Daddy had open heart surgery, Monday, January 13 – two bypasses and a valve replacement. In 1997, he’d had triple bypass surgery and, as he recalled it, had started going back in to the office part-time three weeks later.
Now 87 and still working as a small-town lawyer, he fully expected to do the same again. He told his clients so.
Complications kept him in the hospital for two weeks after the surgery. My sisters Karen and Judy, my brother Jim and I took turns staying with him and helping as we could, while the incredible staff on the SICU ward at Magnolia Regional Health Center took care of him. We also took turns taking word of his progress to Mama, who lay at a nursing home several miles down the road, bedridden with advanced Alzheimer’s.
Finally, on Saturday, January 25, the turnaround came for which we’d prayed. Karen was there that day. She texted the rest of us with the news. The next Tuesday, Daddy was released from the hospital. He arrived home shortly after noon. About midafternoon, I called and sang (to the tune of the Birthday Song):
“Happy homecoming to you! Happy homecoming to you! Happy homecoming, dear Daddy! Happy homecoming to you!”
That night at 11:57, my phone rang. When I answered, Karen said, “I think Daddy just died.”
He’d been sleeping in his recliner. She was awake, and about a step away, when he suddenly stopped breathing. Calling 911, then following the operator’s directions, she got Daddy on the floor and gave CPR, but with no apparent results. The ambulance arrived in record time and whisked Daddy back to the hospital. The ER doctor who attended Daddy thought he was gone too. Yet contrary to what anyone believed possible, Daddy did resuscitate. The report we received from the hospital a few minutes later was, “He’s still alive – but in critical condition.”
Daddy never regained consciousness or even the ability to respond to us. He lay in the hospital on life support for four days while we watched and waited to see whether he would miraculously begin to revive. More and more, it became apparent, it was time to let him go.
So we did. We stood close, held his hand, looked into his unblinking eyes and said, “Daddy, Jesus is coming for you, and when he does, you go with him.”
We said lots of other things during those four days. Sometimes individually, sometimes together, we stood by his bedside and said what needed to be said.
We sang to him too. At times when he was struggling, it seemed to relax him. Mostly, we sang the old hymns we’d grown up singing in church.
We put the cell phone to his ear when our children called to tell him they loved him. Some of them sang to him too.
Daddy could sing off-key with the best of them – and did every Sunday at church. He’d married a musician and had lived for the next 60 years with the music of pianos playing, drums beating, band instruments resounding and people singing.
So we sang. When we couldn’t do that anymore, we played music through the iPad – first, piano hymn arrangements and other songs of faith; then, Big Band music, the kind he always played on the radio in his car.
I had just discovered two songs – not old, but new songs – that we played for him again and again. They have a common theme, and each has a deeply moving melody and lyrics. Each time we played these songs, it seemed God had sent a two-part love-letter to Daddy. And to Mama. And to us.
“You’re Not Alone” – Meredith Andrews.
“Alone Yet Not Alone” – Joni Eareckson Tada.
Saturday, February 1, I arrived at the hospital first. I walked into Daddy’s darkened room, looked into his eyes and said, “Daddy, today, Jesus is breaking you out of this place.” We waited with him until he quietly, almost imperceptibly, took his last breath at 3:17 pm.
“Happy homecoming to you. Happy homecoming to you. Happy homecoming, dear Daddy. Happy homecoming to you.”