My daddy died Saturday night right near the end of the Bedlam OSU/OU football game, down by a touchdown with 2 minutes to go, when it seemed hopeless for his beloved OSU Cowboys. I’m not saying for sure he helped those boys turnaround a surprise win in overtime, but his grandsons like to think this sports fan found a way to help carry that game to a victory. And even his OU loving relatives smile at the thought.
Most conversations with my Daddy included the question, “did you see the game” and because I don’t like or remotely understand any sport you can mention, I’d usually just say, “um, no.” Then he’d smile, shake his head, and give me a quick rundown on the score or some big play. Now and again my husband would arm me with a relevant line like, “what about that interception in the fourth quarter?” and he would light up like a Christmas tree, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I had finally found a way to share in his passion for sports.
He might not have been an athlete, or the world’s greatest golfer, but he was something more important. He was a fan. Of sports, his family and friends, and strangers even got star treatment from this guy, who knew how to cheer us up and cheer us on. Not depending on a big play, or fancy footwork, it was a given that he would stand steady on the sidelines of our lives, happy to see us all, or offer a bit of advice and worry after our equipment and that we had what we needed to carry on with daily living.
When I was little, I loved to hold his hand. He was a long, tall, drink of water and when he was holding my hand I felt little but safe. On our weekends together, I remember walking to the car, his hand in mine, standing next to him when seat belts weren’t a thing, my arm flung around him, proud to be with my man, my daddy.
I still like the feeling of holding my husbands hand when we walk, my inner little girl bounces right up to the surface where the simple comfort of a hand that is bigger than my own, the hand of my man is where I can rest safe and sound.
When a heart attack grabbed him and landed him in ICU, everybody came to help. Family, cousins and aunts, nieces and nephews, in-laws, church friends, and life friends all gathered to be with him. We took turns, guarding and guiding him and one another through the painful process of trying to give a beloved every chance to survive and every dignity and the courage to be allowed to die.
It’s not easy. Feelings are thick and dense. The ICU world is at the same time unreal and too real. Machines beep and swish under bright lights, tubes and constant attention from nurses, and doctors for one body part and then another consult, speculate, plan and pace his care.
We call those near to help and reassure those that have to travel to wait because we just don’t know minute-to-minute what is going to happen. We hang on loosely drawn statistics and hope, but we see him growing weaker each day, one organ after another following it’s innate intelligence to let this solid mass go so his spirit can fly to the next place, the place we don’t understand that looks a little different from one person to another, but it’s a place we all are headed and the ticket demands the body’s release.
The night he died it was my turn to sit with him. I was reading an O Magazine article on how to cope with aging parents. My oldest sister was on a plane soon to land, a family medical planning meeting was scheduled for the next day, his wife and my second oldest sister and his grandsons had gone home to rest until the evening visitation.
A machine began beeping in three part bursts of unified sound and the nurse rushed into the room. I jumped up and went to his side and took his left hand and began to kiss it and tell him how very deeply he was loved, thanking him for giving us in his living all we needed to carry on after his death. His chest fluttered and beat like a bird right before it takes flight. And then he was gone.
A group of hospital employees quickly assembled and gently led me to a private room, where I began calling all of those who would miss him so deeply. Then in the privacy of the room, I let myself sob, take a deep breath, and then return to the body he had left behind.
I took that hand into my own, and held it gently until my husband arrived. I saw that his hand and mine were shaped the same, with enlarged knuckles, an index finger that tilts toward the middle, and skin spotted like a painted pony. His mother’s hands were just the same, and in that cycle of handing the power of life from one generation to the other, I found a deep and abiding peace.
When my husband arrived, he reached out for my hand, but it took me a few more moments to let go of my Daddy’s hand and take my husband’s hand.
My sister who lives nearby came and took his other hand, and we left her to that private and personal moment.
I don’t really know how it is that we humans are brave enough to love one another when we know it means we have to let them go. But we are and we do. We love one another imperfectly. We take the other person into our hearts and we trust them with our own mortal shortcomings. It’s a big job, and not an easy one…being human.
To take an outreached hand, to marvel at the miracle of a newborn as we count the fingers, for a little girl to hold her Daddy’s hand, and later trace the palm of a mate, and finally to hold the hand that cools as it leaves this earth.
It is an act of bravery and beauty, love and strength when we reach out and take the hand of another, or give a hand up when needed. Daddy taught me about that kind of love, not so much with words but with the way he lived his life.
He was sweet and kind, and never spoke ill of others. He served food to the housebound with a side dish of prayer, he loved his family, and cherished us all.
He was a fan of the game of life.
I was his fan, like the rest of the world that is missing him today.
I don’t know much about sports, but I know one thing. In Daddy’s hands I learned about holding onto love, and now he is teaching us all about letting go, cheering one another onward and recognizing that the truest victory is carrying forward the lesson in kindness he left behind.