Every day for roughly 30 years my wife, Kendra Lindsay, has prayed that we might be near family when we are needed most, such as for the passing of our parents. We have lived away from them ever since leaving BYU and going to Wisconsin, Georgia, Wisconsin again, and then China. While many of our prayers have not yet been answered (except for the implied “sorry, no”), my wife was blessed to be able to return home in time for the passing of both of her parents. For my father, who passed away on the morning of July 27, a series of blessings allowed us both to be there at his side and my mother’s side when he died. We could easily have both been stuck in China, where we lived for 9 years until recently, unable to return swiftly to the U.S. Or we could have been in Wisconsin where we now live. But we were in Salt Lake City at the ideal time, with tickets we had bought over a month prior.
We were there at just the right time not only for my father’s crisis, but also for my mother’s, for she would fall and break her ankle as our plane was about to land, greatly escalating her care needs. We just spent a touch over two weeks filling in the gaps until an additional care giver could be hired, facing one of the most challenging times of our lives and yet also one of the most rewarding. Our small taste of day and night care for an elderly parent has greatly expanded our respect for those of you who care for an aging family member, especially those with serious physical issues and dementia. We feel so blessed that we could help my mother but also could be there for my father during that time.
I previously shared the unusual experiences around my wife’s courageous return to China on what would prove to be the last plane from North America to Shanghai (as far as we know) before China cut off all foreign flights into China (see “The Last Plane to Shanghai” at Meridian Magazine and here at Mormanity). Another strange series of events allowed my wife to return from her work for her international school about a week earlier than expected, which made a huge difference for us.
When President Trump recently declared that he was cancelling all flights from Chinese airlines to the US, Kendra’s flight was cancelled and she had to scramble to find a new way back. The day of his announcement, I was fortunate to have my weekly Chinese lesson via Skype, and my Chinese teacher alerted me to the newly made announcement that Kendra and I had both missed. I abandoned the lesson, with apologies, and called my wife who was just beginning her day at work, unable to work on getting a new ticket for many hours. By then, it might have been too late. So I did the legwork for her and was able to get one of the last three or four tickets left on a flight to Toronto. Shortly before this, Kendra received some good news from her international school in Shanghai, where she was a beloved math teacher (yes, in Asia, math teachers can be beloved — it’s amazing to see how students in Shanghai react to her when they see her at the mall or elsewhere, shouting out in glee to “Mrs. Lindsay!!”). The principal told her that after all she had done to help them, she could leave a week early if she wished since the last week of the semester would be pretty slow. So the new flight I found through Canada would bring her to the States a week earlier than would have been the case without President Trump’s sudden ban on Chinese flights.
If she could make it back safely, one of the first things we planned to do was to visit my aging parents in Salt Lake City. With her new itinerary apparently settled, we bought tickets to go from Appleton, Wisconsin to Salt Lake on July 23, leaving time for a two-week self-imposed quarantine for the safety of my parents and others before traveling to Utah.
But the challenges weren’t over. At the Shanghai airport on July 3, as her flight to Toronto was about to board, an agent of China Eastern airlines called her and told her to leave the gate and go back to the ticket counter because a new rule from Canada would not allow her to stay overnight in Toronto as she had planned. Going to the ticket counter would mean missing her flight because she would have to go through security and customs again even if she could resolve the problem, and getting one on the very few flights to North America was difficult and costly, and might add many days to her trek. She refused to go and instead called me.
I was in the middle of rushing to meet the most urgent patent deadline I have ever faced for a critical patent application for my employer that we didn’t know we would need until that day — a rather complex story I can’t share here. With my deadline approaching and too much left to do, I received a panicked call from my wife telling me that she needed to show the China Eastern agents proof of a new ticket leaving Toronto to the US on the same day she arrived, otherwise they would not let her go. Instead of panicking and complaining, as I might have been tempted to do, I felt calm and was able to work fast for this urgent matter. After a quick prayer, I called Delta and learned that there was a 3 hour wait to reach an agent. I requested a call back but that path was hopeless. In fact, it would be over 5 hours before they called, at nearly 3 AM, thanks to the amazing changes in customer service I see in so many parts of this rather foreign land I have returned to after 9 years in China, a land where customer service has gone from generally horrible to outstanding in many areas during my years there. I tried online searches and found that there was no way to get to Appleton from Toronto after her flight would arrive.
Then the right idea hit me: she doesn’t need to reach Appleton that night, just anywhere in the US. Then she could fly to Appleton the next day. So I soon found a reasonable route and bought a ticket to Detroit for July 3, and then a ticket from Detroit to Appleton on July 4. Problem solved! Then came another panicked call: the regulation also required that she could not transfer to a different terminal terminal. The ticket had to be on the same day and from the same terminal, Terminal 3 in Toronto. With growing fear, I checked and learned that the ticket I had bought was indeed departing from Terminal 3. Whew! This route worked. I had lost an hour on my patent project, but then, receiving another blessing, I realized I could take some shortcuts in the remarks and arguments I had to submit, enough to make up for the lost time. With about 15 minutes to spare, I met the deadline and felt good about my efforts, with no serious loss in spite of losing an hour to rescue my wife while also seeking to rescue my employer.
My wife would arrive July 4, and then she went through the rather awkward but appropriately strict two-week quarantine to ensure she was COVID-free when she met my parents. She did not want to risk being the person who brought death and destruction to my family and to others in the US.
As our July 23 departure date approached, we got a call from my youngest sister telling us that my father was declining rapidly. Should we change our tickets to go a little earlier? After prayer and seeking more information, we both felt we should and moved up our planned trip by one day to June 22 in order to see my father and perhaps comfort him in his extreme and painful situation.
Plagued with pain and a host of serious health issues, my father has been suffering for many years. How he remained so cheerful and kind to others right up to the end is a mystery to me. In fact, it’s a miracle. Perhaps the greatest of his burdens was the PTSD he has suffered from for many years due to the daily carnage and shelling he faced during the horrific Korean war, where he also mourned over the need to mow down so many poorly equipped young men whose lives were wasted by the thousands in hopeless assaults. So many vets with PTSD have not lived to his age, 88 years, because the temptation to commit suicide is so great. It was a temptation at time for him, too, one that he told me he had overcome in part because of his commitment to his dear wife and also because of constant help from the Savior. He was fortunate, though many very good people in similar circumstances don’t have the same happy ending and long life he did. I am grateful he could hold on, and hope I would have been understanding had he not.
The stories of what my father saw and endured in the war add to my abhorrence of senseless no-win wars fought far from our borders for the gain and benefit of others but not actually for the defense of our nation. He suffered so much because of that war, though he would be blessed to have many years essentially free of PTSD symptoms beginning with a miracle on his mission after the war that continued until it returned somehow after a serious heart attack decades later (I discussed this in a 2013 post, “A Father on Loan“). In spite of the ravages of PTSD, his faith and his love for my mother kept him going. Miracles kept him going. But it’s been clear for years that he was near the end.
With severe cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and other problems, his imminent death was a cold fact that kept on looming long after many of his healthier peers and relatives had passed away. For about 20 years, ever since his first series of serious heart attacks, I’ve been mentally prepared for my father’s death. But I was not prepared for how sweet and joyous the experience would be. The last few days of my father’s life were filled with touching moments that almost seemed scripted by a generous and merciful playwright. Wonderfully for my wife and me, we were there at his side, against all odds.
Being there at his side when he took his last breath, after so much joyous closure with family, was profoundly touching. I felt so blessed to be there. But I also felt it may have been even more important to arrive when we did to help my mother. She was hauled away to the Intermountain Medical Center by paramedics three minutes before we pulled into her driveway. When I called my brother and sister-in-law who were there with her, I learned that the Emergency Room had a policy of no visitors, so she had been taken away from them while screaming and crying. With her dementia, she did not understand where she was or why people were taking her away from family. She was terrified and in distress.
I am so pained by the bureaucratic inhumanity that fills our medical system based on an apparent overreaction to COVID fears. People are dying alone when family should be there with them in our hospitals. Women are giving birth alone when they should have the absolute right to have the father or someone they trust to be there at their side to not only provide essential comfort, but to protect them and their babies from improper treatment or any of the many mistakes that can happen in busy hospitals caring for multiple babies and new moms. And my poor 88-year-old mother, with serious dementia and in great fear and anxiety, was dragged away from those she knew and loved by strange people for unknown reasons as she screamed because “no visitors are allowed due to COVID.” That’s inhumane. Is there no way to bring in essential support with proper protective gear, even a HAZMAT suit if really needed, without infecting others in a hospital? Is our technology so backward, our hospitals so crowded (this one seemed surprisingly quiet with very few patients), that a family member cannot be brought in somehow to help in a crisis? Is the palpable distress and suffering caused by this draconian policy really outweighed by the minute COVID risk? Is there anything approaching real science behind this policy?
Perhaps one reason we felt especially blessed to arrive that day is that I seem to have been the only one among my siblings who not only understood how senseless and cruel that policy was, but also knew it could be opposed and was worth opposing. My weakness of being a complainer may have been a needed strength in that moment. I picked up the phone and called the hospital to complain and to demand an exemption for their inhumane policy. I would reach some personnel who understood that what was happening was inappropriate, and would soon be forwarded to the head nurse who listened, and took action to reach senior management to request an exemption. It took well over an hour, but the exemption was granted. Wonderful, how sad that we had to spend so much time and energy appealing a cruel policy to let a screaming, crying elderly woman suffering from dementia be given essential emotional support in a time of distress. As a result, my brother who had been there at the hospital with Mom was allowed to accompany her in the emergency room, and, after another round of requesting a further exemption, he and then I and later my sister would be allowed to accompany my mother in her hospital room. That alone made us feel our trip to Utah was worth it and was a blessing for which we should be forever grateful. It would still be just one visitor at a time, immediate family members only (in-laws not allowed), but that was enough. She really needed us at the hospital. Being there also allowed me to get some training from an expert on how to transport her between a bed and a wheelchair or between a wheelchair and other places such as a car or commode. That training would become helpful each day during our stay, and I gradually got amazing compliments from my mother. “Oh my gosh! That was perfect. You are an expert!” So sweet of her.
The time with my mother was precious. I heard kind words I was not used to receiving when young. We had wonderful, spiritual, loving conversations in spite of her dementia. There seems to be an underlying mental core that comes in and out of focus, while the outer layers of memory that we interact with might be foggy much of the time. I believe it is wrong and heartless to assume that a patient with dementia doesn’t know what you are saying about her in her presence or does not recognize your love or lack of it. She had to be reminded many times of my name, “Jeff from China,” her son, but one morning when I approached her she looked up and said, “Oh, you are my son, my little baby. I love you so much!” She recognized me. And those were tender words I don’t recall hearing before. She also said hilarious things with her frequently irreverent wit and enjoyed laughing with us. She can be so entertaining and sometimes a bit shocking or naughty. But at her core is a sweet and faithful woman.
My father, on the other hand, was sharp and often lucid near the end, with clear memory and a lot of his own style of humor. He used his mental clarity, when it was present, to love us and to teach us almost up to his dying breath.
The Thursday after our arrival, as my wife and I were joined by my youngest sister and her Brazilian husband and his niece in chatting with my father and mother, something truly strange occurred. My father, who had been groggy for a while, began talking with remarkable clarity and force. One by one, he spoke to each of us with words of counsel and wisdom. He started with me and mentioned some specific attributes, and then gave recommendations for action, including the counsel to do more to serve others. He turned to my wife and spoke remarkable words about her including counsel regarding a son. It took us a while to realize what was happening and for me to start taking notes, but this experience struck me very much like the final counsel of the prophet Lehi to his children. Each of us came out of this encounter deeply touched. It was nothing he had prepared to say and he didn’t even recall what he had spoken until I reminded him of some specifics from my notes. It was a profound moment. In this episode, the steady theme was service to others, often with a “Go now and serve!”
During this episode he made several references to a gathering on Saturday, and that Saturday would be the key day. We took that seriously, and asked the rest of his children and their families to come over at noon on Saturday. Five of his six children were able to do so. Saturday was wonderful. Though he was asleep until about 1 PM, he but then became very energetic as he met with his posterity. He was able to visit with all of us and talk remotely with a daughter in Chicago. He was loving and cheerful, as always, in spite of so much pain.
Sunday he was closer to the end. His oxygen level was in the low 60s, causing a hospice nurse to wonder why he was even still alive. In the evening, my brother, the second child (I’m the first) and his partner came over to visit while others were there again as well. My Dad was so happy to see my brother and as always was so loving, even though some parents really struggle when a child has left the Church or is openly gay. They chatted about basketball and Dad’s years with the Utah Jazz (V.P. of business for a while), mentioning Mark Eaton, a kind friend of my father’s who attended the funeral. I was amazed at how much energy Dad had for this chat. My brother then left and I could hear from the voices in the kitchen that he and Salvo were about to leave. I believe that Salvo, out of respect, assumed that the personal visits with my father were for children only, but I knew Dad would be happy to see him, too, so I rushed into the kitchen and invited Salvo to also come in and visit. He seemed to glow with that invitation. When I brought him into Dad’s room, my Dad lit up with the biggest smile I had seen all day and said with a loud and clear voice, “Salvo, I hear you and Mike are going to buy the Utah Jazz!” It was typical Dean Lindsay humor and love mixed into one. Everyone in earshot broke out laughing. Hilarious in context. They had a warm and funny conversation. My Dad expended a great deal of his dwindling energy to kind and warm to my brother’s partner, and I was so glad to have been a catalyst for that sweet moment. He was teaching us by example right up to the end.
Early the next morning, my father’s oxygen was at 48, yet he was still alive. He struggled to speak, but could clearly hear. We spoke to him and there was responsiveness on his face. My sister from Chicago called and spoke to him on speakerphone. She reminded him of a time when she was angry with Mom and went to lunch with Dad to share her complaints. Instead of saying anything unkind about Mom, Dad reminded my sister of some of the rough things Mom had been through in her life and affirmed her goodness with some accounts that gave my sister a whole new vision of who her mother was. It really helped her. And then she told Dad of how her own struggling daughter had so often praised her grandfather for being such a loving man that gave her hope through all her trials. As my sister told these things to my Dad, even though he could not open his eyes nor speak, he began crying with a huge smile, straining in an effort to say something that he could not. Be could hear. He could feel the love being expressed. More kind and joyous closure. Moments later, as we quietly chatted with Mom and others, my wife observed that he stopped breathing. It was 7:49 on July 27, or 7, 7 squared, 7/27. As a hopeless math geek, I feel those are nice numbers to wrap up an amazing life.
He was the toughest and yet the kindest man I know. He had flaws, some of which derived from or were exacerbated by his PTSD, but his years of pain were accompanied with miracles, blessings, and gifts of kindness to others. I hope I can live up to his final exhortations to do more to love, do more to serve, do more to help others. His full obituary (a little shorter than was printed in Utah papers) is available at the Serenity Funeral Homes website. (They did a great job, by the way, and were much more affordable than another local service the family initially selected.)
I should also mention that the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray was great. The large hospital seemed pretty empty, but the staff that worked with my mother were very kind, loving, and skilled. She needed surgery, and that went well, except for the splint. It was too long and the upper end had rough, abrasive fiberglass that protruded out of the soft protective wrap so it was gouging my mother’s skin on the underside of her knee. She couldn’t verbalize what the problem was, but seemed overly uncomfortable. It was only about 4 days after surgery when a nurse visiting her at home took off the upper part of the wrap on her leg and left it off that we could later notice what was happening. We called the surgeon’s office and were told that nobody could come help but if we wanted to take the splint off ourselves and use a power tool to cut off the abrasive end of the splint, we were welcome to do that. But fortunately, that same nurse was able to return and knew what to do when we showed him the problem. No power tool required. He was able to bend the upper part of the splint back and forth to break it off, then bend the new upper portion back on itself away from the skin, and have it all nicely wrapped and protected. The surgery was done well, but someone’s careless slip when installing the splint caused her great discomfort and made it hard for her to sleep for a couple of nights, contributing to what looked like a serious decline in her health. After the painful splint was fixed, she rebounded in sleep, appetite, etc. While I am very happy overall with the medical service my mother received, the one small but serious mistake she made reminds me of useful advice: don’t fully trust medical professionals, but check, inspect, ask questions, and seek competent help when mistakes may have been made.
Thanks to the many kind ward members, neighbors, business associates (Mark Eaton included), and family members who showed their kindness before or after his passing. The funeral at his local ward was so wonderful, and the many visits and expressions of love from people during my time there in Salt Lake was really heartwarming. I am so grateful for all this kindness and for all the people who touched the lives of his family during that time and over the years. Funerals can be such great times to reflect on the things that really matter: love, service, charity, and the endless love of Jesus Christ, who breaks the bands of death and sin and gives us ultimate hope and joy. My father bore witness of Christ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the end, and kept teaching us by word and by example right up to his last breath.
It was a privilege to be with him through his final days, to be able to attend his inspiring and well attended invitation-only funeral (still in compliance with Utah law) and then, a couple of days later, participate in his burial with full military honors at the Utah Veterans Cemetery & Memorial Park in Bluffdale. I was touched by the brief burial service and the military honors he received, but my mother was not impressed. As she looked around the cemetery and the dry surroundings of Bluffdale near Point of the Mountain, she complained over and over, “I just can’t see why anybody would want to live here!” Indeed! I expect when the day comes that she has passed away and is buried next to Dad, she’ll turn to him on the other side of the veil and say exactly the same thing again with her mischievous little smile and a joyous twinkle in her eye.