2:30am on the morning of December 17, 2020. I remember the phone call like it happened yesterday.
When the phone rang, I jumped out of bed saying, “I expected this.”
“Hi Mr. Brandon, this is the doctor from the hospital. Your father’s lungs are starting to stiffen up and the ventilator isn’t helping him anymore. It is my recommendation that we move him to comfort care. We need your authorization to do so.”
After that, everything is still slightly a blur. I sat in bed, shocked. Struggling with my phone as it was freezing up unable to do anything as if it was giving me a distraction from the reality of what would happen in the coming hours.
To be honest, I had no idea what to do. I had unpacked the bag that I had packed after visiting him the day he was put on the ventilator just a week and a half before this phone call. I was anticipating that my dad was in the fight against COVID-19 for the long run.
The moment I was able to get my phone to restart, I get another call from the hospital, “Mr. Brandon, this is the nurse from the hospital, I have another nurse on the line to approve pulling your dad off the ventilator.”
“Yes, but is there any way you can keep him on it until I can get there, I’ll be there in three and half hours.” I look at the clock and quickly do the math of what time it is and how long it will take me to get out there, “I know that’s shift change.”
“We will do everything we can sir.”
I threw several shirts and pants into a bag unsure of how long I would exactly be gone, gave my wife a big hug, and walked out of the house at 3 am embarking on the longest 3 and half hours of my life. My oldest son heard the garage door open and my car start, knowing that his grandfather had been fighting COVID-19 for the last two weeks, he crawled into bed with his mom, and both cried.
I hit the interstate and drive faster than I ever have. I was already game planning what I would tell an officer should I get pulled over. Every mile seemed to take forever as I kept praying and coaching my dad from a distance to just hang in there.
Small Town by John Mellencamp came on the SiriusXM station Classic Rewind. A station I was playing because it would be the station my dad would have on during a long road trip. But this song had a special meaning. One of the earliest memories I have of my dad was a video he produced for the small western Kansas town I grew up in. I remember the opening shot, looking down a set of train tracks over a bridge outside of town with a sunrise shot of my hometown with the opening riff of the song.
“Dad, this one is for you!”
I get 30 minutes out from the hospital and a text lights up my phone and the cold darkness of my car…
“Brandon, I’m so sorry. We prayed as hard as we could.”
Confused, I pick up speed hoping the extra 5 miles per hour would help take an hour off the rest of the drive… even though I had 30 minutes left. I pull into the hospital. Run to the waiting room and give my dad’s girlfriend a big hug.
“I’m going to go see him.”
Most of my extended family were already there. Most knew but didn’t tell me what had happened the moment I got that text just 30 minutes prior. I call the nurse’s station to let me back to see my dad. I walked back and was met by a nurse I had talked to on the phone several times throughout these last two weeks. She had heard me cry, laugh, and ask questions that I never envisioned that I would have to ask.
“Brandon, he fought as long as he could. He went peacefully. I’m so sorry.” and she reached out to pat me on the shoulder. I could tell that all she wanted to do was to give me a hug. “Do you want to go into say your goodbye?”
“Yes…” my voice trailing off. The reality was about to hit me.
I walk into his room, my knees buckle, and I start to cry…
2 months after my father died, I still don’t want to believe it. There are still times that I reach for my phone to send my dad a joke… a dad joke between two dads, it was just something we did and shared together. I want to call him and talk to him about our plans for Opening Day… we were once again planning to go to Opening Day in Colorado this year. I want to call him to get advice on coaching since I’ll be the head coach of my oldest’s baseball team this year.
It’s been difficult to find the motivation to do just about anything. Boxes of my father’s things are scattered throughout the house. Much of it filled with baseball memorabilia that he would always say, “You know this is going to be yours someday right?” I know that at some point I need to dig through it all and decide what to keep and throw away. Part of me is holding on to the wish that he would call me at some point, just to see how we are doing.
It was those sort of phone calls that brought my dad and I closer over these last 13 years. He would call just to see how we were doing or to tell me that he was going to be in town and wanted to see us and hit up a baseball game.
My father was the adventurous type. Just a month before contracting COVID-19 he climbed a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado. He was always talking about how his adventures in the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone, and the Grand Teton Mountains. This makes it even more confusing for me because he was the healthiest person that I knew.
He had just reached a point in his life where he was completely and utterly happy. He had an incredible girlfriend by his side, he was able to travel, he was able to see his grandkids on a whim, and he was working on building a “shop” in his garage… to build what, I have no idea.
What my father might not have known was the legacy he was building. He was the type of person that you couldn’t go anywhere without finding some who knew of him. The number of people who have reached out to me and told me a story about how he stopped whatever he was doing to help them has been inspiring.
He was the person many in our small western Kansas town would be able to call to help with any tech problems they were having. He was the type of person who would stop to help anyone in need… I still remember to this day the time he stopped on the side of the interstate in Colorado to help someone who was having car trouble on our way to Denver… even though more than likely he wouldn’t be much help anyway. He helped someone in the weight room at our school’s gym who was new and didn’t know much about working out. He was a teacher and a coach who inspired and gave hope to many of those walked into his classroom and onto the baseball or softball diamond. I was told that he helped save a marriage, and he helped save someone’s life.
It was the word legacy that stuck out to me as I talked to him by his hospital bed that morning. Barely able to get anything out except I’m going to try to live up to the legacy that he left behind. I told him that it won’t be easy for me, but I’m going to do my best.
If there is any solace, I had one of the best teachers a son could have, and maybe just maybe, that will make it just a bit easier to live up to the legacy my dad left behind.
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