I’ll never forget that conversation. We were sitting in my living room that abnormally cold January night. The fire was blazing and the four of us were enjoying coffee on the couches. The warmth of the fire and the joy of being with my parents radiated through the room.
“Well, we are planning on retiring to Dallas. This time next year, we hope to be settling back into Texas. I’m retiring!”
The joy I felt at finally having my parents so close by again swept through me. I was so happy. None of us could have known he’d be gone that time next year instead. That conversation has played through my head repeatedly since his awful, unexpected death.
In October, when I got the call, I was alone. My husband was gone with Army. I packed my suitcase and flew home in the middle of the night.
The woman that morning who suppressed unsuccessfully running through University of Alabama Birmingham Medical Center’s Cardiac ICU to her daddy was so sheltered. I’d never truly experienced physical human suffering. I had never seen someone struggle through something worse than the flu.
Through seven weeks, I’d see the worst sort of human suffering. I saw the sepsis wrack his body those first few days. I saw it cause devastating complications throughout his body. My tall, stalwart father wasted away physically and mentally. There was not a place in his sweet, precious body that was spared.
At Thanksgiving, after he suffered and survived a brain bleed and a ten minute coding, the father I knew was forever changed. It was the first time I was able to speak with him since he fell and it was devastating and yet conversations I’ll treasure forever.
During that time, Richard and I had many frank, raw conversations about the future. At that point, for once during the entire hellish two months, I got my hopes up. I thought he just might make it. We talked about helping Mom, asking for a compassionate reassignment from the Army to Huntsville. About weekends and weeks spent down in Birmingham to helping him adjust to a different life at home.
Because that’s pro-life. Early on, doctors were saying terrible things about shutting his life down to donate his organs, long before it was time. No. Not yet. Because my father was still living out redemptive suffering. Because he was still moving souls closer to Him. He was still sowing good in His holy name. He was mouthing rosaries in comas, praying through panic attacks because of the hell he was suffering.
“Keep fighting. Keep up the strength.”
His sweet good-bye. He knew. I wanted to scream for him to stop. He cried. I cried. Mom slept sweet needed sleep behind me as we understood what he meant. He looked in my eyes.
“I love you, Sprite.”
We stood with him as his body suffered through complication after complication. He defied every odd. Because it wasn’t time yet. He still had good to spread.
We cleaned her house between hospital shifts, held her as she wept, and told Dad we were taking care of her. To focus on healing. He squeezed our hands in response. Winked at us over that dumb breathing tube. Because that’s pro-life.
Then it came. That call.
Organ failure. It’s time.
I flew home again. We all gathered. His beautiful bride. His six children that his openness to life bore. We stood at his bed as they pulled the tube that last time. Nothing else was stopped. He was fed, given fluids. We stood and prayed. Thanked him. And stood in awe of our mother who made the bravest, most selfless, most awful decision of her life. We held hands. Relived memories. And we watched in utter terror as he bravely breathed his last breath.
Because that’s pro life.
Respect for life from conception to natural death.
It’s fighting against abortion, yes. But it’s also helping the needy, the woman who’s husband is slowly dying in the hospital, the woman who just gave birth, visiting the home bound. It’s helping the homeless, loving the orphans. It’s saying no when his life isn’t over yet, knowing you’re saying yes to incredibly painful but beautiful redemptive suffering. It’s hearing his good-bye, knowing your first love, that pillar of faith is preparing for his Great Departure. It’s pulling that breathing tube one last time so he can surrender to the arms of Christ in the silent sweep of death.
It’s burying the dead, hearing your children’s wails as their Grampy is gently laid to rest. It’s hours of organizing the funeral Mass, hoping you make your dad proud one last time. It’s weeping and acknowledging how terribly you miss him, letting the tears fall and sobs come even when it’s been over a year.
Being pro-life is painful and complicated. It’s hard and awkward. It’s messy and terrifying. It makes you uncomfortable because the physical and mental suffering that accompanies it causes you to be unsure of what to say, what to do. But it’s redemptive and beautiful.
Even amidst the pain and swelling, the screaming and tears, despite the darkness and pain, the broken hope, it’s beautiful. Even with his awful suffering, his grossly life-altering illness, the gaping loss, it was an honor. It was an honor standing by him, praying over him, performing what most would consider humiliating tasks for him. It was an honor to watch him pray through his comas, fight the great fight. But more than that, it was an honor I don’t deserve to have stood by him as he died. He glued his eyes Heavenward and surrendered. My father has never looked more Christ-like.
Being pro-life is not easy. But it’s redemptive. And it’s so beautiful.
Thank you, Dad, for teaching me that.