One of the things I have done over the years that has added immense value to me is to regularly document our family life. The benefits include: a succinct way to organize photos and memories, a digital scrapbook/record book of daily life that will be archived in a way that brings our entire family joy when they look back at it, and a momentary pause for me to make some deeper connections between the day to day details of life and larger themes of God’s goodness and faithfulness. (That last one there is basically the equivalent of therapy for me!) Finally, documenting in this way also motivates me to make sure we are planning our days, weeks, and months with something worth documenting–not just for the photo ops but mostly so we don’t let too much time go by without intentionally seeking out fun and family time.
The years I have practiced this (2015, 2017, 2019—okay, noted that I tend to follow an every other year, or odd year pattern) have been noticeably good years, not because of all of the things we do are good, but because this writing and reflecting allows me to sift the good from the hard in a mentally and emotionally productive way. I plan to do this monthly; without further explanation, here’s what we have been up to in February thus far. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t been very joyful, fun, or good.
Dad’s Illness + Death:
There’s no other way to say it, but February was brutal. This blog post ins’t the place for all of the details, but my dad, Dewey, went to the Memorial North Park ER on Sunday morning, January 31 for coughing that wouldn’t stop. He’d had two negative Covid tests the week prior, had been to urgent care for an antibiotic and steroids on Friday. Early that Sunday morning, his cough had worsened and Mom took him to get checked out.
Chest x-rays revealed a “tiny sliver” of pneumonia in one lung and they were going to let him recover at home but thought to do one more Covid test. This time he was positive. Covid coupled with even slight pneumonia meant Dad would need to go to the main, downtown Memorial campus. He spent Sunday night and most of Monday there, getting treated with medicines and some nasal oxygen. All of his vitals remained strong and they were so good that he didn’t even “qualify” for another chest x-ray. They discharged him with oxygen to take home where he was set to rest and recover.
He continued to complain that he was having difficulty breathing and that his cough “was just not getting any better.” Dozens of prescriptions were filled from the CVS pharmacy and Mom brought him home. From 9 pm until about 4 am his oxygen levels continued to drop to the point that my mom had to call 911 and Dad was taken by ambulance back downtown to Memorial. We were later told that when the EMTs arrived, his oxygen saturation had dropped into the 50s. By around 8:30 or 9:00 Tuesday morning, Dad had to be intubated on a ventilator and the rest (15 days later) was history. Dad’s Covid pneumonia worsened and he never recovered.
There are really no words for what those two weeks and the two that have since followed felt like. I spent 19 days of February in Chattanooga. During that time, my siblings, mom, and extended family prayed, hoped, were worried, fearful, and finally devastated when my dad passed away on February 16. We planned his funeral and attended it on Friday 19. I stayed on with my mom for a week beyond that to help her in her grief and do some things around the house for her.
It sucks. It’s terrible. It’s not fair. It doesn’t seem real. I miss my dad like crazy. This definitely wasn’t how I had hoped to spend February or how I’d hoped 2021 would start. I have cried. I have wailed. I have cussed. I have prayed. I have lamented. I have been in the depths of a sorrow like I have never known. Maybe I’ll say more later, but for now– this devastation has colored every other area of February and my report will follow thusly.
I was in Chattanooga on my 44th birthday and my sweet aunts and grandmother brought dinner, dessert, cards, gifts, flowers, and balloons to a do an outdoor socially distanced birthday party for me. It will go down as one of my most memorable birthdays. When I got back home to my house, Ryan the kids, and I celebrated then. My sweet girls made me a cake and it was the best. I just didn’t ever feel in much of a celebrating mood when my dad was lying in ICU on life support.
I will always remember the snow and winter weather from February 2021 because it had a significant impact on my/our travel plans in my dad’s final days. I had driven home through the start of the bad weather (bottom right photo) on Friday, February 12. I’d been in Chattanooga since Tuesday for “my shift” and my brother would be relieving me as he’d done the week prior so I could come home for the weekend to get refreshed, spend time with my own family, and celebrate my belated birthday.
I made it home and I knew that I’d be headed back to Chattanooga for “my shift” again the following Tuesday (2/16). Weather threats and reports were coming in that the snow, and worse, the freezing temperatures and resulting ICE, would make roads dangerous and unsafe. Had I known things would turn so quickly for my dad, I would have (should have/could have) driven back to Chattanooga Saturday afternoon or even Sunday before church. By Sunday afternoon, the icy snow was sticking and I knew I’d be stuck in Clarksville.
Dad did take a significant turn Sunday evening. Monday morning after my mom visited him and spoke with his doctor, we knew that my dad would not recover from his illness. He was getting the highest percentage and highest force from the ventilator and yet he was not able to maintain his oxygen levels. They were dropping slowly but surely. The doctor mentioned comfort care being my dad’s only option– higher sedation and removal of the ventilator to allow nature to run its course.
All Monday afternoon, Monday night, and even into the night we all pleaded with God to intervene miraculously on Dad’s behalf but with each call to the hospital, we knew that a tragic and devastating outcome was inevitable. While my mom, brother, and sister were able to see my dad and say their goodbyes in person, I was here and had to tell my dad the hardest goodbye of my life over speakerphone. I wept and cried and said “I love you” and “you have been the best dad in the world,” and more…so many times. I asked my sister to kiss my dad and squeeze his hand for me, but there aren’t enough words, or squeezes, or tears or ways to tell the man you have loved (and who has shown you unending, unconditional, profound love) for 44 years over a phone call, goodbye. It’s just not possible.
The snow and ice was still coming down (and sticking!) at this point and I knew that when I/we did travel it would be to come to Chattanooga for many days for Dad’s funeral and beyond. Ryan insisted that I pack and plan to stay a full two weeks so we basically waited for the tiniest window where the temperature increased for us to be able to safely get on the road. We were about 15 minutes into the drive when my sister called to tell me that my dad had passed away. (God I still can’t believe it–just typing it out seems unreal). Our drive out of Clarksville was a tad slippery. The interstate between Clarksville and Nashville was only cleared in one lane and getting through downtown Nashville was messy. Our main problem was that every bit of snow/ice/slush/or precipitation would hit our windshield and freeze. There was no way to clear it without stopping. Finally a bit further past Monteagle Mountain, the weather and roads eased up and we arrived at my mom’s house.
I’m sure as I continue to process this grief, I will continue to see some deeper metaphors for the freezing, gloomy, unpredictable, unprecedented, “stuckness” of this winter weather as it relates to death.
Kids and Family Life:
Depending on your perspective, despite our sadness and great loss, life did continue on as normal in many ways. Ryan and our three children were amazing in my absence. They did great at home without me. We have been showered with so much love and support in the form of meals, cards, books, gifts, plants, and more from our Fort Campbell family. Kate had an orthodontist appointment. Thomas and Mae are continuing on in their archery season. Thomas took the ACT. Ryan and I “celebrated” Valentine’s Day (drive thru Taco Bell after chapel and a movie on Netflix).
I guess that just about covers it.