One year ago today, I got the phone call from my mom that would be the beginning of the hardest time in my life.
“Hey, we are taking your dad to the emergency room…. by ambulance.”
I’d received phone calls like these before, the most recent one being January 2006 when Dad has lost half of his blood volume for no apparent reason. Each time my dad had been rushed to the hospital or gone through major surgery, I would prepare myself for the worst.
I made the drive from Montevallo to Tuscaloosa alone. I was anxious and scared, but I figured that Dad would get really, really sick and then miraculously be healed just like all the times before. Once I got to the hospital, I had a hard time getting into the emergency room because the hospital had been remodeling and nothing looked familiar. Finally, a nurse let me in a side door to the emergency room and just as I walked in, my dad was being pushed on a stretcher to the cat scan room, which was right next to the entrance I had just used. I did a double-take and said, “Hey, that’s my dad!” The nurse pushing him stopped and let me talk to him for a moment. I asked the stupid question, “How are you?” And he said, “Not good, Katie. I’m not good.”
My dad was never one to complain. He never took a sick day in his life – literally. If he said his head hurt, then it HURT. But, I had never seen my dad this sick and in this much pain. Still, though, I had a lot of hope.
After I walked back to the triage room after my dad’s cat scan was over, my mom explained to me that the doctors thought my dad was in renal failure. Immediately, I had hope. “He’ll do dialysis! I’ll give him a kidney!” I really thought , although nonfunctioning kidneys is not a good thing, that it was something that could be fixed or treated.
Several hours after entering the E.R., my dad was admitted to the I.C.U. – somewhere he’d been twice before. He was still in a great deal of pain and was too sick for the doctors to help him. The problem with kidney failure is that toxins build up in your system and they start to attack other organs. Once that cycle begins, it is difficult to stop it because your entire body becomes too unstable to perform most procedures.
By some miraculous intervention (also known as God’s grace), my dad was well enough Wednesday afternoon to proceed with dialysis. Everyone kept reminding me that he wasn’t out of the woods yet, but I knew that this had to be good. He had been in mulit-organ failure, but I didn’t care! Dialysis was going to save him, I just knew it.
So, while he went through dialysis, all of our family and friends went home and mom, Greg, and I went to get dinner (you can’t stay with someone while they have dialysis, otherwise, we would’ve been right there next to him). When we came back, my dad was a new man. He looked so much better, he was awake and talking. I even tried to poke fun at him and he got on to me!! He was doing so well that the doctors insisted that mom and I go home and get some sleep. So, we said our goodbyes.
Historically speaking, I had never made a big deal of goodbyes in the hospital. I was content with saying “SEE YA!,” because I thought it would guarantee he’d be there the next day. But as I stood there, about to leave, I felt overwhelmed to hug him and tell him I loved him – something I did often, just not in the hospital.
Mom and I had been asleep for an hour or two when the phone rang. I answered. It was a nurse, who calmly but urgently told me to get to the hospital quickly. I thought Dad was just going to need surgery or maybe he was just giving everyone a hard time and they needed us to come shake some sense into him. Mom, however, knew what was happening from the moment I told her to wake up and get dressed. On the ride to the hospital, she told me “When your daddy dies, Katie, I’m going to need some time by myself. There will be a point when I just need everyone to go away and let me sit in my room for a while.” I immediately nixed all talk about death and tried to lighten the mood by singing along to Johnny Cash songs.
As we walked through the I.C.U. doors, we were greeted by a nurse who motioned for us to go in this little room. I didn’t think anything of it – I just figured they wanted to talk to us in there since it was so late. Or maybe that they were doing something with my dad and we couldn’t go in there. Mom, however, knew. I turned around and she was walking backwards, trying to leave the I.C.U. She looked at me pitifully and said, “I don’t want to go in there, Katie. I don’t want to go in there.” It was then that I knew. I kept denying it, but I knew.
Losing a Dad is something that most people will go through at some point. I feel like I was as well-prepared as you can be. People have been dying in my family since I was two, so I was no stranger to grief and mourning. But, I’d never experienced grief and mourning like I did that night. I cried from a place very deep within me – a place I didn’t know existed.
Within minutes, that little room was filled with the most influencial women in my life. My mom, my aunts, my mom’s two closest friends, and my sister were all there. In my greatest moment of brokenness, I was reminded of their strength. In my greatest moment of weakness, I was reminded of God’s strength. I knew that He would deliver us from grief and bring us into a Promised Land of peace and comfort.
A year later, I think I’ve found that Promised Land. God has healed me of my grief and so much more.
I miss my dad’s laugh and his old-man-ness. I miss his long-winded answers to open-ended questions. I miss his words of comfort and advice on watering flowers. I miss complaining about the smell of his turkey bacon and Santa Fe omelettes at 6 in the morning. I miss drinking his cheap coffee. I miss his snoring.
I have learned so much. Grown so much. I am so thankful to everyone who was there for me and my mom. I owe them an endless amount of gratitude because all those little things still mean so much.
Thomas A. Lewis
(also known as Thomas, Alfred, Louie, Daddy, Dear Old Dad, Cheapskate, and Grumpy Old Man)
November 28, 1939 – September 21, 2006