In late June of 1999, Dad had a seizure and had gone to stay overnight at Norton’s Hospital in Downtown Louisville to have some tests done. The night that Dad was in the hospital, he vomited into his oxygen mask and some of it went into his lungs. Dad’s nurse finally went to check on him, but she was too late. He went into a coma that lasted for about a month. Dad finally woke up, but he was on a respirator and could hardly speak. Dad had trouble speaking clearly, anyway. Dad was also so weak that he could barely move. Sometimes, if we couldn’t understand what Dad was saying, he would slam his hands down on his bed in frustration. A few weeks after Dad came out of his coma, he was moved from Norton’s Hospital to Vencor Hospital, which used to be in downtown Louisville.
After about a month in Vencor Hospital, Dad’s respirator tube came out, and he went into another coma. Dad stated in his living will that he never wanted to be kept on life support, but the hospital had put him on life support. When Dad’s doctor told us that the chances of his survival were very slim, our family decided to have the plug pulled and let Dad go peacefully. Dad passed away at forty-three-years-old in October of 1999.
For Dad’s funeral, Melissa and I picked out a dark-blue suit and a dark-green casket with a bronze stripe around it that made it look like a racing car.
I was sixteen-years-old at the time of Dad’s death. I never got the chance to tell Dad about my trip with our church youth group to Denver, Colorado the previous summer. I never got the chance to tell Dad that I’d transferred from Jeffersontown High School to Southern High School for my junior year. I never got the chance to tell Dad that I’d managed to get a penny-ante job at the Target store near our apartment.
As I looked at Dad at his funeral, I constantly thought about what he had gone through in his lifetime before the day that God finally let him rest. I had inherited neurofibromatosis from Dad, so I constantly thought, “If something isn’t done about this stupid illness, is my life going to be as difficult? Is it going to be more difficult? How much longer will I have to endure this illness? Will my life end the same way that it did with my dad?”
But I also knew that I was a Christian, and no matter what I went through in this life, I’d one day be in a place so beautiful that it goes far beyond human imagination. I’d be in a place where there is no pain and suffering. I’d be in a place where I can walk beside the Lord. I’d be in a place where only love exists.
On the day of Dad’s funeral service, I cried the hardest I ever have in my life, for a long period of time, when Ray hugged me. I did the same when Pastor Hughes hugged me. And I did the same when Jon, my then-closest-friend, hugged me.
Keeping on keeping on
One of my favorite words is “persevere.” When I think of Dad, the word “persevere” almost always comes to my mind.
Dad was sixteen-years-old when he was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis and had his first surgery that caused him to go deaf and lose some of his balance. He had a few more operations, mostly on his head, throughout his life until he passed away.
Between the time that Dad had his first operation and the time he passed away, he married my mom Tina, he and my mom brought me and my sister, Melissa, into the world, and he took care of me and Melissa after our mom passed away.
I believe that after my mom passed away, Melissa and I were the reasons why Dad kept going the way that he did.
Dad also worked as a computer analyst for the IRS until he was forced to retire at the age of forty. He fell down the concrete steps at his workplace so many times that I stopped keeping count, and Dad, with his pipe-cleaner physique, miraculously suffered only scrapes and bruises. But my dad continued to work hard so that he could afford the things that Melissa and I needed, and even a few nice things that Melissa and I didn’t necessarily need but enjoyed.
There are many things that Dad accomplished that, considering what he’d gone through, still amazes me. And I know that Dad expected me and Melissa to make that same effort, as well.
I think of things like bringing a report card home from school that had a “C+.” Just about any time Melissa or I slacked off on something, or even thought about giving up on something, Dad would ask us, “You’re just gonna give up?”
That was usually followed by Dad throwing his hands up into the air and shaking his head in disappointment.
But Dad persevered. I think that any parent, especially one who worked hard in spite of difficulty the way Dad did, would want their children to do their best at everything they do, and accomplish even greater things than they’ve accomplished themselves.