Today it was Willie Nelson that got me thinking. Sometimes it is something else, like Zingers or Snowballs (which he may have loved as much as Willie), but today it was Willie. I saw the MP3 album on the computer screen and decided to play it while I slow danced with my five-month old son: the boy who would never know the man who loved those songs so much. It brought me back to that day.
Some of us have that one day. The day we will never forget. The day that things changed in our lives and for whatever reason would never be quite the same. For me that day came late spring of 2013. I remember vividly. It was a beautiful sunny, warm day and I was garage saling with friends. After getting back into the car after one sale, I noticed I had a couple of voicemails. I recognized the number as my dad’s. I listened to the messages and they made no sense. He was calling from his home number, but he was distraught and didn’t know where he was. He said he was at a house in a nearby town but he didn’t know the number or address. He said my mom had thrown him out and he needed me to get a hold of him. He and my mom had been divorced for about 20 years.
My mind raced. He had been having memory trouble for a little while. Because of the rough life he lived: fighting, drinking, doing drugs, and the resultant effect on his health, we knew there would come a day when we would receive a call that he was found dead, or that he would require some kind of specialized care. “Was this it?” I wondered. “Had his mind failed him? What were we to do?” The bright, warm sun coming through the window was a mocking contrast to the storm that had just entered my life. That same sun would mock me again days later when my sisters and I would sit outside the hospital for a reprieve.
I braced myself and called him back. He was completely confused. I tried to explain to him that he was at his own house-that he and my mom had been divorced for many years. He seemed to believe me, but didn’t completely understand. I called my sisters and 911, then headed over to his house.
After an exam, and a dialogue with the responders in which he told them I was his sister, he was taken to the hospital. It was determined that he was going through serious alcohol withdrawals. A few days prior his doctor told him that if he didn’t quit drinking he would die. He said he wanted to be around for his kids and grandkids, so he quit. On his own. Alone at home. Cold-turkey. For some people that might have worked; however, the sudden withdrawal of the large amount of alcohol he was consuming every day before that sent his body into shock. The ER doctors gave him a 50/50 chance of surviving it.
That began what would be the last year of his life. It was a year tainted with sadness, stress, and frustration in which he would require a guardian and assisted living care (which he fought almost every step of the way), but would be highlighted by mended relationships and his heart-change toward God. I’ve had a lot of time now to think about that year. I wish a lot of things could have been different, but given the specific circumstances, I’m not sure I could have done anything differently. At least there is that.
Prior to that last year, it wasn’t unusual for me to go a month or two without seeing dad because of a drinking binge, or something he said that hurt me, and I just needed a break. After a little while though I would want to see him again. Because of that, I have to admit that I didn’t really miss him right away. However, now it’s been 9 months, and I want to see him again.
I’m sure with time it will be easier, but I wonder if I will ever be able to listen to Willie Nelson or see a box of Zingers or a package of snowballs again without a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye.