Grief sneaks up on me unexpectedly. A snippet of a Hank Williams song. A day that would be sweeter shared. The sight of a cowboy who sits a horse like he was born on it. A beat up flat bed pickup turning into a pasture where the cattle eagerly await their feed.
The tears come then, welling up over the inevitable that I never wanted. People say a parent should never have to bury a child and my brain totally identifies that as TRUTH, but the implication is that we expect a child to bury their father or mother. That whole Circle of Life thing we can talk about so flippantly until we are the one standing at the open grave not at all ready to let them go.
My life was right side up until May 31st when my cell phone rang during the lunch rush at our coffee shop. I almost let voice mail pick it up since my hands were full of salad fixings, but I didn’t. I answered the phone to a flood of unexpected words.
“Daddy’s been in an accident!” She blurted words out between sobs so hard as to make them unintelligible. She cried out words that were familiar to me for a stranger in our ER and my job as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist but did not make sense as related to my dad.
Life flight. Wichita. Head injury.
In less than 20 minutes I was on the road. Driving and praying hard.
On that long drive, I prayed like crazy. For a miracle. For medicine to do what it could do. For Daddy to hang on. For him to live. To heal. To recover.
You see, my daddy was the real-deal, rodeo cowboy. Tough as a boot. He’d been kicked and stepped on. Bucked off and run over. He’d had his share of health problems. Back surgery. Heart surgery. Shoulder surgery. He built fence in 110 degree heat and wondered why he felt dizzy.
Cowboys don’t like being laid up. I knew that Daddy would hate worse than anything, not being able to do the things he loved to do.
And so I prayed the hard prayer. “God, I know he needs a miracle and I believe You are a God Who heals. But if that is not your will, if I have to let him go, please make it clear to me.”
The day of the accident he’d slowed down to turn off the highway onto the dirt road where he’d grown up. Just heading to the farm to check his cattle. Another big pickup truck rear-ended him. No skid marks. Never slowed down. And life as I knew it turned upside down.
There had been times I’d expected the phone call. Heart attack. Heat stroke. Broken something from getting bucked off again. But I hadn’t expected to walk into an ICU to see him fighting for his life after a senseless accident.
That might seem crazy. Does it matter what happened? Maybe not in the whole scheme of things but I’ve struggled with losing him that way.
I’ve taken trauma call for 30 years and yet, I was not prepared for how broken he was. My oh, so strong Daddy so terribly broken. Unrecognizable, but as I leaned around tubes and wires to kiss his forehead, I breathed in his scent still present beyond the antiseptic smell of the ICU.
An upside down world, but God answers prayers.
Daddy had been sedated to be put on the ventilator. When we saw him, the doctors were allowing the sedation to wear off to assess his head injury. We had a window of time he could hear us. I had time to say everything I wanted to say to him. So did my sisters. So did my daughter Lauren.
No regrets. Nothing left unsaid.
Daddy loved to hear Lauren sing, so through that long hard night, she sang to him and held his hand. She shared all the plans for her wedding a few weeks away. He’d been so excited about her engagement.
“Grandpa, I just want you to know, I’m so happy!” And he squeezed her hand.
By morning, the doctor said the words I’d known were coming. “He’ll never leave the hospital. He is just too injured to survive given his age.”
And so I grieve. And rejoice. And grieve some more.
And then I rejoice that this isn’t it. The story isn’t over! Because Christ defeated the grave, I’ll see Daddy again.
The last words I said to him was that I’d see him again.
“Daddy, I think in heaven you get a really good roping horse. And you never miss a calf. I think that’s how it works up there, Daddy. So I’ll see you again in heaven.” I whispered the words in his ear as I left the hospital knowing I’d never see him again on this earth. I know he heard me and over and over God has confirmed those words to me.
The day after the funeral, a friend posted a link to a song I’d never heard. Her pastor had preached on heaven. The lyrics so remind me of all the things that Daddy loved. ( Heaven Song lyrics by Phil Wickham)
I want to run on greener pastures
I want to dance on higher hills
I want to drink from sweeter waters
In the misty morning chill
And my soul is getting restless
For the place where I belong
I can’t wait to join the angels and sing my heaven song.
And so he does. I kind of like to think that he and Hank Williams might have already sung a duet or two. And I’m sure his beloved Marjorie met him at the Eastern gate and they’ve two-stepped all over heaven by now. That’s all right.
One of my favorite memories is of Daddy teaching me to dance by counting in my ear. One. One-two-one. One-two-one.
I’ll be there one day to sing with you and Hank, Daddy.
And save a dance for me.
“But we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve like other people who have no hope.” 1 Thess. 4:13