing good, other times he went downhill quickly. I was able to give dad a blessing with Jim and David before he went into surgery. The next few hours were hard because we didn't know what to expect. Imagine our surprise when the doctor came out and gave us a wonderful report that dad had made it. They had altered the plans of the surgery. They told us, had they done what they had originally intended to do, he might not have survived. Instead, they chose to give him a colostomy bag that would protrude out of his side.
We were all so happy that he had made it through. Prior to the surgery he had some famous "last liners." To me he said, "Jordan. Whatever you do. . .be famous." He also said, "Tell your kids [students] I had a kickin' jazz band!" As he was being wheeled out his room he said, "Scotland forever!" And then he mentioned to Hayden how nice it was to see him without pink hair. Those were some of his last, really cognitive statements.
Unfortunately, the days following his surgery were not so good. The doctors told us there was a very real possibility he would not be able to breathe on his own again after the breathing tube had been inserted. They gave him a period of 72 hours, and if he couldn't breathe on his own, they would need to give him a tracheotomy. This was against his wishes on his official DNR (do not resuscitate.) Luckily, the breathing tube came out, and he was breathing on his own. It was so back and forth if he was doing good, or doing poorly. This was definitely the hardest time to be working. I found it difficult to concentrate on anything but my dad.
Labor day weekend came and the boys had been looking forward to a campout trip with our friends from Safford. We were supposed to go to Alpine and camp for a few days like we've been doing with them for the past few years. We thought everything was going great with dad so we decided we could go for a few days and come back on Monday to be with the family again.
On the way out of town we stopped at the hospital to say a quick goodbye. This was the moment I dreaded. We walked in to his room and everyone seemed so solemn. I could tell tears had been shed and there was definitely a feeling of gloom in the room.
Jim took me outside and told me they had decided to take him off all life support. His kidneys were beginning to fail and the last thing he wanted was to be put on dialysis. There was just too much going wrong. This is the moment I learned my dad was going into the care of hospice and they would make him as comfortable as possible until his time came. How could we leave and take the boys on a camping trip after hearing this news? It was so tough. Everyone reassured me that this would not happen over night and we had time to go and come back. Even though I wasn't crazy about the idea, we decided to leave and drive to Payson that night to stay in Joanna and David's parents' cabin. The next day we arrived in Alpine.
Here is Lottie and her first set of pig tails:)
Gemma's besty- Paizli Jones. Nee Nee's granddaughter.
On my daily runs I could think of nothing but my dad experiencing his last few breaths in hospice care. I also thought about how much he would love this landscape of Alpine, AZ. He was obsessed with the Tetons and though we are missing the peaks here, everything else reminds me of the beauty of Wyoming.
Jaxon, Gemma, and Paizli.
Throughout all this I was trying to stay afloat with a brand new "Psychology of Music" class and doing my trips down to find service to submit my assignments. I also had to spend a few hours in McDonald's writing a paper. The next day, Sunday, we had a beautiful church service that Nee Nee had prepared for us about heritage and families. Perfect topic for my dad who LOVES his Scottish heritage. We made family Coat of Arms to hang in our house and Nee Nee gave us all a wooden sword to remember that we are warriors.
Not long after this, I had the strong impression that we needed to leave immediately. Everyone helped us take down camp and we were off before sun down. I've never been so stressed out in my life as I was on that drive. Joanna told me they were all gathered around dads bed in the hospice center singing hymns to him. It felt like "this was it." We drove as fast and safely as we could and dropped our kids of with Emily and Yasser. What a blessing they are to us!
We made it to his bedside and sang some hymns with the family. He couldn't say much. Just muttered a few words about how much he loved us, and how we sounded better than a choir of angels.
We were able to do one-on-ones with him immediately following this and give our final goodbyes. It was pretty much after this day that dad would only ask for ice chips or water. Kelly started lacing his ice with Dr. Pepper to be extra-nice. Ari and I would try to come every night that we could. Joanna and Jim were always nearby but the other kids all had to go home.
It was on September 6th that he finally passed. Joanna told me it happened so quick. All of the stages of death we had been watching for happened within minutes and then he was gone. Jim was the one who called and told me. I was actually in the middle of a dance rehearsal with my Broadway Bound class. Heidi Webster was teaching them. After Jim called I was able to compose myself and finish the rehearsal. Heidi kept asking me if I was ok. She knew when I went out to take the call what had happened. I came home and told Ari.
It's funny how everyone reacts differently to the stages of morning a loved one. My first reaction was honestly, "Ok. This happened. We've been waiting for this. We knew it was going to happen. . ." I didn't expect to be so emotionally removed and accept it so matter-of-factly. It didn't take long to swing the other way though. I remember I came home and sat at the computer and just stared at pictures of him. The one I placed at the top of this post is what finally shattered my numbness. I stared into those crystal blue eyes and realized I would never see or talk to him again in this earth life. I started looking at all of the pictures of some of my greatest life events and noted how he was always there. He always made me feel so accomplished and I could feel his pride and love for me.
I quickly retreated to my room and decided to just go to bed. I didn't know how long I was going to be in bed, I just wanted to hide under the blankets. It was then that I got a call from Joanna. She had immediately driven mom home to Thatcher within hours after his passing. It had been so long since mom had been with grandma or had even been at the house. She had flown directly from Florida to Phoenix and was living out of a suitcase for weeks. Joanna gave me the idea of coming down and helping to go through dads scrapbooks and pictures to create a slideshow of his life. That was it. This was exactly what I needed to do to cope with the shock of losing him.
Immediately (and bless Ari's heart) I was packing up for the weekend and driving down to Thatcher as well. It was a really stormy, rainy night. That drive seemed to take minutes and I'll never forget how close to dad I felt as I was driving back into the Gila Valley. I was in his truck that he had driven for many years.
The next few days were hard. Very hard. But very therapeutic. I ended up staying on Monday to help with the funeral plans at Vining funeral. Joannna, Jim, Richard, and I all helped mom pick out the casket and decide some of the hard decisions about the next few days. I came home that night. Poor Ari had been grieving without me and needed me. She was seriously amazing, and quite the trooper through this whole ordeal.
I had every intention of going back to work each day I was home, but I have never felt such sadness and despair as I did those few days. I decided to take a week off for bereavement, and thankfully the Deer Valley School District allowed this for me. We came back to Thatcher as a family on Thursday afternoon to prepare ourselves for the funeral weekend. Thankfully the Jones' put us up once again in their household for the weekend. What would we do without these angels in our lives?
On Friday morning the sons and son-in-laws went to Vining to dress dad. That was an experience I'll never forget. One last act of service for the man who had done so much for us throughout our lives. Mom was there to and it was an especially hard experience for her. After he was dressed in his temple clothes we went to get prepared for the viewing.
Dad's viewing was held in the EAC Fine Arts Center. It was a beautiful place for him to be seen one last time. We laid out dad's crafts he had made over the years, and put his slide show on two tvs at either end of the building. We saw many people who came to offer their condolences and words of encouragement. We really came together as a family too. Everyone was there.
Poor Lottie had the worst diaper rash we've ever seen on any of our kids during this weekend. We felt so bad for her, and of course it affected her behavior while we were trying to do these very important things. The morning of the funeral, we all gathered in the Thatcher Stake Center Relief Society Room. We saw many family members and friends that hadn't been able to attend the viewing. We had the final prayer before the service and then began the proceedings into the chapel. It was at this time that Lottie decided to spit up everywhere and all over Ariana. Poor girl.
The funeral was beautiful. Ari and I sang a duet of "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." All of the grandkids sang, "I Am A Child of God." All of the sons and daughters, including the in-laws sang, "In This Very Room." I think the high light for everyone was dad's life story that was given by all seven of us kids. We each took a section of his "condensed life story" that he had prepared for such an occasion. This will be one of my favorite memories from the funeral. How we were all able to laugh and cry together and share the life of such a wonderful individual who played such an important role in our lives.
We immediately proceeded to the Thatcher Cemetery where dad was laid to rest at the base of Mt. Graham. He wanted to make sure he had on his temple shoes so he wouldn't be stepping in stickers on the day of the resurrection. :) No one felt the need to reming him that the earth would be renewed to it's paradisiacal glory. :) This wasn't quite the green, lush, Keith Oregon cemetery he had always dreamed of being laid to rest in, but it will have to do.
After the funeral we had a "choose a grandpa sweater and take a tie" night. The legacy of a wonderful man being passed on to his grandkids.
Gemma and Kelly bonded by doing "upstands." Miss Gemma was quite the entertainer throughout the weekend. We also divided up his beautiful christmas scene so we could each have a part of that in our homes.
The days since the funeral have been long and hard. Everyone grieves in their own way. Each of the steps of the grieving process come and go on their own time table. It's going to be a longer journey and hurdle to conquer then I thought, but I have faith we will overcome this sadness eventually. I am so lucky to have such a loving family who cares for one another and looks out for each other. This is because we had James Ronald Keith for our dad. I can't wait to be with him again!