“Let’s wait until a decent hour.”
That was the request of my mom to my sister about calling to tell me that Daddy was in the hospital. They’d been at the emergency room since around 4am knowing that Daddy was going to be admitted. Even as they waited my mother didn’t break her weekly ritual with Merrick. Twice a week she calls him at 6:30am gives him a little pep talk so that he can get up and be at school an hour early to meet with teachers or study in the library. Mama made a pact with Merrick after Jordan died that on days when his spirits would be so low but he still wanted to excel that, “You do the work, I’ll do the worrying.” She extended that care to me, waiting until 7am to have my sister call. Julie in her calm soothing voice called me at 7am to tell me, “We’re at the hospital with Daddy and he’s pretty bad.” My first reaction was a sob and then, “I’ll be there today.”
“I know you will. They’re trying to get him stabilized.”
We’d just found out Daddy was seriously ill on Saturday. I’d missed a call from my mom earlier in the day and when I returned her call she immediately said, “Hold on a second I have to get Julie on the line. Your Daddy wants to talk to you.” Those words alone were enough to make me brace myself for bad news. My father hates talking on the phone and rarely initiates a call. Mark and I had just dropped the girls off at a birthday party and as soon as I told him what Mama said he pulled the car over to the side of the road.
He told us his news and my screaming, “NO,” and “Not my Daddy,” over and over marked my devastation until Mark took the phone so they knew he was there with me. I exhaled the last scream and shakily told Daddy, “I’m here. I’m sorry.”
In a quiet voice Daddy responded, “I just need to know you’re here with me. I’m sorry this happened. But I just need you with me that’s all.”
“We are Daddy. That’s how we’ve always done things.”
“I’m sorry to put you through this. I just don’t understand how this happened. I’ve never missed a doctor’s appointment.”
“You’re not putting us through anything. We’re here and we’ll do whatever we need to.”
“I know you will. I know you will.”
Daddy saw a specialist on Monday and all of us are trying to wrap our minds around the disease that is ravaging his body and the prognosis, which is poor. Tuesday morning jettisoned our family to another level of fear and shock as he was rushed to the emergency room. When I arrived Tuesday afternoon I went immediately to the hospital needing to see Daddy for myself.
From Tuesday on Mama, Julie and I adopted our hospital routine. Every morning I was dropped off at the front entrance so I didn’t have to walk as far with my booted foot. Then, my mom, sister and I sit vigil with Daddy, with my mother always taking the chair closest to his bed. I watch Mama closely looking for signs of weariness and fatigue, and all I see is resolve and commitment to her husband. When she leaves the room Daddy will ask Julie or I, “How’s your Mama doing? You watch her eyes that’s where she’ll show when she’s not okay. Watch her eyes.”
I reassure him that she’s taking things a day at a time and is not hiding anything from him. As we sit in his room, we listen to him make jokes with the nurses and other staff, complain about the food and bargain with the nurses to let him have one little packet of salt to make the food semi-edible. We also watch as he tries to maneuver in bed and pain grips his body with such force that we wait, holding our breaths, until the wave of pain subsides. Everything is still surreal. New routines and worries are now in the works, setting up home nurse care, wondering how Daddy will navigate a home with stairs and praying that he handles the medication without too many side effects.
I came home today hugging Daddy and today telling him I’ll be back soon.
“You go home and take care of your family. I’ll see you next time.”
Daddy is a strong man. He is the one who reminded me after Jordan died to say his name everyday. He continues to teach me so much. Here is the post, “Say His Name,” to give you a glimpse of just how amazing my father is.
Say His Name (9/28/2009)
I’ve never seen a picture of my father as a boy, yet I’ve heard so many of the stories of him growing up in a coal mining community in West Virginia, third youngest of thirteen children, that I have a distinct picture of him in my mind. My father is quite the storyteller and I’ve sat in rapt attention as he’s told me of his boyhood antics as well as those of his siblings. I’ve also listened as he’s shared the sorrow his family endured. As a young man in college, Daddy in less than 14 months, lost a sister to illness, a brother to murder, and his mother after making the statement to my father as they sat on their front porch following the death of her son-“I will not live to bury another one of my children.” She died a few months later.
Every time Daddy shared the story of losing so many loved ones in such a short span of time, I looked at him with compassion and awe. How do you keep going when you lose so much in such a short amount of time? Daddy had survived unimaginable loss and yet didn’t seem haunted by what he endured. His life had gone on with a college degree, marriage, work and family. He spoke lovingly of his family. He told funny and poignant stories of relatives that were long gone by the time I was born. Because of him I felt I knew them. Their deaths did not erase them from Daddy’s heart. He talked about them all the time. I watched him because as untouched as I was by the death of someone close to me, I knew it would happen eventually. Daddy provided my first road map on mourning loved ones.
My “eventually” came with the unexpected, shocking news of Jordan’s death. When I made the call to my parents in the middle of the night to tell them that Jordan their oldest grandchild had been killed in a car accident my mother screamed and cried, and then my father was on the phone. He told me they would be there as soon as they could and they were. By Monday afternoon they were sitting at our kitchen table. The friends who had held watch over us since early that morning quietly left once our family arrived. We sat, cried and talked. Daddy’s words to me were simple and direct, “Don’t stop talking about him. You say his name everyday.” I’m not sure if I would have taken such direct advice from just anyone, but I knew my father’s experiences with loss. Daddy’s advice was him speaking what he had lived. The way I knew about my aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents was because Daddy didn’t stop talking about them. He said their names and his eyes lit up with the memories they invoked.
Every time I called him in the weeks and months after Jordan died sometimes barely able to speak because I couldn’t catch my breath from crying he would calm me, soothe me, always telling me he wished he could take some of the pain away. He never failed to remind me of his feeling that holding in my grief would make me sick. Then he would ask, “Are you talking about Jordan? You make sure you keep talking about him.” I always told him, “yes we talk about him everyday.”
My children know by the example of their father and I that it’s okay to cry and miss Jordan, but it is also okay to remember all the funny Jordan stories and talk about him as much as they want and need to. We sit at the dinner table and one of my daughters will say “remember the time Jordan raced into the bathroom right before I was going in to take a shower and jumped in the tub with all his clothes on and starting singing in that high voice “I’m taking a shower” as he pretended he was really taking a shower. We would all nod in remembrance and laugh. That story would remind another one of us of some other Jordan story and the love in remembering would grow. There would be other times when something happened at school and one of them would ask Mark or I “did that ever happen to Jordan?” We never turned away from an opportunity to talk about our son/their brother. He always will have a seat at the table.
Even almost a year after Jordan’s death my father still reminds me to “Say his name.” Now with the clarity of my own experience I know what he means. His philosophy about loss has become my own. The person we lose cannot become a taboo subject. Holding in our pain is also holding in our memories and ultimately the joy that person brought us. I knew about my aunt, uncle and grandparents long gone before I came along because of Daddy. They are etched in my heart as though they told me their stories themselves.
My children freely talk about their brother. They laugh together, imitating him and remembering. The way my children talk about their brother assures me that their children will know their Uncle Jordan. And one day in the distant future I pray that I’ll live to have my grandchildren sitting at my knee as I sat at my father’s and have them ask to hear about their uncle, my son. Without hesitation I will openly, wistfully, freely “Say his Name.”