Lucille Rusconi Fisher for Spiritchat
Thirty-seven years ago, on December 2, 1981; I watched my father, Frank Rusconi, take his final breath. He had fought a rare intestinal cancer for two and a half years. He amazed his doctors who didn’t think he would survive the initial crisis. It was after my sister’s birthday celebration in June that he woke up with severe pain in his abdomen and went to the hospital. We were initially told by his longtime doctor that he had a hernia, and he was scheduled for an operation. He was 63 years old and me and my two sisters were still living at home. I was attending college.
His doctor called to say the operation went well but neglected to tell us about the cancer. The next thing we heard was he had a heart attack. In truth, he became septic because his bowel and appendix burst. We didn’t find this out until he was transferred, near death, to a Boston hospital. The doctor at Boston University Hospital was horrified by what he saw and quickly brought him into surgery where they released some of the poison in his system and repaired the damage as best they could. We learned after, that the Boston doctor had only seen one case of this rare cancer and that person died shortly after. Thus, the doctor didn’t think my dad would survive long either but shortly after surgery he came out of his toxic delirium and said, “I have to get home to my girls.” And so, he did, three months later.
I think prayer had a big part in his recovery. We had a lot of people praying for him, He was known and respected in the community and at church as a dedicated volunteer. My aunt even called a radio prayer line and asked strangers to pray for him. My father loved his faith and he was a good, kind man. With his illness, he couldn’t get to church but we often watched the Reverend Robert Schuller every Sunday on TV and found comfort. One of Reverend Schuller’s standard lines was “God loves you and so do I.”
My father was dubbed a miracle man by the doctors and hospital staff. The attending doctor said “If you wanted to pray, the place to do it is under Frank’s hospital bed.” My dad continued to beat the odds for another two years, never complaining. What we came to realize and appreciate was the strong will to live this good man had. Thus, he gave us the miracle of time.
At the onset of his illness, I was 21, my sister Christine 17, and my older sister Annmarie was 26. My mom was 56. At the end of his two- and one-half year illness, he had showed us how to be strong and prepared us for life without him. Even though the doctor recommended he be put in the hospital near the end, my mother refused. “He will die at home,” she told him. My mother was amazing. Not trained as a nurse, she quickly filled the role. Irrigating the open wound in his abdomen, emptying his colostomy bag, attended to him with inspiring love. At our final thanksgiving together, he was unable to leave his hospital bed located off the kitchen (my mother’s former sewing room). We attempted to get through Thanksgiving dinner by trying to engage him in our conversation, but often we reverted to reminiscing. It was excruciating. He quickly declined thereafter, and it was clear his death was looming.
I was so frightened because I didn’t know what death looked like. However, I stayed close by. In those final days there were many moments of grace. At one point I was leaning over his bed and he reached out his hand to caress my face. Not a demonstrative man before his illness, he didn’t hesitate to express his love now. He would say to my mother, “I have had a good life. It is better me than one of the kids.” He looked at me at one point and said, “I don’t want to go.” And I replied, “You are not going anywhere daddy. You are staying home.” Thinking that he thought he was going to the hospital.
His eyebrows furrowed and later when I thought about it, I realized what he really meant. I would say to him, “God loves you daddy and so do I.” It would make him smile. The final night he got a burst of energy and asked to speak to my two older siblings who were married, so I called them to come quickly. He said he wanted scrambled eggs which we made but he didn’t eat. He asked my mother to sleep with him that night in the hospital bed which she did.
The next day, December 2nd, he fell into a coma. We did not leave his side. At the moment of his death, near 8 p.m. that night, my mother and I were the only two in the room. He took a breath and held it then let it out. Silence. His soul had left. I was stunned by the beauty and sacredness of the moment. So peaceful it was.
Christmas eve was three weeks away and my family talked about whether we should have the big Christmas Eve celebration that was our tradition. My mother told the story of when my dad’s eldest brother died near Christmas and he insisted that we get a tree and celebrate as usual. I was small at the time and he did not want any of us to be denied the joy of the holiday. So, we had our Christmas Eve celebration in 1981. We invited all his nurses and doctors as well as family and friends. It was a joyful celebration of this miracle man who left us with so many gifts of grace.
Bio: Lucille Rusconi Fisher is the owner of Sage and Savvy Marketing. She helps business owners over fifty grow their companies through digital marketing. She has been a seeker of truth her whole life and began to study the ancient teachings in earnest and meditate regularly fifteen years ago. She took classes with Donna Mitchell Moniak, founder of Spiritfire Retreat Center in Leydan, MA and creator of the Practice of Living Awareness meditation. In 2011, she was fortunate to attend the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra in Washington, DC with the Spiritfire sangha. Her life mantra is taken from a Dalai Lama quote, “My Religion is Kindness.”
Editor’s Note: Please join me and guest-host Lucille (@sageandsavvy) for a twitter chat on Sunday, Dec 2nd at 9amET. Lucille is a wonderful friend of the community, and a long-time regular in our Sunday gatherings. We will discuss death, miracle(s) and the holidays! Thank you. – Kumud @AjmaniK
Lucille (on right) with her Father…