I have told this story numerous times. I have also actually written about it, but was never quite satisfied with it. Not to mention I have lost the original draft as I copied it from one computer to the next to a disc I must have misplaced from one move or another.
So when I came across #TellHisStory on the blog of Jennifer Dukes Lee, I knew that it was time, I now had the ending to this story.
It was late one Wednesday night in October 1999. I had just put my four-year-old twins to bed, and I was in the kitchen cleaning up when the phone rang. It stopped me dead in my tracks, I just knew it was one of those calls that would define this moment in time. As much as I dreaded it, I had to answer it. It was my sister. She tried to sound calm and casual, but as the oldest, there was no easy way to relay the following message to her youngest sibling:
“Hey Carrie…it’s Debbie. Mom wanted me to call you to let you know that Dad is in the hospital, he had a heart attack. He’s ok for now, but they have to run some tests on him.” I asked some questions and found out more about the situation. Him and my mom were just both here babysitting for me on Sunday. Come to find out, he more than likely had a heart attack while he was here and just took an aspirin and went home. My sister and I tried to make light of the fact that he was researching his symptoms on the Internet, and still going to work each day. But by Wednesday, my mom said that he was looking a little gray, and instead of going to work, he went to the clinic, and they immediately admitted him to the hospital. My sister ended the call, by letting me know she would keep me posted. Surprisingly, I slept ok that night. It was the next day that reality came crashing down.
With two four year olds, I stayed busy. But my mind kept wandering to the land of what ifs? I was a wreck all day, periodically wiping tears from my eyes as I thought of my mom being alone if something were to happen to my dad. They did everything together. During the day I had gotten word that they would be doing an angioplasty on Friday. By Thursday night, I was exhausted with worry and as I lay in bed all I could do was pray, and the Lord met me right there with an awesome vision and peace that passes all understanding. The Lord showed me a vision of my dad lying in his hospital bed, and I saw on each side of him, these beautiful angels. I couldn’t see their faces; they had their backs to me and were facing my dad. They had these soft, feathery, white wings and long flowing white robes. Their hair was long and golden, but for some reason I knew they were male. They each had a hand on my dad’s chest, as he lay there with a peaceful expression on his face. As fast and clear as the vision appeared, it vanished abruptly like turning off the TV. But I had a smile on my face and a peace knowing that whatever would happen tomorrow, it would be ok.
The next morning I received a call from my brother. He’s the second oldest. As a teenager, he clashed with my dad on several occasions. It wasn’t until my brother became a father himself that him and my dad shared a mutual respect for each other. One would never suspect the turbulent relationship they had as he was growing up. My brother is an awesome dad, he’s a tall guy standing 6’ 3” and is covered in tattoos, that’s what he does, he’s a tattoo artist. He was with my mom as they did the angioplasty. He called to let me know, that they were unable to do it, because my dad’s arteries were so blocked, they had to schedule an emergency open-heart surgery. My mom and brother actually saw how badly blocked the arteries were. My mom wanted all of us kids there at the hospital. I could hear in his voice how serious this was and that he was a little shook-up. Even after this call, the vision was still fresh in my mind, and the peace still enveloped me like a favorite blanket. I couldn’t say that I knew the outcome for sure, I just knew that God was in control of the situation.
We all gathered at the hospital with my mom. My other brother who lives the farthest away was also there. When I got to the hospital, I was able to see my dad before the surgery. As I walked into his room, I got the chills, because it was just like my vision. He was in good spirits and greeted me with a lighthearted, “what are you doing here?” I wasn’t a daddy’s girl. That was our thing, he gave me a hard time whenever I would call to talk to my mom or stop by for a visit. Once we left his room, we sat in the waiting room for 11 hours. A nurse took the whole family into a room and explained the surgery step by step. At some point we knew that machines were the only thing keeping my dad alive…well not the only thing. I was reminded of God’s awesomeness and how He created these bodies. But through modern technology, and the wisdom God imparts to the doctors, mere humans are able to repair His creation.
My dad came out of that surgery and recovered in record time. He also changed his lifestyle and ate healthier and exercised. He rode his bike, played tennis, and golf, and walked in numerous 5K walks, always placing in the top three for his age group. He also went on to be a volunteer at the hospital with the Mended Hearts program, where he was able to talk to families as their loved ones faced the same surgery he recovered from. He was two months shy of his 60th birthday when he had his surgery. His mother also had a heart attack at 60, but unfortunately, she passed away.
While I was visiting with my dad as he was recovering, I told him about my vision, just to see if he happened to see the angels. He didn’t. But he did tell me that the night before the surgery, he just said, “Lord, it’s in your hands now.” Which was ironic for my dad to be so brief, since he loved to talk. But he knew that was all he could do.
Fast forward 13 years later and its another October evening, 2012. It feels like déjà vu, but it’s not…oh how I wish it were. My sister has made another call, this time she ends it with, “Carrie…it doesn’t look good.” Later that night, she calls back and tells us that my dad had passed away.
We get through the blur of the days leading up to the funeral. We gain strength from each other as we sit through the full military burial, which is always beautiful, yet emotional. My dad was in the army and very active with the Veterans. We all still miss him everyday. I’m reminded of little things out of the blue that let me know grieving is a bit of a process. Even now, as I am able to finish this story, the tears are flowing, but they are healing me. God has revived this story within me, to remind me of that vision I had. That vision wasn’t meant just for that day 13 years ago. God wants me to draw hope and strength from it today. I have no doubt that those two angels were there to welcome my dad and were glad to see him. I am also sure that they are present among us in my families’ lives, though we don’t see them, as we all deal with our grief in our own way. I know those same angels must be walking alongside my mom each day as she is able to go on with her life, and have a lot of good days. Especially those days when we share memories of my dad that can only make us laugh. I realize now why this story was never written completely…because it wasn’t finished until now.