When I want to irritate my coach, I ask him to emote verbally with questions like…”Why did you marry me?” Occasionally, when he has grown bored with a crass retort, he will reply with, “Why did you marry me?”
Without a pause, I can answer, “the strength of your character…”
And exactly twenty-three years and four days into our marriage, the strength of his character shouldered the greatest burden of all, with a singular degree of courage.
In the early moments of our twenty-third wedding anniversary, our oldest daughter and two of her friends were struck head-on by a drunk driver. All three were transported to an area hospital. Then around 1:00 am, I received a phone call from my daughter’s phone, but the person talking was not my daughter; instead, every parent’s nightmare became my reality.
Forty or so hours later, I would hear the words that still find me alone in my bedroom or one of thousands beneath the bleachers of a crowded stadium, “This is not a survivable accident.”
My baby was gone.
As an organ donor, my daughter’s body had to be nurtured for three days until the transplant teams were ready. Once her organs were taken, she would be sent to the funeral home. I didn’t have the courage to bury my fiery red-head beneath the cold earth even if the undeniable soul I had raised had already left this world for heaven. I am sure you would find me atop her grave today had I buried her. Instead, we chose cremation. As a result, we had to identify her once she arrived at the funeral home.
My sweet coach had already buoyed me each evening, taking me back to the hospital, to the ICU room where her body lay so we could kiss her forehead goodnight just like we had done every evening for the 20 years God gifted us with her.
He drove us Monday night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday, parking the car and then holding my hand as we walked the corridors of our daughter’s temporary tomb. He would lead me to her room, say, “Hi baby girl” and then bend to kiss her forehead as if the machines and the wires were not there.
On Thursday, the funeral home called; we had to identify her body before the cremation could begin. As a coaching family, we have experienced losing – but this loss leveled us.
Up until this point, I had asked the medical questions, taken a legal pad of notes, kept the police officers’ cards, noted the medications the incredible ICU staff at St. Francis Hospital had given my girl, orchestrated the details of her funeral.
However, in the heat of late July, a cold and stifling wind blew within me as we approached the funeral home. Even though my husband took my hand yet again to lead me down the hall, I couldn’t move.
The image of my daughter, devoid of color, lying beneath the sterile white sheets, the splendor of her copper-toned hair spread across the pillow that held her head pierced me, and I turned around, dropping my man’s hand.
I watched him, shoulders broad, carrying an enormous weight, walk an eternal hall -alone, an expectant father; he placed his strong hand atop her head to stroke her hair as he bent to kiss his only daughter for the very last time.
His devotion never waned; his courage never faltered.
Our baby girl created the canvas pictured; my favorite over-grown eighth grader loves and hates it in the same breathe.
Every time I see it, I only see him walking that hallway because his baby girl was waiting…
It’s the strength of his character that I love the most.