We had committed to two previous trips with my parents in Birmingham. First in September, for Labor Day. But the Army changed trips for my husband and he got back only a few days prior…so we had to reschedule. Then, we committed to mid-October. And then my dad was supposed to be gone for a trip, so we rescheduled for Thanksgiving. I was so excited. I had not been with my family during the holidays in several years. I was so looking forward to chatting with my mom and cooking the turkey with my dad. The holidays are big in my family; there are lots of traditions and family time is so important to us.
And then sepsis hit. Sepsis is something I knew very little about. I didn’t know how horrible it is. How it can, and usually does, kill a person within 48 hours. I had no idea how it would take my capable, loving father and knock him down hard. So hard. I had no idea that it would destroy what I had envisioned for Thanksgiving. The traditional Thanksgiving Smith Walk, always first thing in the morning, the day spent cooking together, talking over coffee or wine. I had no idea it would rob us of a home cooked meal at my parents’ house. I had no idea we would nearly–very nearly–lose my father not once, not twice, but four times since October 15th. It destroyed everything I had planned. All the time with my dad. All the conversation, all the catching up. All the family time.
I had no idea.
I had no idea that Thanksgiving can be beautiful in an abandoned cafeteria on the third floor of the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital. I had no idea how happy, relieved we would feel today. I thought we’d be eating in a grief stricken fog. Forcing the holiday meal. During a few moments, I thought we’d not be celebrating at all. I had no idea how glad I could be celebrating with pre-made food in a place that felt nothing like home. How I wouldn’t care as my children ran and explored that old cafeteria, sat in aunts’, uncles’, Gramy’s laps. I had no idea how much we would laugh. Or cry desperately grateful tears.
I had no idea.
I had no idea that there are no limits on God’s mercy. I had no idea that every time I nearly lost my father and thought, “There’s no way he will pull through this time…” that he would. That God would pull him through. I had no idea, when we drove into Birmingham this weekend, that my father would be extubated, talking, sitting up, and seeing my children all before Thanksgiving this week.
I had no idea.
I had no idea how wonderful it would be to sneak up to his room an hour before shift change. How exciting to walk into his room and still find him awake. To stand next to his bed. To talk to him. I had no idea how much I would miss hearing his voice, seeing his twinkling eyes. Soaking in that grin. I had no idea–none–how sweet, how glorious to hear him say my name tonight.
What’s my name, Dad?
I had no idea how much the last five weeks, the last 38 days, would make me realize all I’d taken for granted. I had no idea how much I loved my father, how much I needed my family. I had no idea how much we would learn to lean on each other. And not take each other for granted. I had no idea how terrible, gaping, gripping, and deep fear can feel. It can suck you down, make you collapse, shake, hyperventilate. I had no idea how real death can feel, how real permanent and irreversible bodily damage can be. I had no idea how big and wide God’s mercy and plans are. I still don’t.
He said my name. He said he loved me.
I didn’t think I would hear him say those things. I thought I would lose him, this pillar of our family. This man who has moved and inspired hearts all over this country. I thought I’d never hear him again, talk to him again. And tonight, while my sister and I stood at his bedside, he said my name. He squeezed my hand. This week, he has told me he loved me again and again.
Tonight, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. This week, my dad spoke to me; my dad and I have talked. Today, he said my name.
I had no idea how wonderful that is.