It was a cold Saturday in late February. Snow and ice covered the ground. It was typical of the Missouri winters I had grown up with and learned to dislike. Having moved to Texas a couple of years before, I was getting spoiled with milder winters, so I didn’t mind the snow and cold on this particular visit. It was a nice change of pace.
My return trips to Missouri were almost always centered around getting to visit with dad as much as possible. He had been in a care center in for years due to a stroke that had debilitated him in 2005. He wasn’t mobile anymore, but he still had his mind and the ability to talk, so many times visits with him resulted in a lot of conversation. I always cherished those visits.
On this particular visit, he was feeling pretty good, so the conversation was all over the place at times. I didn’t mind. I never minded these conversations. We talked about some recent visitors he had received. He asked about my job, my wife Rachael, and how things were going in general. We discussed past memories, he told a few stories, and we talked about many other things that came to mind. It was one of the better visits I’d had with him in a while, and I was glad it was turning out to be that way.
Before I left later that afternoon, I told him I was going to Joplin for a benefit for an old friend, Stan Elmore, who was in the hospital due to his own failing health. I told him that I thought I would try to leave a little earlier so I could stop by the hospital to visit with him, before heading to the benefit. Dad said he would be praying for him, then got a smirk on his face. It was a smirk I was familiar with. He usually got it when he was about to say something silly, witty, or off the wall. He said, “Tell Stan I’m praying for him. I guess that’s kind of like the dead praying for the dead.” He chuckled. I smiled and maybe even laughed a little, I don’t recall my reaction very clearly now. The comment was a play on Scripture, coupled with his typical self-depreciating humor. Even though he had been suffering for years now, he still found it within himself to crack jokes, to never complain, and to generally have a positive attitude about his situation. It’s an attitude I hope I can replicate, no matter the difficulties I may face.
It would only be a few more minutes and I’d be on the road to Joplin.
When I arrived at Freeman Hospital to see Stan, he seemed exhausted and a little out of it. He didn’t talk much. After the initial pleasantries and small talk, I made sure I told him that dad said hi and that he was praying for him. Stan said he appreciated it and was praying for dad too. Then he apologized and said he wanted to close his eyes and rest. I didn’t want to bother him much more, so our visit was very short. I moved on and attended the benefit concert and auction being held for he and his family.
These visits would turn out to be the last, real conversations I would have with my father and with Stan.
My plans were to return in May. Life doesn’t always go as planned. I ended up returning in mid-April because dad had suffered a heart attack. He would pass away on April 21st, surrounded by family. Less than a month removed from dad’s funeral, Stan would pass away too. Dad was 57. Stan was 56. Far too young by most standards, yet as I’ve already said, life doesn’t always go as planned.
The next time I found myself in dad’s room at the care center, it was an unseasonably cold and foggy day in April. I was with my brother Micah, and we were packing up dad’s possessions a couple of days before his funeral. Many who had been there caring for him over the years kept coming in to tell us they were going to miss him, that he was their favorite to deal with, to talk with, to care for. It wasn’t exactly how I had planned my return trip, but it was nice to hear them talk so kindly about him.
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to be breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
I’m doing that more often than before, Marcus. That much is sure.
A lot of times I like my posts to have some sort of take away. Something meaningful or useful to wrap it up with in a nice little bow. I’m not sure this post can be like that. Quite simply, I needed to write. I needed to get some thoughts off my chest. I needed to tell a story, and perhaps I’ll tell a few others in the coming days. A lot of stories have been rattling around in my head the past month. Things I’ve not been talking about, but I know aren’t good to keep bottled up inside. I hope you all won’t mind, and thank you for reading.