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Somehow, I remained calm. I will never understand how it happened, me the one who has always been the most melodramatic member of this family, remaining calm when hysteria had gripped my sister and mother in its steely jaws.  


I quickly traveled back in my mind's eye to the day I received a phone call from my father in-law. A favored uncle had died in the night. As though a separate person, I could visualize my hunched body, wedged between the wall and the oven, while wails of denial erupted from the lips of my soul. Rivers of tears had cascaded until, in weakness, I felt certain I would drown in them. No family was home that morning, but a dear friend held me in her arms unaware of what had caused the sudden transformation from joviality to despair. I will always be grateful that I had not had to receive the call in total isolation.  


Dredging myself from the dark pit of my memories, I forced my mind to concentrate on the task at hand. Stay focused. Drive. "What, exactly, has happened?"  "I'm not certain," was the reply from my sister, whose voice was tight with emotion. "Where are you now, and who is with you?" I asked.  "I'm on my way to mom and dad's. Mike is going to meet us," she said.  "Call me when you get there. Let me know if there's been another accident or if it's something else."   We disconnected before I realized I didn't even know which parent was in danger.  


Minutes ticked by and I started making calls to the schools my kids attended, making alternative arrangements for their transportation home.  A Christian woman at my son's school took time to pray with me, and asked me to call her the next day and let her know how things turned out. I still didn't know which parent was in trouble, or why.  


"They're taking daddy to the hospital. Get there fast," Cheri said.  "Which one?" I asked, "There are 3 within a 10-minute radius of home." I knew there is another close to mom and dad's house, and that was a good 30-minute drive.  "I don't know," her voice had the ring of panic, "just go to a hospital! I'll tell you when I know where!" "Cheri, what on earth has happened? I need to know which hospital to go to, this is insane.  Did daddy fall from the tractor? Is something cut off?? What is going on?" I could feel my own tension mounting, but refused to be sucked into a black hole. "Daddy's having a heart attack. I don't know where they're taking him yet. I'll call you when they turn – whichever direction they go will make a difference. He was talking when they put him in the ambulance so I think he's going to be ok, but they don't know yet. Just start driving!"  


Oh God. Please....  


Thoughts began to collide, chilling thoughts, clashing like icebergs in the Northern seas. Call the preacher. Where does he live? Somewhere near the beach...  Call dad's sister. Would she even want to know? Would he want her to know?  Call my older sister? No. Not her. What would I tell her? And I was certain she would not be as concerned as I felt she should be. No, call her husband instead. Martin would know best how to handle her.  In a few minutes, though. I really don't know enough to call anyone yet. I'll call in a few minutes. I had to remain clear headed. No one benefits from hysteria. Stay calm.  


Driven by a need to do something, contribute somehow, be productive, I called Brian, my husband of more than 20 years. "I don't know exactly what's going on, but something serious has happened to daddy. I'm already heading home. Will you leave work and meet me there?"  "On my way," was his instant reply. Within what felt like seconds, but must have been at least 15 minutes, Brian was pulling in the drive.  "What's going on?" he asked.  


We made our way to Memorial Mission Hospital, Brian allowing me to drive.  The distraction helped keep me calm. We talked quietly in the car, listing all the reasons to be grateful for Memorial Mission.  It is a US top 100 specialized heart hospital. It has a wing specifically for heart patients. World renowned doctors are in residence there. The hospital has an amazing reputation. Dad would be in the best hands.  


In our hearts, in our own ways, we were each praying diligently for God's hand to be at work with daddy and those caring for him. The tingle of fear was pulsing through every nerve ending in my body, but my head remained remarkably clear. I had no tears. No panic. No possessed need for crazed driving. There was a peace – it was the most unusual thing for me. It is something I'd never felt before. It is something I've never felt since.  


Entering that hospital is confusing at best, every day of the week, every day of the year, regardless of minute or hour. Like having the front of my shirt tugged by the Hand of God, Brian and I somehow ended up exactly where we needed to be. First we saw Brian's mother and dad. Next we found Cheri. Next I found a woman who resembled my mother, but I was uncertain. This woman had to have been hit by a train! She was a wreck. She was small, when had she become so small? Her voice was not strong; it was thin and charged with fear. And I saw something in her eyes that day that I had not seen in my life. Those brown eyes, which had always been so soft, sure and kind, were filled with terror, horror and agony. Her eyes – I will never forget how her eyes looked. The woman, my mother, hiding on the other side of the irises was a person whom I did not even recognize.  


The dismay I felt in that moment was disabling. Instantly I was transported back to the scene in the old kitchen. I stoically refused to be that woman ever again; I would be strong. Squaring my shoulders I mentally reached for a rock on which to lean.  Suddenly, as though he were right beside me, I heard my daddy's voice from 30 years before, "Be strong, Boo. Today is not the day for tears." When had he whispered those words to me? I could hear his voice, but could not recall, in that moment, when he had uttered them to me.  It would be several days before I could remember.  


He had been gentle that day, strong and remarkable.  I was a mere 10 years old, and stood gazing for the last time at the peaceful face of my grandmother. I reached inside the casket and squeezed a hand that no longer held life. I could still feel the weight of my daddy's arm around my shoulders, guiding me towards a cold seat.  


I remembered seeing my grandfather, tucked within the embrace of his son as they made their way down the short rows of seats in the small chapel. Much like my mother presented today, I remembered thinking how fragile, small, and broken my grandfather had been.  I could see my DinDin as he coughed back his own torrent of tears, leaning down to kiss his Pat's cheek goodbye one final time. He could have been in the same room with me at that moment, so clear was my memory.  


My own daddy, strong, fresh, alive, took my hand into his own burly, comforting grip, and squeezed away the chilling coldness left on my palm from the fleeting contact with my grandmother. Then there came those words: "Be strong, Boo. Today is not the day for tears." I remembered the warmth of his breath, stirring my hair as he whispered into my ear.  


Could today be the day for tears, I wondered, back in the here and now.  


Oh no, this was not the day. My task today was to keep my mother and sister strong. Today, it would be me who would bring strength to the family. I would be the rock to my mother and sister that my daddy had been for me so long ago. I could do this, I would do this.  


I witnessed one miracle unfold after another that day. I saw so many ways that God was there, in control, protecting His flock ... and carrying His sheep.  


Daddy died that day.  


The man who I had feared so much as a child died four times. He kept trying to enter the next stage of his life, but God kept telling him "No. Not yet."  I have never in my life been so grateful for receiving a "No."  


Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, optimism slowly began to replace our gripping and horrible fear. Many friends and family had arrived. The waiting room was filled with people supporting each other. Some of us were friends; others were strangers experiencing their own 'worst day of life.' Others within the family arrived and, even in these desperate hours, still left a total stranger to us.  We had hoped that this event might soften her heart and restore the family into a solid unit. In the following days, it became more than clear that it was still not yet God's time. It may never be God's time for the mending to occur here on earth, so peace must be found in the knowledge that something triumphant and good will come from the suffering that her loss provokes today.  


The first time I saw my dad again was late at night, he was resting; lying with translucent lids closed over his beautifully iced, clear blue eyes. His skin held the unearthly pallor of death. And he was still.  The barrel of his chest raised and lowered, barely causing a stir beneath the hospital sheet. I looked at his hand, reached my own to touch the thick, rough skin that made up his fingers. It seemed to be the only place that didn't have a needle or tube in the way. I listened to the rhythmic bleep of the machine behind me, satisfied that his heart was beating regularly.  I would have given him my own heart in that moment.  


When our hands touched, the very moment skin met skin, his eyes opened and a thousand words poured out in the glance. Pain. Uncertainty. Gratefulness. Concern. Love. Most wondrous was the love. I leaned down to kiss his brow. The skin was like wax beneath my lips. Thank God he was alive. I could think of only one thing to say, so I did. "Hello poppa. You just rest now. Everyone is ok." The faintest of smiles touched the corners of his lips, and the lids relaxed again. We had said it all for now. Nothing more was needed.  


After just a minute, it was time to go. People had begun to disburse.  My in-laws and Brian had gone home. The kids were with friends. More preachers than I could count had joined our hands in circles of prayer. A dozen hours after the crisis began, the tension began to wane.  Cheri and I had decided to stay at the Rathbun House with momma, keeping us very close to the hospital.  


Nearly giddy with fatigue, if not outright punchy from exhaustion, hunger, and relief, our trio of women laughed and cried our way through sandwiches at a local fast-food joint, then stumbled along towards the House and to bed. We were nearly doubled over with hilarity time and again at remembered childhood stories, recalled events of the day which could have been catastrophic but weren't. And all the while, I was worried that dodging around that small room nude from the toes up, my momma would see I'd recently had my naval pierced and chew me up for it. My secret sin, my rebellion against turning 40 a month earlier, I didn't want anyone but me and my daughter to know about it. My dad had nearly died that day, and I was worried I'd be fussed at. The stupidity of the thought made my last act of the day a curling of my lips and a private giggle. Oh Lord, what a day it had been.  


It was three days, maybe four days later, but in time daddy was given a private room. The whole hospital seemed to know who James Chester was. He must have witnessed to every practitioner there and more than likely a vast majority of visitors and fellow inmates. He was so glad God had given him the chance to tell the world how wonderful His saving grace is. While I watched my dad, I could hear the melody of Amazing Grace in my ear – not so much the lyrics, which I know verse by verse (all of them), but instead the haunting strains of a lone bagpiper. The passion of my father's voice as moving as the melody of the musician, under a spotlight in a darkened arena, the story of his amazing survival spilling out as beautiful as the notes from the musical artisan. The poignant truth of my dad's words as breathtaking as the unforgettable melody from the memory of my childhood.  So grateful as a child to have witnessed the master performance by the 48 Highlanders, so grateful as an adult to have witnessed the Master Physician has He restored my father to me.  


In time, my dad was allowed to return home. My father's comrade, his furry little buddy, running to greet the car with wiggles, wags, and laps of love, Sport was obviously thrilled to have his small family reunited. Whimpering in his excitement, there could be no doubt the Jack Russell Terrier had been consumed in his own way with confusion and fear. The last look he'd had of my father was as the gurney was lifted into the back of a wailing vehicle with flashing lights. It had to be terrifying for the little boy. How precious to understand that my father's life is a blessing to all things having beauty, with no difference whether canine or human.  


With the passing of the initial crisis, it had become clear that a new stage of life had arrived. Suddenly, without warning, a new road was to be forged. Diet was instantly different, and the cupboards and refrigerator were emptied. Dad was no longer allowed to drive, which was a difficult adjustment for the fiercely independent man. A balance had to be reached where he could be cared for, cared about, yet not made to feel stripped of his abilities and dominance.  


One of many unforeseen after effects of the attack was a shoulder injury.  His right shoulder that had been mobile before was now destroyed from efforts to keep him alive. One afternoon, I witnessed him reach for a spoon. Without thinking he used his right hand. In horror I watched his knees buckle from the pain the slight mistake had caused. It would be a little while before the extent of his injuries would be determined, and the realization that every muscle but one had been shredded like spaghetti was a horrifying one. Initially he was given the grim prognosis that no help could be found for him, and that he would have to live with the arm in a sling. That "doctor" should be chastised. A short time later, a far greater physician rained hope upon my father's soul, and as the months turned over on the calendar, a day of surgery finally arrived. Although not 100% mobile even now, it has been a true blessing to watch my father recover so much movement in his arm again.  


The seasons changed. Summer slipped into autumn, and then winter dissolved into spring. Many visits to numerous doctors have come and gone. I've watched in wonder at this amazing man who, as a child, had instilled so much apprehension in me; as an adult has instilled so much admiration in me. I've watched as he's fought every day to regain strength, and though he has not embraced the changes in his life, he has bowed to the certainty that failure to change would result in certain death. He is not afraid to die, but neither does he wish to go before it's his time. So, each week he met his doctor's appointments. Each day my mother fed him a well balanced diet. Each afternoon, he allowed himself to nap. Each moment, he moved towards healing. He hurt physically, but he was up for the daunting challenge we know as life. I am so proud of him.  


I find myself watching my parents now from an entirely different perspective than I did 12 months ago. I want nothing from them, except their unfailing love, and to have them answer their phone when I call. My mother enjoys telling people how terrified she would be when, as a teenager, I would send her flowers "for no particular reason." That always meant I'd done something bad, and the flowers were my way of trying to cushion the blow. (Sadly, I missed the mark in too many ways; one of which is that I left my mom stuck with paying for those flowers that "I" had "sent" to her.) I better understand her fear now. My heart races each time I receive a phone call from mom or my sister, anxiety quietly chokes in my throat until I hear the happy lilt of their voice, assuring me that this would not be another of those alarming phone calls about my dad. Or about my mom. Both are so very precious to me, and neither could be lost without losing a chunk of myself at the same time.  


I appreciate my parents. I value their wisdom. I admire their strength. I weep for their struggles. And I'd give anything if I could resolve their problems. I hear the clock of life ticking unceasingly, and I desperately want to rip the hands from the clock face – stop the constant droning of time. I've watched so many of those for whom I have a deep love suffer through private losses of their own, and dread the same fate in my own life.  


I feel the terror of loneliness when I lie in bed at night, and jump if ever the phone should ring. The vibration of fear is relentless against the endings of my nerves, and seems to course through my veins sharing space with my life's blood. Is this a normal reaction to growing older, or is this the result of another disorder? Today I can't answer that, but I guess I'll find out.  


I hope I am strong enough to face the answer. Until I know for sure, I'll be strong. For today is not the day for tears.


Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      M2pjulie wrote Sep 29, 2008
    • I would love to say that event in May 2006 was the only event with my dad, but since then we’ve had another that I just haven’t had the spirit to put into words. In November 2007 my dad went to Senior Night at my daughter’s high school, and the next night was doubled in pain and taken to the local ER. It was determined that had adhesions from a car accident in 1981, and the scar tissue had finally blocked a bowel. He had “routine” surgery to remove the blockage. The surgeon knicked the bowel, which then bled into his abdominal cavity for 4 days. Even though he was begging for relief from the pain (morphine was the only help), no one would believe us that something was wrong ... until feces began oozing out of the incision. That brought about surgery #2, and they didn’t expect him to survive. He did, but went into ICU - which began a 36 day stay in a drug induced coma. He ended up having 4 surgeries in all, and the family was called in 3 times for his imminent death. It was a very dark time, and the horrors I watched my father endure are forever engrained upon my memories. He weighed 185 pounds when he went in, and was 145 when he was released. He’d been home about 2 days when he had to be readmitted for another 4 days with an elevated temperature. The infection that he’d fought during his month-long coma still had a few straggling bacteria that tried to get him again, but just for a few days. He was released and was able to spend Christmas with his family. We were rejoicing and victorious in round 2 against his life.

      At the very first of September, my dad went to Memorial Mission to have a pacemaker/defibrillator installed. This wondrous device was supposed to bring peace to dad and to all the family that his life would be prolonged, and his quality of life improved. However, THE VERY NEXT DAY (actually Wednesday evening), I received a call while I was in Charlotte that dad was having a heart attack and I needed to get home fast. I did.

      Inconclusive tests were performed Wednesday night and pretty well all day Thursday. Thursday was the day I had my most recent run-in with God’s grace and an outright miracle. I thought I’d share this with you, in case (maybe) your own faith may need a boost. I'm thrilled to say, Miracles DO, indeed happen.

      After rushing back from Charlotte the previous night and waiting into the wee hours of Thursday morning, I met my mom and sister in my dad’s latest hospital room with coffee in my hands. Dad seemed to be doing ok, although he was still in pain from the previous evening's disaster. He had just eaten breakfast, and his color was great. Nice and rosy pink. I actually thought he could be released later that morning, and perhaps it had all been a false alarm. I’d maybe get to leave and return to Charlotte by noon or so. However, by about 1 o‘clock, dad’s color had drained and he had begun to turn ashen. By about 2 or so, his skin took on a really waxy appearance, and his speech had begun to slur. His breathing was really labored. He could get one word out per breath, and it wasn’t a clear word at all. He was also in tremendous pain in his chest, and lower chest – sort of in the lung area. That was really odd to us, but we quietly watched him with growing dread as the hours passed.

      We knew they were going to take him down to have another heart cath done sometime late afternoon or early evening. Cheri (my sister) and I were quietly texting each others phones about how bad he was deteriorating in front of our eyes. We didn’t want to talk about it out loud for fear of scaring mom, and we didn't’ think she had noticed. We didn’t want to alarm daddy either. But we were pretty scared ourselves, which is why I kept sending messages to many of you on this list asking for prayers.

      By 5:30, we were making our way out of his room and down the halls towards the cath lab. Daddy reached for my hand, and asked me to walk beside his bed. He then told me that he wanted ME to be there to take care of momma, and to make sure she had all of her needs met and plenty of love given; he said that he’d see me on the other side, he'd be waiting for me. I broke. Tears were streaming as I assured him that he’d be ok, it was just a heart cath. But he knew he was dying, and he was giving me his last instructions. Take care of my momma. I was to do this...Me - not my sister.

      We get downstairs to the heart cath lab and one of dad's primary cardiologists was there. He told us that the morning’s ultrasound showed he had only 10% heart function left. Since the heart attack he'd had only 20%, but even though last fall's health horror, he'd maintained that same percentage. To have it cut in half was stunning, and terrifying. It completely floored us. We kept that news from daddy, and went to stand with him while we waited for his turn to go back for the procedure. He’s thankfully deaf in one ear, and he was also sort of sleeping so he wasn’t paying much attention to us anyway.

      Momma started struggling to hold back her own tears and terror, and we started planning his funeral, deciding what steps would be taken first, etc, etc. We were even talking about who momma would live with, and I told her daddy just told me she’d live with me - sorry Cheri!  

      In those final minutes before he left us, momma makes a phone call to her friends that live in Jacksonville FL and tells them what’s going on. The man is a preacher who has the gift of speaking in tongues, and he started praying. I don't have that gift; God gave me the gift of agitation. (!!!) Next she called her own preacher, who also prays in tongues, and he started praying too.  

      Hang on - this is where it gets a little ooo-weee-ooo weird.

      Now, when they wheeled daddy out of the preparation room, both preachers (who do NOT know each other), were praying for daddy. Neither knew the other was doing so, neither knows the other has the same spiritual gifts. Honestly, it never even occurred to my mom. She just knew we desperately needed our prayer warriors lifting daddy up to God for help.

      The three of us went back into the waiting area and just sort of went into a trance, I suppose, because the passing of an hour didn’t feel like much time. In the space of 45 minutes or so, they came out and said that the heart cath was finished. No more blockages were found, and the stint that was inserted in 2006 was still in good shape. Baffling to them all even beyond that was that they didn’t understand why daddy went in barely able to speak but as of that very moment, his speech was better. Incredibly better. In fact, when daddy was rolled out, the man that couldn't’ be understood going in was now talking as clear as you and me! It's just amazing, but that’s not the biggest thing.

      So here's the miracle. Momma called her friend in Florida to tell him that daddy was out and she couldn't explain it but he seemed to be rebounding. Lyle said, "Jane I’m so glad you called with this great news. I have something to tell you. While I've been praying, God gave me a vision. In that vision, I saw 3 blood clots trying to get to Jim. One to his brain, one to his heart, and one to his lung. I saw the hand of God zap each of those blood clots, and then God told me that it’s going to be ok. They‘re gone for good, and Jim will be ok."  

      That gave goose bumps to momma, but they wrapped up their conversation and she called a few more people.

      Then she called her preacher.

      As I said, Mom's preacher also has the gift of speaking in tongues. I don't have that gift, but I've known others who did. My mom's preacher told her that he was so relieved that she had called him but he already knew the news was going to be good. See, while he was praying, God gave him a vision. In that vision, there were 3 blood clots trying to get to daddy. One to his brain, one to his heart, and one to his lung; but while he was watching, he saw God’s hand wipe out those blood clots. He said that God told him that Jim will be ok now; the clots are gone for good.

      These 2 men don’t know each other. One lives in Florida, and the other resides in NC. They’ve only met once, and that was for maybe 10 minutes 3 years ago. They had no way to have known what the other was telling momma. That leaves only one fact: The blood clots were real, and God saved my daddy on Thursday.

      The one clot going to his brain had affected his speech. The one going to his lung caused his shallow breathing. The one to his heart caused his intense chest pain. Yet God wiped them all 3 out and the NEXT EVENING, my daddy went HOME. He's been right as rain ever since.

      So I can tell you, in all honesty, there is NOTHING routine in “routine surgeries“. I am very, very sorry you’ve had to go through SIX MONTHS of your ordeal. I understand your hatred of the telephone, and I share your sentiments 100% I absolutely loathe hearing my phone ring, because when I see it’s a call from my mother or sister, my heart drops to my toes. Most of the time the calls are benign, it’s just those rare times that leave you devastated - and those are the tough ones to recover from.

      Take heart, my new ally, God does care, He does see, and He is waiting to cradle us in the dark times. He says He’s the light. I think I understand why that’s the term He’s used.

      Here’s an understanding hug to you. Call your daddy and tell him you love him. God, it’s so hard to watch our parents age.

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