Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Dad: Ascended Warrior

He was lying on a hospital bed in what used to be the den, in the home he had helped build. Now it had been his bedroom for awhile. My wife, Angie, and I were up visiting from our home in Virginia - most likely because...he was getting worse.  This giant of a man - the man who as a child I thought was the strongest man in the world, had been stripped bare of who we knew him as. A soldier. A warrior that never left the battlefield.

He was making his exit. We knew it was coming. The signs were there. At one point he had packed his bags ready to go ...somewhere...whenever his ride got there...but there were no plans to go anywhere that day. Other times I am convinced that he saw glimpses of heaven with his '64 Pontiac Catalina souped-up and ready to roll. 

It was a Sunday. Angie and I were packed up and ready to head south to our home in Lorton. I walked into his room, The Waldons were most likely playing on his little DVD/TV combo, and told him goodbye. I told him that I love him. 

He was sleeping. His breath shallow and sharp. The warrior that knew no pain was dying. Achilles was considered practically immortal...unstoppable. An arrow in the heel erased those beliefs. I thought the same about my dad. It was not an arrow that killed him. It was a brain tumor. The fragility of life hit hard. Walking out the door like that was difficult to say the least. It would have been even more difficult if I had known what I know now. It was the last time I saw my dad, my hero, alive.

Angie and I both left for work the next morning. The next day after school let out I got an email or call from my mom or one of my brothers. I can't remember. I needed to come home.

At home, Angie I did what we needed to do to head back to PA. Before leaving, I went out to get the mail - winter's darkness already had settled in. It was a clear night and the moon was bright. I looked up. I believe I said something to this effect, "Please don't take him yet." While saying that, little did I know, I was looking up at my father, the warrior, who had already ascended. 

My mom didn't tell me over the phone that he had died. It was better that she didn't. How could I possible sit still in the car (and drive) for three hours knowing that he was gone? I appreciated the gesture. I told her - while in the car - "tell him we love him and we're on our way."

"Okay, I will." There was pause before she said that and now of course I know why.

They had taken him to the Essa Flory Hospice Center and when Angie and I arrived, my brothers were standing outside. We parked the car and headed towards them. And my oldest brother, Jason, said the words that nobody ever wants to hear. "He's gone."

I hugged each of my brothers before walking into the room in which he had passed.

Walking in and seeing him was a vast contrast of how he had been lying just two days ago. He was at peace. There was no more pain. No more shallow and sharp breathing. No more life.

I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him. And I like to think I was the first one to make him laugh in heaven. Bending down to kiss him, my leg inadvertently pushed the button that raises the bed. He, or rather the bed, started to rise making it seem like he himself was rising from dead. We laughed. And when looking through slides and talking about memories, I realized it was good to laugh. More importantly, it was okay to laugh. Yes, we were now detached from a life we would only know as a memory and were lunging blindfolded into what seemed like emptiness, but laughing, despite the pain, was necessary.

I was not angry when my dad died. Now, I may have an unadulterated hatred for brain tumors, but I was not angry at God. There was no reason be. For thirteen years I had a dad that battled a brain tumor. Not everyone is as fortunate. I had many years before that with a dad that showed me integrity, positive thinking, how to be a warrior for the Lord, love and so much more. He would drop everything to do something with me. I can't think of one sports game he missed. "Come on, Graybill!" he would shout and cheer. I like to think that cheering hasn't stopped. I know I'm not the great father he was, but I know I can be and will be and I know he's up there believing in me. If I could only be a sliver of the man he was then I would be better than most.

His granddaughters are getting to know their grandfather. They will continue learn how  a wonderful man taught their daddy how to be a man...a warrior...that doesn't believe in walking off the battlefield. 

I dream about my dad from time to time. Sometimes he's healthy and other times the tumor is known. And as I yearn to see him in my dreams, I also yearn for our reunion in heaven. For I wake from my earthly dreams, but will be wide awake for an eternity, with him, some day soon. But first, there's more to be done down here.

Dad, I sit here with tears in my eyes, but I still give praise to our Father in Heaven. I give Him thanks for the blessings he has bestowed upon me in my life. I give Him thanks for you.

It has been ten years and I miss you every day. I love you more than any words can capture. When the stars fall...I will see you again.

On my dad's tombstone reads something that we need to keep in our heart's mind as we battle day to day...as we soldier on doing warrior's work. Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal. I thank the Lord for keeping his promise and taking my dad to heaven to be with Him. I thank Him for keeping his promise that someday I will join him...and we will rejoice.

To my father, friend and hero... I love you.

Ryan

Please share this with everyone you know and look for the opportunities to raise money for brain tumor research and to join my family when we run the Race for Hope on May 3rd.

Afterthought: 

When departing from Hospice after saying a final goodbye, I was overcome with the need to play a song. But I didn't know which one. Whatever song it was, I was going to remember it as the opening track to my new life. My life without my dad. Deciding was difficult. I knew it had to be U2. I grabbed Achtung Baby and set it for track 3, One - the most beautiful rock ballad ever. I knew the song was deep. Layered. But, the story it told wasn't about the kind of relationship my dad and I had. But, it was the one I chose so I was determined to find meaning...a way that song would be appropriate for my track 1. Then today, listening to it just hour ago, it hit me. It was the last stanza. It spoke not just of a father and son, but the legacy the father left behind and how as family we deal with life as it moves on.


One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

One...live

One

Let us always lift up...and carry each other.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VuuSnzO_t0

Originally Posted on 2/15/15


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