This past week has been a week of firsts for me. Let me share a few with you:
• My father called me Friday night and I remember how he was so upbeat. The conversation started with him asking me a lot of questions about my life and my health. He had a keen interest in hearing about my doctor’s visit and wanting to understand as much as he could. I talked a lot. The conversation then turned and he explained to me his situation of being in the hospital and released while he waited for further results. But, he minimized his health concerns and assured me he was OK. I went to bed exhausted from a very long and hectic week. And, I told Courtney, “I am going to turn my phone off as I really need to get a great night’s rest”. This was a first for me.
• I went to bed and fell asleep in 3 minutes versus my usual 5 minutes. You see, I am just like a toy baby doll and when I lay down, my eyes just close. Around 1am our alarm went off at the house. That alarm is our 50-pound dog who sleeps 20-23 hours a day, but is always on guard. We woke up and I got under the bed to hide. I asked Courtney to see what was going on. (By the way, just for the people who don’t know me, I really did not get under the bed… I got into the closet). We learned quickly that it was my sister. What a sight that was, at that late hour. Honestly, her hair looked like she put her finger in the light socket and she was half asleep. Jan said, “Wayne – Dad just called and said to get you.” I immediately called my dad and got a brief update from my mother who quickly gave the phone to him. He then proceeded to tell me the situation and told me 4 words that I will never forget or thought that I would ever hear from him, “I need your help.” I immediately went into crisis mode and arranged the next flight in the morning, getting there around 2 pm Saturday. I hurried to get to the hospital and when I got there, he seemed to be stable. He was even telling a few funny stories and assuring me that everything is OK and he was going to be fine. If you were to place a bet with me, I would have never thought that my dad would ever say, “I need your help.” He was like me, or maybe, I am like him. We are givers. He was a giver and always “Mr. Fix it.” Those words of his asking for help were an absolute first for me.
• We kind of fumbled through those next few days with a battery of tests, etc., and soon he was ready to be released. During this time, we talked a lot about things and at one point in our conversations, I asked him if he knew where his new home was. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “My home is in heaven, but I have a temporary stop in Orlando, Florida.” That’s where Courtney and I live. I was relieved because I wanted him and my mom to come to Orlando and live with us – BUT I wanted them to be on board, and he was on board! I was on cloud 9 as they were ready to move south. In the meantime, Courtney was on her way north to help me with all of this. I was thinking: good stuff, life is good. My parents are actually going to enjoy Florida with us – lets rock!
• My father was released from the hospital and we proceeded to a nearby hotel as I wanted them to stay a night just to make sure everything was OK before we took them home to get ready for the move to the “temporary home” in Orlando. I got them to the hotel which was literally across the street from the hospital with my mother telling me to slow down, turn here, etc. I’m kidding, of course, but she doesn’t like my driving at all, even though I have a pretty clean driving record – except when I got a speeding ticket when Melissa was 3 years old. Just a reminder, don’t tell a 3 year old to keep a secret – it will always backfire on you. We got to the hotel and at the elevator my dad stopped and told me, “Wayne I’m going down.” I did my best to help him to his knees while my mother proceeded to get more help for me and called the ambulance. We got him on the stretcher, they left and I told him, I will be right there. For the first time in my life, I said to myself: I don’t know what to do. But, I pulled myself together and got into the “Matt Elsey tough guy, Mr. Fix it” mode and went back to the hospital.
• We were all together in the Emergency Room, laughing and trying to strategize our next moves, etc. All was good. Mom was exhausted, but upbeat. We really thought everything was going to be fine. Dad was always a fighter and he was the rock. However, within minutes things changed. And soon I found myself next to his bedside and he was dying. And, with his last breath – Mr Fix it, Matt – told me “Wayne, take good care of your mother.” I was stunned. We left the room as the medical team tried to revive him. But, within minutes – which seemed like an eternity, the doctor came out with the words, “I’m sorry, there was nothing more we could do.” It was shocking. It was devastating. It was heartbreaking. My father, my mom’s husband, the biggest cheerleader you could ever hope to meet, had died.
• Mom and I stayed there for a short time in stunned silence at what had just happened. But then, I knew, we had to go on. So, I got my mom settled and had dinner. Candidly, we had few words for each other as we were both, and still are, in disbelief. I did have some relief as I always remembered that my mom ate like a bird, had a salad and ate every piece of her 12 inch pizza!
So here we are, a few days later – which seems like months – and I have the following to share with you:
I woke up at 4 am on Thursday crying and it was vividly clear to me that we all need to think about our lives. You see, this “casket” in front of us – let’s refer to it as a box for the sake of this context. We all live our lives full of joy, regret, worry, junk, fear etc. But make no mistake, each and every day we play the game of life. And what I now vividly see is that when that game is over, we each go back in the box. But, what remains is what we brought to the game. That never fades from time.
I ask you to think about what my father meant to you and what you mean to others – what legacy are you leaving? What I have from my father are not material things, but memories. Memories of who he was and what he represented, which will live on in me, my daughter and then my grand-daughter. Memories of him, being Matt. Memories of the enormous love he had and still has for my mother, his bride of 53 years. Memories of him working hard to provide for my mom, Cindy, Jan, Timmy and me. Memories of how his eyes lit up for Christmas when Courtney and I showed up with a true Christmas surprise for him and my mom, which was seeing Melissa, Josh and his new great granddaughter – Aubree. Memories of seeing them for the first time and what we know today, was the last time. You see most everything goes back in the box-the cash atop the corporate ladder, the vacation home at the lake, and the status vehicle, the jewelry, the clothes and everything in between. All the tokens, the game pieces we collect and prizes are left behind when it’s our time to walk away from the table. The only real “winnings” you claim and keep are your own soul, the memories that live on in those who knew you and the love you have for Christ and each other.
In closing, “Dad – I’ve got this. I will take care of your beautiful bride and my mother. I’ve got this. And, yes, I may have said for a moment, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ but rest in peace buddy. Dad – you have made it very clear to me – I do know what to do.”
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