*On June 21, 2011 at 5:00 p.m. I knew something was not well with my soul. My cell phone hadn’t registered a phone call or text message for nearly half the day. I’ve been having problems with my vintage Blackberry Pearl cell phone which sorely needed to be replaced. But this was not the time for problems.
I turned my phone off then powered it back up and within nanoseconds a sea of new voice mail and text messages populated my cell phone in such rapid succession my eyes dilated. That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach confirmed the nagging in my spirit – something had happened.
“Call me,” “urgent,” “Catherine has been trying to call you,” “where are you?” “call me now, need to speak with you,” these are just a sample of the voice mail and text messages I plowed through in an instant.
I didn’t have to call. I knew what it was. My Dad had died. It was imminent. He had been in the hospital since February and in a hospice facility since May 21st.
His ailments were many. And each one was exacerbated and accelerated with the onset of a subsequent ailment from pneumonia to numerous infections, blood clouts, a stroke, kidney failure, respiratory failure and a long list of medical conditions with multi-syllable names I can’t pronounce or spell.
Dad had a slow but steady decline over the past five months during his hospitalization. It was painful and agonizing to watch this strong, proud and decidedly immovable force diminish in sinew. Yet they were five months that changed my life, forever.
The months I spent talking to him at his bedside while holding his hand were as much for him as it was for me. I am my father’s oldest child, and I’ve always been Daddy’s girl. So the heart connection we shared has always been deep, organic, unfeigned yet dubious at various junctions in our lives. But the bond that fused us was unquestionable and irrevocable no matter how vehemently we may have disagreed. It was love to the third power I always said.
And I got a chance to tell him that and more. He listened intently to my adulation, confessions and yammering. He blinked incessantly with each word I spoke because he couldn’t talk while connected to the ventilator. With tears in his eyes he would try to mouth words in an effort to communicate with me. Though his words were indiscernible, his sentiment was clear.
I never imaged a day when my Dad would not be on the planet. As he ascended in age and his health declined, I wouldn’t allow myself to imagine a world without him. Parents were supposed to be perennial. But in reality life is finite and is experienced within the confines of the dash between your sunrise and sunset.
Sometimes Dad was an enigma. I just didn’t get him. And sometimes he would pull rank and make his position crystal clear. The lessons that he taught me were just as veracious as the missteps I watched him make. His most memorable saying was, “You will get something in your head before you get something in your arms young lady.” And it was a directive he gave each and every young man who came to call on me as a young woman.
His standards for my siblings and I were high. Sometimes too high from my child like perspective. But I met his challenge and exceeded it. In return Dad spared no words in telling me how proud I made him.
Oh what a life Dad lived. It was a turbulent beginning he would confess marked by unyielding faith that transformed him and carried him to the end. But he fought gallantly taking a step forward in his recovery then several disappointing steps backward. That’s why it was difficult to see him suffer at the end. But I think he was fighting for us until he could fight no more.
“Our dear brother Deacon Olephyeo Stamps has gone from pain to paradise,” said Reverend Wesley Sr. of the El Bethel Missionary Baptist Church during my Dad’s funeral. It’s where he served for 18 years on the Deacon Board while he lived in Las Vegas.
But I’ve gone from pain to pondering how I will traverse life without my Dad. He’s no longer a phone call or plane flight away; he’s now a thought away. I think about his often and thank him daily for being the best he knew how to be and giving me the best he had to give. I am my father’s daughter and I will always be.
(Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected].)