Daddy went into the hospital on February thirteenth. It was a Tuesday. Debbie, Natalie and I had just returned from Orlando the night before. While we were gone, we had heard of great improvement, followed by another setback. On Tuesday, I met Butch at the emergency room and Daddy was admitted. We were told he had gotten a bug that made him very sick. With some antibiotics, he should recover, but it would take a while. I remember Daddy looking at the doctor and holding up three fingers saying, "Three days." That was how long he expected to be there.
Three days came and went with no improvement. In fact, Daddy seemed to get worse every day. I spent the night with him Thursday night. Sitting by his bedside, I comforted him all night as he fought to sleep, to get up, anything. He said over and over that he wanted to go home. "Get me out of here," he pleaded during the night.
Only a few days earlier, I remembered him sitting in my den, in front of the fire. He was hoarse from a continuing sore throat that no doctor could seem to cure. In spite of his whispers, he joined in a game of Jeopardy with me, Chris, and Shawn. Daddy did not fare too well in the first game, but he had a good time. In the second game, however, the categories were more to his liking. We all sat in amazement as Daddy whispered answer after answer and continued to accumulate play money. I was so proud that he still had his sharp mind.
Now, as I put Jeopardy on the television in the hospital room, there was no one to play along. Daddy's condition made watching TV a chore. All he wanted to do was get comfortable, relax, be able to eat and hold it down. Was this too much to ask?
Apparently it was, as what we first thought to be a 'bug' turned into something worse. By the next Monday, we were being told that Daddy's heart was weakening fast. His long-range prospects were poor. For the first time, we realized even his short-range prospects were not good. Tuesday brought another bad day - still no improvement, no rest, no eating, and only rare moments that we could glimpse the beautiful man inside this body that now betrayed him.
After leaving the hospital Tuesday evening, I went to a meeting at church. Standing outside in the parking lot after the meeting, I got a strong feeling of dread. I realized the next day would be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. For Catholics, Lent is both a wonderful and difficult time of year. It is difficult because we are called upon to sacrifice, to try to renew ourselves by denying our physical needs. It is also a beautiful time for reflection, for doing good deeds, and for contemplating the mystery of the Resurrection. This night, however, I told my wife that tomorrow would be the day. We had not been given any indication, but I strongly felt my father would leave us on Ash Wednesday.
I barely slept again and got up early. I began to read the paper and noticed a large picture with a caption that read "The Healing Nun". The article told the story of a nun who possessed the power of healing who happened to be in Birmingham speaking at a church across town on Ash Wednesday morning. Part of me wanted to go. Another part feared getting my hopes up and being disappointed.
I truly believed that Daddy could be healed - both by medicine and by the power of God. How would I feel if I did not go and Daddy died? How would I feel if I went and no miracle occurred? Would I blame God? The nun? All this churned through my mind as I dressed.
For once in my life, I think I truly turned this decision over to God. As I got in my van, I prayed the rosary. In effect, I told Jesus to take the wheel and if I ended up at church, that was where I should be. I guess I was not that surprised when Jesus got me in a terrific traffic jam. After all, He had not been on the interstate that much. (Or maybe He had!) We made it safely to Our Lady of Sorrows church and I rushed up the steps not knowing what to expect.
As I entered, I realized Mass was in progress and I was thankful. I knew I would be at the hospital later and would not be able to attend that evening. After Mass, the healing nun spoke. There was no talk of healing or miracles, only of Lent. As I tried to find her after her talk, I was told by the priest that she had already gone to speak to the school children, but he would deliver a message. I had written down my request on a card and asked Father to give it to her.
Incredibly, the priest happened to be the voice on the Rosary tape that I played often on my way to and from work. His voice was such a comfort to me as he held my hand and prayed for Daddy's healing. I felt a little better as I returned to work. At least I had tried.
About an hour later, my brother Michael called to say that Daddy had eaten breakfast. Eaten breakfast!! This was amazing. All along, I had been thinking that if Daddy would only eat, his strength would return and he would recover. Could this be true? I was excited and fearful that my hopes would get too high. Perhaps they had just fed him through that horrible tube that had to be put in the other day. I had to see for myself, so I left for the hospital an hour earlier than my usual lunch visit.
Before I went in the room, I took a deep breath and asked a nurse in the hall, "How is he?" Her face brightened as she told me he was better. He had eaten actual food, and all the nurses were so happy. I opened the door to see Daddy sitting up in the chair. He looked like a new man. The nurse told me of the great happenings of the morning and I began to believe in miracles. Daddy was eating breakfast at almost the exact time Father said his prayer. Could this be true?
Soon my aunt and uncle arrived and they too beamed at the turn of events. I proudly told the story of my morning search for a miracle. We all waited until the lunch tray arrived, and, as promised, the nurse sat in front of Daddy and fed him. I knelt next to the chair watching every bite, every sip of milk. She even made him pick up his own milk carton. This was great! Finally, we saw improvement.
Before I left, I kissed Daddy on the cheek, and got right next to his ear and said, "I'm proud of you!" He looked me in the eye and said, "I'm proud of you." With tears of joy filling my eyes, and a heart full of new-found hope, I left the hospital.
Returning to work, I was like a new man. I told and retold my story. He ate lunch!! Such a small thing, but it was so wonderful. A miracle for sure!
Then, I got the call. Michael called from the hospital. Daddy's blood pressure was dropping and it seemed the end was imminent.
How could this be? He was doing so well. I went into deep shock, and did not know if I could make the drive. As I turned down the familiar streets, and passed all the same buildings, I thought of the many days that I had driven this path. How I wished I could drive it many more days. But I knew this would probably be the last time.
As I entered the room, my fears were realized. Daddy was not alert. He had indeed slipped back. I recalled my premonition from the night before and glanced at my watch. It was past three o'clock. I had only nine hours to spend with my Daddy.
The family gathered in the room. Chris returned from school to stand by the side of a grandfather he cherished. Surrounded by adoring sons, a loving daughter, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and friends, Daddy slowly continued to slip away. Knowing my time was short, I stayed in the room every minute - studying his face, so I would not forget its features; holding the hands that had shaped the person I am today; stroking the hair and face of a man I loved and admired. But I was powerless to help. My prayers were not being answered and my anxiety increased as midnight approached.
Daddy did survive past midnight and I was greatly relieved. I knew he would not see another midnight, and shortly past noon, he peacefully left us to join our mother in heaven. He was escorted into the heavenly kingdom by a room filled with loving family and friends. Our prayers for recovery had changed to prayers for peace. And finally, Daddy got his wish. We got him out of there. He went home.
Through the pain and tears, I thought about the cruel turn of events. Why were my hopes ever raised that Wednesday morning? What sort of cruel joke was that? Would I turn on God now that my miracle had failed? What would become of me?
I then realized God had answered my prayer for healing and my prayer for a miracle. Certainly, Daddy now has no suffering. He is healed. I also remembered the joy and hope Daddy gave me in those few hours that Wednesday morning. Those were a special gift to me and the others who were there. At least for a little while, hope still lived within us. I would not trade those hours for anything in the world. My miracle was being able to have that hope, that happiness, even though it was all too brief.
My miracle brought me one other great treasure - a memory that I will cherish forever. In that time, I heard the words that every son wishes to hear from his father - words that I wish I could hear again. But I am thankful that on this Ash Wednesday of despair, a loving father fighting for life, turned his eyes to a son filled with fear, and said simply, "I'm proud of you."
Daddy, I am proud of you. Thank you for the miracle.