6 years ago, and a few days before, I got a call from mama. "You need to come down, Carrie." It was Christmas Eve, and I had picked up a late night shift at Ann Taylor Loft, one of my part-time jobs at the time. I left right away to pack my bag and to get ready for the 3am drive to the airport. Sixteen hours after arriving at the Minneapolis airport, I managed to tearfully and thankfully get the last seat on the last flight of the day headed to Birmingham, AL. At 11pm on Christmas Day of 2006, I arrived at the hospital. My stomach churned as I entered the building. Is that feeling always going to return when I visit a hospital? That smell...I tried not to think about it as I walked down the halls. Mama proudly introduced me to people as we passed them down the hallway. After all, this had practically been their residence for months now; strangers had swiftly turned into friends...friends who would forever have this one connection.
I bent over and kissed his head in the bed. He smiled a tired but happy smile. His daughter was there. He was so proud. After lots of hugs, kisses and warm Christmas greetings, Mama and I sat at the end of the bed at a small table and chairs playing cards while Daddy rested. The table was truly for one, and we pulled and extra chair in the room but it worked just right for our card game. Daddy laid in the bed just staring at us with a thoughtful smile on his face. "I love watching you two play cards," he said. Mama and I must have sat there for hours playing cards, laughing and talking as Daddy watched us. We would think he would be asleep only to look over and see him smiling once again at us. I don't know how many nurses came in the room that night. Mama would still have it recorded in that thick notebook. She was really good at staying on top of all of that. Too many times to count off the top of my head though. Many of the details faded from my immediate memory...but one special conversation will always remain in my head and in my heart...the last conversation I had alone with my daddy before he went to be with his Father in Heaven.
Mama left the room for something one evening (I don't recall for what or why), leaving just Daddy and me in the room for a length of time. It was fairly late into the night. Everything was dark, except for that one little light. Where did it come from? Did it shine through the cracked bathroom door or the little lights on the side of the hospital bed? I am not sure. But I do remember that I could see his face as I stroked his smooth head. The smile that the gentle and loving touch brought to his face. Earlier that day I had winced as I saw his bruised arms from the IV's and pricks of needles. I can only chance to imagine what he felt like at that point...bruised, sore, or numb to everything at this point? No, definately not numb. I watched as he would slightly wince each time they came in to stick him again. Though he never once complained, I knew he was in pain. It hurt me to watch. Maybe the reason I am not a fan of IV's and needles to this day. As I stood over him, he with his eyes closed, I quietly hummed and stroked his bare head. I gently rubbed his thin shoulders and lifted ice chips to his mouth.
He thought I was strong.
I smiled at him even though what I really wanted to do was to lower my head in deep sobs of sadness for his pain, for his strength, for his gentle and positive attitude, for the man that I knew would be with His Heavenly Father far sooner than I wished.
We talked for what seemed like hours. It was not a lively, rambling conversation but a thoughtful and reflective one. He would get tired and rest. I would continue to gently tell him things. I told him I was proud of him and that he was my hero...that he always had been and always would be. I told him that we would all be ok...that we would miss him terribly but that we would go on with the God-strength and positive attitude that he had lived out for us all these years. I told him that Mama would be sad and miss him but that we would take care of her and that it would be ok. I told him that we would always be close and appreciate one another. That we would never forget...ever. That we would be strong. The tears streamed but the words spoke with quiet confidence. I told him not to worry about anything. I told him that God had taken care of me and blessed me with a wonderful husband who would tend to me the way that Daddy had always prayed for. "Don't worry Daddy. You and mama prayed well." :) I told him that I appreciated all that he had done for me and for our family...that because of that we would be ok. I went back and joked about a few younger memories. Memories as a child. Memories as a youth and as a young adult. How thankful I was that he was able to walk me down that aisle. I had prayed for that. I thanked God for that. I didn't want him worrying. He had done well. He had helped to prepare us by shaping us into faithful children of God...we were far from perfect but knew Who to lean on in times of trouble. We knew of our Creator's Sovereignty and knew that He always had a plan...a plan much bigger than ours.
Daddy told me that he was so proud of me. He told me that I was strong --had always been strong--and he knew I would be ok. (Oh, if he could have only see the tears in my heart he would have thought so differently) And that he loved me so much and always would. He looked at me in love and in a proud way. He would smile and then close his eyes to rest for a minute. Later, he would again look at me with this proud and determined look and tell me how thankful he was for me, my mother and my brother. Words and moments that I will never forget.
6 years ago, on this very day, Clay and I received a phone call that would forever change the rest of our lives. In our first apartment in Minnesota early that morning I fell with grief onto the bed when Clay relayed the news. Clay took me in his arms and sobbed with me.
It was too early. I thought we would surely have several more months. I knew it was bad...but that bad? I remember the doctors telling me it would not be long, but had that really sunk in? I thought that meant months. What happened to time? What happened to another visit? Sobbing, questioning, hurting, more questioning...then a peace. A peace like no other. A peace of knowing that my precious daddy was with his Father in the happiest place of all. The place he used to excitedly talk about with Taylor and me. The place where he would never be in pain again.
Though time had passed, tears of happiness fell. Tears of joyful remembrance of my daddy who would never be forgotten and always be remembered....remembered for his smile, for his laughter and for his positive nature. For his witness to others, for his friendships and for his "hoo ha's" in life's daily moments. For the difference he made in my life and in so many others.
Joyful tears shed for the "gentle giant" who would now be watching over us. I tell my boys all the time that "Jonesie" is watching over us from Heaven and is one of the Kingdom's special angels. For when he entered those pearly gates, I have no doubt that His Father looked at Him with a wide grin and open arms and exclaimed, "Well done, my Good and Faithful Servant."