The call came at 7:40 pm. The time will be forever seared in my brain. I had just finished putting the youngest three down and was in my room changing into my lounge pants. My shoulders were relaxing; I could feel myself winding down. Most of the kids were in bed and the next morning, my husband would be home from his most recent Army trip. Victory was mine.
The caller ID called out, “Call from Justin.” I ran for the phone. A call from him truly is a treat. He’s a great father and husband and holds down a very hard and time-consuming job as a lawyer. I picked up.
“Adrienne….something has happened…”
Time stopped, the room swirled around me. Which of his precious children, I wondered, praying it was only a broken arm…nothing more serious. I was wrong.
No! No! I have been dreading these phone calls for my entire adult life. Not my dad.
To me, my father has always been equal parts Atticus Finch and St. Joseph. Yes, my father has his faults, but I’ve never met a man more dedicated to working on himself than him. He sees the value of each person and relishes them, regardless of their job, race, creed. Regardless of anything. He loves each person truly as a child of God. He sees the value of each human being that he meets. He has always worked hard and selflessly to provide for his family.
Back in 2004, my family moved to Temple, Texas; my parents lived there until 2013, when my father took a job in Birmingham, Alabama. While in Temple, my father was the associate director, then director of the VA hospital. His schedule was very busy and he left for work very early every morning. But, still, every morning, he stopped by the little chapel on the way to work to pray and invoke St. Joseph. I had no idea until I spotted his car in the parking lot while I was on my way to work one morning. I mentioned it to him that night. And he humbly admitted he went each morning so that he could start each work day with prayer. It was he who inspired me to start saying a daily rosary. Long before I started, I noticed he had a daily habit of sitting, mouthing each prayer as each bead slipped through his strong, loving hands.
He’s fixed hospitals that were broken in the inside and on their surface. He spent 23 years in the Army. He changed the oil in the family cars for years, long after they were finally able to afford to do otherwise. He knew the value of hard work and taking care of your belongings. He once told me that you can tell a lot about a person in how well they take care of their car.
He would fight tears as he told me over the years, usually to playfully guilt me, about how he held me when I was a three pound, five ounce sickly newborn and beg me to finish just three ounces. My mom has told me that he would spend as long as it took for me to finish that bottle, worrying that I’d not drink enough.
We had our moments where we’d butt heads. He had a fierce temper, one that struck the fear of God in us. But, slowly, over the years he corrected that. I don’t see that temper much anymore. There were sweet moments with him, too. He and I would run off on Friday nights when I was in high school to go watch the local high school football games. He knew my love for writing and encouraged me; one night he said, “You have to write what your passionate about. You’ll find it. Keep looking.” He was right. So right.
He has led soldiers in the Army, rallied staff in the hospitals. He has loved people at work and at home deep and hard, even those who others found nearly impossible to love.
And now he lies in a hospital bed. None of us know what tomorrow will bring, much less next week. It’s literally minute by minute, day by day. This man, who has led, loved, and changed now lies in a hospital bed being loved and kept alive. There have been moments where I’ve waited and wondered if this was it. It’s a nightmare seeing my father suffer like this.
But they’ve come. All those people who he’s loved. His children have and continue to rally around his bed, keep covering him in prayer. The wife he has cherished stands vigil at his bedside, refusing to leave. His sisters came, waited with us, and left their love. The staff from his administration suite in the Birmingham VA hospital visit daily, leaving gifts and cards every time they come. His staff have told me repeatedly how utterly proud he was of his children and grandchildren, the way he talked about us constantly. One day, the engineers, laughingly referred to by the rest of the hospital as “bottom feeders,” came to visit him. These giant, burly men stood outside of his hospital room and wept to the doctors about how my dad came all the way down to the basement to visit them. Every week. And he knew each of their names. A woman in his office cried to me about how he knew her daughter’s driver’s test was coming up, and remembered to ask how it went after the test.
I keep telling God that we need him here. The world needs men like my father. That his time is not up. I still need him. His soft heart, his wise and loving words. My children need their Grampy, the giant of a man who gives the best hugs. I keep crying out that the world starves for the love and legacy of men like my father. But my plans are not His plans and my ways are not His ways. Truly, all I can do is stand back and trust. Trust that there is a God greater than all of this. Greater than all of this suffering, terror, and repeated setbacks. Bigger than the suffering of him and of my mother, my siblings, and me. Larger than the fear that eats constantly at my heart. He is a loving and merciful Father. He loves my dad bigger and harder and more completely than any of us Smith children or my mother ever could.
I need him here. I need more conversation, more hugs, more advice from this man who silently moves mountains with his love. I need more time with this man who loves deeply each person he meets. I need him at Thanksgiving this year, at Christmas; I need him at my children’s weddings.
I can just hope he keeps fighting. I can just keep praying God will be merciful and let him stay. I can let this mold my trust and faith more perfectly. I’m completely out of control this time. But He is in control. And I just keep choosing trust with each anxious breath I take.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28