My Father is Really Gone
A Final Tribute
By Carine Colas Diallo, author of the award-winning book
No Fear: a Personal Memoir of My Journey with God
My father, Jacques Colas was born in Cap-Haitian, Haiti in 1931. His father, an army officer with the Haitian government, and his mother, a seamstress were well-to-do Haitians and owned a spacious five bedroom house in the capital. They earned a good living and were financially secure. However, when his father suddenly died of a heart attack when he was 15 years old, my father’s life was forever changed. He starved, had no money to buy clothes and shoes, and was forced to sew shoes out of whatever materials he could get his hands on, including rubber from old tires and cardboard. Despite the countless hardships that my father faced after his father’s death, he remained strong and focused on obtaining an education, and excelled at school. Years later, my father graduated from college, went on to hold prestigious positions as an engineer in Haiti, and occupied high-level positions with the United Nations managing development projects aimed at reducing poverty in Africa.
When I was younger, I had admired my father – his power, fluency in several languages, and his genuine desire to positively impact the lives of Africans. There are many reasons why I loved my father, but the simplest is he liked being around me. He took time out for me to help me with my math assignments and to ask me how my day went at school. As a child, I had convinced myself that he was invincible and that he possessed superpowers. He was my superman. Whenever I had problems, he was always there to help me face those problems head-on, and through him I learned to be fearless. I had a strong desire to emulate him, and when I got older I did. I’ve held high-level positions managing food security, health, education, and child protection programs in Africa and Haiti. However, just recently, I have had to come to terms with the fact that my father did not possess any real superpowers, was only human, and did everything in his power to make sure that I would have a successful and worry-free life.
After 45 years of marriage, my parents were divorced in 2014, and both looked forward to a fresh start. They sold their house that they had owned in Pembroke Pines, Florida for over 15 years, and went their separate ways. My father requested that I drive up with him to Palm Bay in search of a new home. I was not comfortable with his decision to move three hours away from me and the kids, so I tried to convince him to stay in the area. My kids also tried their best to convince him to stay, but my father insisted that I drive him up to Palm Bay. He made it clear that he would drive up solo if I didn’t help. He was 83 years old, so I felt guilty and reluctantly agreed.
When we got to Palm Bay, we looked at about four different houses with a realtor. He told the realtor he was looking for a house that would reflect who he was, and wanted everyone to know that he was a retired engineer and not a poor man. We finally saw the “right house” that was riddled with problems – cracks on the floor, insects, and had an archaic well system. The owner was also being rigid, so I told my father that was a sign from God to forget about moving. He kept being stubborn, was on my back to stay on top of correspondences between him and the realtor, and succumbed to the owner’s demands. They eventually closed on the house, and right away my father began planning his big move. I couldn’t go up with him the second time, so a good friend of his agreed to drive up with him. My parents’ house was already sold, so the night before traveling my father stayed with me and the kids. He was the happiest I’d seen him in years, and we engaged in great conversations. He made silly jokes and we watched TV together.
My father was only up in Palm Bay for a month when I got a call from my youngest sister visiting him informing me she had taken him to the emergency room. He had contracted the flu and appeared disoriented. It was close to the end of the year, and I had planned on visiting him anyway with my husband and kids, so I stuck to my schedule and drove up there a few weeks later. We drove directly to the hospital, signed all the necessary papers and he was discharged that night. However, when he got to his house, he spiked fevers, and no matter what we did to help it didn’t work. So we decided to drive him back to the emergency room. My father was weak and refused to get into the car. He kept holding onto the door of the car. My husband and I managed to pull him into the car and quickly drove away. He was examined by doctors and results indicated that he had been exposed to pneumonia while he was receiving treatment at the hospital for the flu. I didn’t want to believe that his condition was really bad, so I kept telling him that he would get better.
Since the kids were in school, we drove back down and were obliged to leave him at the hospital. One day when my father was feeling better, he called me on the phone saying, “This is it, this is it.” I asked him what he had meant by that and replied that he needed to put his papers in order and needed my help. He asked me who did I feel was best suited to manage his affairs, and without hesitation I replied my older brother. I told him that he was not going to die, and as my father’s voice was shaking, he screamed that I needed to listen to what he was saying. I nonchalantly said “OK”, and didn’t take him seriously. Days later I was on a conference call with my siblings, and his doctor explained that the pneumonia had damaged his lungs and that he had ARDS, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. He was on a CPAP mask to assist him with breathing. I drove up days later, and the doctor explained how serious his condition really was, and was clear that my father would never recover if he experiences another blow to his immune system. When it was time for me to head back down, my father didn’t want us to leave him there, and watched us walk away with a sad and discouraged look on his face. I felt horrible and wanted to go back, but I walked out wondering if that would be the last time that I would see him alive. That particular thought shook the core of my being.
I called the hospital at least twice a day and it seemed like he was getting better, little by little. I was elated and I’d hoped that he would have recovered enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility. That grand day finally arrived when we were informed that he was transferred out of the ICU and was waiting for the final OK to be moved to a facility close to my home. He was strong enough to bear the three hour ride down. I spoke to him daily while he waited, and told him to get better and eat all of his food. He said “OK”. I told him that he would live with me and the kids after his rehab was over. He was happy. One day though, when I called him, the nurse put him on the phone, and all he did was breathe heavily and didn’t speak. I sensed that there was something very wrong with him, so I spoke to the nurse on duty who explained that his blood pressure had gone up the day before, and that he had been administered drugs to bring it down. The following day, I called again and was told he was sleeping. I couldn’t rest until I knew for sure that he was fine. A day later, I got a call from my sister saying he had suffered a major stroke. My heart dropped and my throat clenched with anxiety as she was speaking. I immediately called the hospital and the nurse explained that there were large amounts of blood in his brain. My father was transferred to a trauma center right away and was placed on a ventilator. That night I couldn’t sleep at all because for some reason I kept hearing my father crying out my name, even though he was hundreds of miles away from me. I sobbed and felt awful knowing that there was nothing at all I could do for him, except pray for him.
We did another conference call with his doctor who said that the stem of his brain was irreversibly damaged, however I still had faith that he would get better. I had done some research on strokes and asked the doctor to operate and place a shunt in that area to relieve pressure by decreasing the amount of blood. Due to my father’s age and the ARDS, the doctor refused to operate. I begged and pleaded, but he remained adamant. The doctor further explained that my father’s condition was terminal and may only have days or weeks to live. I traveled back up to Palm Bay with the kids at the end of the week, but before leaving prayed to God that my father would be healed as soon as I would lay my hand on him.
When I walked in his room in the ICU, I noticed the curtains were drawn, and that the room was dark and eerie. That was a sign to me that the staff had given up on him, but still I remained positive, placed my hand on his forehead and prayed. My father was lying on the bed and couldn’t move at all. The stroke had squelched his ability to move and speak, and his eyes were closed tight. He was unresponsive. It didn’t matter to me that my father appeared lifeless. I didn’t want to give up, so I read and spoke to him often hoping that he heard every word that I was saying. I begged him to accept Jesus as his personal savior so that he may live. The nurses tried to console me and explained that even if he were to open his eyes, that didn’t mean that he could live a purposeful life. I understood that to mean that he could be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Perhaps I was being selfish, and unquestionably wanted him back.
The following day I drove back down, and a few days later, my brother took leave from work to be with him. One day, my father opened his eyes but only looked straight ahead. The nurses said that he was still unresponsive, but surprised us when he began moving his foot on my brother’s command. Even though he didn’t move any other limb, I was thrilled that God was answering our prayers. A huge burden had been lifted off of me. I had pure, unadulterated hope for my father. Unfortunately, a week later my father was rushed into surgery to remove fluid from his lungs. My father was placed on dialysis and almost passed away that night. My brother was frantic, and deep inside so was I, but I kept it together to be strong for my father and for my children.
For weeks we were waiting for him to be transferred to a hospital not far from my home specializing in respiratory illnesses. The move was eventually approved. I prayed that he would survive the long ride down. I drove to the hospital with the kids as soon as I was informed that he had arrived. My heart was racing. When I got there, I noticed blood on the floor of the room that he shared with another patient, and wondered if it was his. In my opinion, the hospital staff looked concerned but had everything under control. I called the hospital late that night and was told he was in critical but stable condition. I figured that since my father was still alive three months later after experiencing major trauma to his organs, that God would bless him with a miracle and would recover. I memorized the names of the hospital staff and called them each by name to demonstrate that I respected and trusted them, and in return, hoped that they would do their very best to save my father.
I visited my father five times a week and my emotions were on a roller coaster. After making improvements in his blood pressure, breathing, etc…days later we learned that other organs were beginning to fail. I was the primary contact for the hospital and the doctor called me explaining that my father had a few hours to live. I was devastated and begged him to do everything in his power to save my father. The good doctor called back, and said that my father had fluid in his lungs, and that he planned to insert a tube in the lungs to remove the excess fluid. After that procedure was done, I noticed that my father looked a lot better, and he began moving his foot again. I was ecstatic, and believed that my father was on the road to recovery. A few days later I was informed that the tube was accidently removed from his lungs, but that it had removed most of the fluid. I was pleased with the progress that my father had made. A month later, I got another call from the doctor explaining that my father’s blood had become too acidic and that he only had a few hours to live. The same good doctor refused to give up, called me back later and said that he had administered bicarbonate which stabilized him. I drove to the hospital that night with the kids to be with my father and prayed for him. The night before, my son said that he had dreamt that three angels dressed in red, gold and green armors sprinkled dust on my father. I had unshakable faith that God would grant him that miracle.
The staff continued to do their best, but I noticed that my father’s breathing was on major decline, and that it was becoming virtually impossible for the staff to wean him off the ventilator. That same doctor explained that there was a fistula in his trachea, and that his condition was terminal. It hit me that this particular doctor who had tried so hard to save him and had never lied once to me was saying the truth. Still, I couldn’t accept that my father wouldn’t recover, even a little, because 5 months later he was still fighting and refused to give up. I couldn’t give up on him. I went to the hospital on June 1, 2015 with the kids, and my son recited a prayer he had written for him. Suddenly tears began flowing from my father’s eyes. He had never done that while he had been hospitalized. I was very angry with him, and since I had proof that he heard everything that we were saying, I demanded to know why he had left us to go to Palm Bay, knowing well that he couldn’t answer back.
We left to go home, but I had a bad feeling that this time he may not make it. I called the hospital around three in the morning, and was told that he was in stable condition. However, a couple of hours later, I got a call from the hospital informing me that my father was coding. I asked, “What does that mean my father is coding?” Right away I asked,” Does that mean my father is dying?” The nurse said that she couldn’t answer my question. For the next couple of hours I remained frozen in bed waiting to hear the inevitable. Around 6:30 in the morning I got the call that my father had passed away. He died on June 2nd.
The hospital staff asked me at what time would I be there to see him, and I replied that I would be there in a few hours. I called my husband and sobbed loudly on the phone. My husband told me to be strong, and told me that I was lucky that my father died in his eighties. He made me see that not many people are as fortunate as me. I calmed down a lot after the call ended. My husband had informed friends and family of my father’s passing, and I spoke with them but broke down and cried each time. My sister-in-law gently explained that my father’s spirit may not be at peace in heaven, because he will want to come back to earth to console me, so I needed to stop crying and rejoice that he was with God instead. My anguish and grief were consuming, but I listened to my sister-in-law’s advice, and slowly began to let go of my father.
An hour later, I dropped off my son at school, and afterwards, continued on with my daughter to the hospital. I told her to be brave, but deep inside I was trying hard to convince myself to be strong as well to be strong for her. She had been crying nonstop since we got the news. We walked into the hospital lobby and I told the receptionist that I was there to see my father who had just passed away. She looked shocked and said sorry. I marched straight to his room and saw that all of the life support equipment had been removed. His body was covered with a white bedsheet except for his face, and he looked calm and peaceful. I walked out of the room and the nurse asked me what should they do with his belongings, and I blurted out, “Throw them out.” I remembered though I had left a bible in the room, and asked for that back.
I contacted my brother and asked him to start making arrangements for my father’s funeral. I guess I never really believed that he would die, so we just never made plans. The middle sister contacted a funeral home that picked up my father’s body from the hospital that same day. Later that day, I got a call from my youngest sister informing me that the middle sister had arranged to have him cremated. I remained calm on the phone, was fuming inside and felt a massive headache coming on. I wanted to explode. That’s not what my father wanted. In his will he had made it clear that he wanted to be buried. I contacted the funeral home right away to organize a proper but inexpensive burial instead.
I cried less, and it occurred to me that my father was really dead, and would not be coming back. I prayed in my heart for God to show me a sign in the coming days as proof that everything I had done to help my father was correct and appropriate. I also prayed that God would show me how to console my daughter who still cried days later. Nothing that I or anyone else said was able to calm her down.
I mustered up the strength to go to church the week that my father died, and during the service heard the pastor say the word epiphany. A thought immediately crossed my mind, and my inner voice, God’s voice began speaking to me. Suddenly I started to understand why my father died, and explained the reasons to my daughter later after service. She cried less, and I was relieved and felt like a heavy and debilitating load was lifted off my shoulders.
The day of the funeral was especially difficult. I put on my emotionless smile, and pretended that everything was OK. My sibling spoke first at the ceremony, and I went up to speak right after she was done. At that very moment, I thoroughly comprehended why my father died in the manner that he did. I told everyone there that if he hadn’t suffered, and had been capable of speaking and moving, I am certain, without a shadow of doubt, that my father would not have accepted Jesus into his life. My father had led a carefree life, never really spoke about Jesus and hated going to church. When he was still alive and at the hospital, my youngest sister had a few of her friends go to pray for him. A couple asked him if he wanted to accept Jesus in his life, and that he should blink his eyes if he agrees. He blinked right away. Not many people are given that last chance salvation as they are dying like my father had been granted. When the ceremony was over, as we were heading to the car, my son spotted a beautiful exotic green bird in the bushes next to the car. I wanted to jump for joy even though I was laden with sadness, and took it as a sign from God that He was pleased with the way that I had handled the last 6 months of my father’s life. I felt loved and redeemed by God.
A week later, my daughter dreamt that she opened a door and saw my mother, brother and that sibling in the room. She didn’t walk in that room because I wasn’t there, so she kept walking up the corridor and opened the door to another room. She saw my father, her grandad, sitting in front of a television in his pajamas. He said hi to her, and she said that God appeared and told him it was time to leave. My father said good bye to her and was gone.
My father, Jacques Colas, was a great teacher and tough disciplinarian. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a wonderful and caring father and grandfather. He wasn’t a celebrity or had tons of money, but he would have given us the shirt off his back if he had to. He was a simple man with grandiose hopes and dreams for his children. I will forever be grateful to him for instilling in me that unrelenting desire to be the best that I can be, and promise to strive to be a role model for my children, just as he had been for me. May God continue to hold him in His loving arms.