A story from Omi Ford, daughter of Faith and Grief Founder, Fran Shelton.
My Dad wasn’t into “ordinary.” He couldn’t remember a birthday and didn’t worry about what groceries to buy for the week. His role in life had always been “the rescuer.” You needed to move to another third floor apartment, my Dad had a truck and a strong back. You needed school supplies for your class, my Dad would hit every estate sale and stalk the neighborhood BIG LOTS to get pencils, paper and crayons into each student’s hand. Your boyfriend turned out to be a jerk, my Dad would be there to set him straight and get you out of the situation as soon as possible. He thrived in tough situations. Those tough moments are when his light would shine the brightest.
On New Year’s Eve, I received a phone call that my father had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. The doctor did her best to explain to me the long list of things that were no longer working inside my Dad’s body. I was on the other end of a cell phone, hundreds of miles away, and my Dad was unconscious. He couldn’t “rescue” me from this situation. I couldn’t feel or see any light. I felt as if darkness was all consuming.
After a long emotional drive, my sister and I arrived in his hospital room. He was lying still, breathing through the assistance of technology. He was still, motionless. My Dad had almost never been still. He always had a bounce in his knee or some fidget in his hand. His body, in just a week since we had celebrated Christmas together, was now a skeletal frame. This is what his death would look like. It was more than my brain or heart could comprehend. My Dad had always been strong, active and a tad bit rebellious. Now he was frail and weak. I told him that we loved him. I told him how scary this entire situation was for me. I told him I would figure this mess out and do what needed to be done.
We spent a little over 48 hours in the hospital. I was with family. Our family is wonderfully and beautifully complicated. Beckie, my Dad’s high school sweetheart, and I don’t share the same genes but we have shared many experiences. This shared experience was one that no one wanted to be in, yet we were so glad we weren’t doing it alone. The doctors pulled us into a room and explained that my Dad had colon cancer and it had spread to four other organs in his body. The effects of cancer caused him to be in septic shock. My dad wouldn’t have liked the fuss that was being made in the ICU that New Year’s. He wouldn’t have wanted to be dependent on machines, the doctors or the medicine.
We cried. We hugged. I told the doctors that we were ready to say goodbye and they could turn off the machines- our family and Beckie’s family would say goodbye. Kelly Corrigan (one of my favorite authors) put it best. “I was full. I was at my total capacity of loving, and giving and connecting, it was – the most I ever felt.”
During the hours that it took for everyone to say goodbye, I called my grandparents. I explained, as best I could, what was happening inside my Dad’s body.
I held the phone to his ear as they said their goodbyes and prayed. My grandmother, 86 years old, spoke words that my heart will never forget. She talked to God about how hard she had prayed for the possibility of my Dad. How, as a young girl, she asked God over and over again each day to send her a child and make her a mother. God did. My dad was the answer to her prayers. Now, on the other end of a cell phone line, she prayed again. She prayed that the God she loved would take my Dad home. That he may know the peace that passes all understanding and enter His Gates of Glory.
The women in our family have always had deep faith. Few of us worship in the same church or even within the same denomination, but our faith has always been important to us. Hearing my grandmother, I was given a much needed reminder.
Following this heartbreaking moment, I received texts from my mom. She happens to be a really great mom, dynamic preacher and one of the founders of Faith and Grief.
I realized that even though I felt surrounded by the dark, my faith might just be the one thing that could grant me light in this situation. Light came to me in the form of Jesus. Jesus was right there with my Dad in the middle of the mess. It was the only thing I was totally sure of. While I was feeling the most I have ever felt, Jesus wasn’t just holding my Dad’s hand, helping him crossover, but I realized that I, too, was held in his hands. That my every breath and word was orchestrated by the One who was also shepherding my Dad.
There continue to be times when I feel like the darkness of sadness and moments missed with my dad can start to be all consuming. But God is good and His Grace is sufficient. I’ll get a phone call from a friend or receive a card in the mail. I notice something I’m reading in a book or get a random hug from a 3rd grader in my classroom. I’ll have a good catch up with a friend or a simple smile from my sweet family. I’ve even passed a coffee mug on an endcap in Target with a phrase my dad used at the begin of each of our conversations, “Hey there, pretty lady!”
Those small moments are light. They are my reminders that the darkness isn’t all consuming. Those light giving moments have helped me continue to breathe. I know I can’t do it alone. I’m thankful that I don’t have to. I know that we are held by a love and a light that will never let us go. Because of this, we are able to breathe in and breathe out. Thanks be to God.