On Saturday, May 15, 1993 in Roanoke, VA at 0430, my phone rang. My dad had died.
For a couple of months, our family had spent a lot of time at the V.A. Hospital in Salem. Indeed three of us (two of my best friends, Rick and Doug and I) had been at the hospital at about 8 the night before. We had shown my dad my cap and gown. Lying in his hospital bed, somewhat coherent I think he was proud. Finally, I was graduating seminary the following morning. May 15, 1993.
That early morning I answered the phone with a groggy “hello” and was shook by the news. On the other end of the call was the physician on duty, he was from India and spoke with that wonderful accent: “Mr. Foley, I am sorry to tell you that Mr. Curtis has died.” Curtis was my dad’s first name. My dad had died.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the conversation nor how long it was. I just remember those words. I can remember the bedroom as though it were this morning and I remember those words.
As I think about that day 20 years ago, it was a blur but there are other things to remember too.
This news set my mind into motion. I needed to go across town and tell my mother. I don’t remember that at all. I needed to tell Mom that Dad was gone.
We were not shocked. His health had been bad for a very long time. He had chain smoked Camels all his adult life and was a recovering alcoholic. He was a disabled veteran from WWII having served on a destroyer escort in the Pacific. He had really wrecked his body. But his soul was ready. Dad had heard of, met and followed Jesus over twenty years earlier. He had told me numerous times that he was ready.
His final struggle with emphysema began two months earlier when his condition worsened at home but he refused to be transported to the hospital. That night, two months earlier, I learned that the rescue squad would not transport against the wishes of the patient. So I picked up his frail weakened self and carried him to the front seat of my car and took him to the hospital. I think Anna stayed with Mom until we got Dad sorted at the hospital. Once he realized I was taking him to the hospital, he agreed. He was in respiratory failure.
He lived another two months. Until 20 years ago today.
20 years ago I was the pastor of a small church. It was an exciting time for us and our good friends there. Tom was graduating from seminary! A group from our church folk were actually driving the hour or so to attend commencement with us. I think James Dobson was our speaker.
Anna and Mom joined forces against me that morning when I said “I’m not going to graduation.”
“Oh, yes you are. He would want you to be there.” I was told. “We have all waited and worked. There are people going and preparing for your party this afternoon.” I was told.
It didn’t seem right somehow. But they were right about one thing, Dad would have wanted me to go.
So I did. We did. Anna, Mom and the girls. I think they sat with our friends. It was a surreal day. 20 year ago today.
When we arrived home, our dear and wonderful friends from church were there and we had a party to celebrate graduation from seminary. Dad had made a more important graduation that morning, his graduation to the presence of God where there is no more pain, no more sorrow.
20 years ago today.