It was the end of a long, great day (as great as days between stark white walls of an ICU can be). The five us sat in that fish bowl of a room in front of the bustling triage desk and relaxed for the first time in at least several days, for sure. The big, strong man whose DNA ran through my veins had been able to walk and sip on apple juice, no small victories for someone who had been Care Flighted in a helicopter, whisked away to emergency surgery and then endured hours and hours of all sorts of medical havoc, all in just a couple of days. Not to mention the months and months of misdiagnoses and illness leading up to such a quagmire.
We were on the mend, our hearts could rest, and I think we were almost enjoying the near boredom of that quiet night.
“Sister, would you grab that Bible and read to us a little while?” Daddy asked me, noticeably tired and still dealing with some pain.
I opened the big, thick book that my fiance and I had bought several hours earlier at the request of my dad…because who has time to pack when they’re insisting on an eminent helicopter ride to hopefully save your life, right?
I began to read the Psalms, words of the faithfulness of God, words of Life to refresh our tired souls;
I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction,out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Ps. 40:1-2
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Ps. 34:7-8
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. Ps.147:3-5
I read verse after verse until Daddy abruptly stopped me to pray for a young guy injured in a motorcycle accident. Our vantage point from Dad’s room allowed us to hear much more than we should have about the other patients, despite careful discretion, and it was clear that the nurse’s did not expect the guy to live through the night.
Not long after that, the four of us—my mother, brother, fiance and myself—decided to return to our hotel room (on-site at the hospital campus) and rest up. After all, Dad was doing well and surely we’d all benefit greatly from a few extra zzzzz’s.
Daddy was adamant about requesting we return as early as visiting hours would allow the next morning, and we assured him we would be back bright and early. We shared a round of hugs and “Love you, be there”, our family’s replacement for saying “Goodbye”. Dad had started this tradition years before in our home, a promise that no matter what happened in life, we would see each other again in Heaven; it’s never ‘goodbye’, it’s “I’ll be there”.
Little did we know, that parting would be the last time we would hear his voice and the last time we would feel his hugs around us, although we had several more days to talk to and hug him before he passed on to eternity.
That was 6 years ago, almost to the hour right now. I’m sitting here in the dark, the backlight of my keyboard and the dim light of my laptop screen the only light on. The clickety click of my typing and my husband’s deep sleep breathing are the only sounds I hear.
Most years, this day has been a reminder to me of the shock we experienced the next morning because the day before had been SO good, as well as a reminder of my regrets of that night.
I wish we had stayed longer.
I wish I had hugged him tighter.
I wish I had kept him awake just a little longer and heard a few more words in that deep Dad voice.
And yeah, of course I still wish all those things.
But perspective is a beautiful thing and just today I thought, Oh God, thank you for the gift of that day! It was a treasure nestled in between horrible, gut-wrenching days, the darkest of my life, but for a day, my dad was better, stronger and as talkative as ever.
Life will always be rich with moments to regret and ask “What if?”…it’s only natural, I’d say. But when we allow ourselves to step beyond those places of sorrow and choose to cultivate thankfulness in the very same ground—especially in places that seemed only dark before—it’s kind of like setting flame upon kindling in a dry, dead forest. And before you know it, light is there. Hope is there. Joy is there.
It seems counterintuitive, that the horrible times of life should have any good in them at all, that the ugliest moments could actually pave the way for lovelier times, but not everything makes sense to our sensible minds.
The drier and deader the forest, the greater and brighter the fire, which in turn propagates a stronger, healthier forest years down the road.