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I wrote this ten years ago….
Rex M. Long 1929-2009
In the early morning hours of September 19, 2009, I folded my dad’s hands in death and closed his eyes. This has been a long summer. Dad had open-heart surgery on a ‘semi-emergency’ basis last December. At 79, nothing was sure, but his resiliency and general good health were in his favor. It was only after he returned home weeks later that he and mom followed up on those spots on the x-rays of the lungs. The melanoma had returned and the bad news got dramatically worse when it was found in the brain.
My Dad’s hands are much bigger than mine. Probably my earliest memory is wrapping my useless three-year-old hands around his pinky. When I was a boy, my father would often have me reach into hard-to-get-to places where his hands would not fit. He worked. Boy – he worked. That was his hallmark. Being born at the front end of the depression drove the need to work, save and survive deep into him. We seldom heard of his childhood, and never asked about it. We didn’t have a lot growing up; but it was clear that it was miles ahead of what he had as a boy. He was a child of these mountains. He hunted and fished the valleys surrounding Sugar Grove – and that was his element. Even in a little town like Marion, he seemed uncomfortable and wanted to get back across the mountain.
I wish I had started a journal in the spring right after we received the news that there would be no cure. But I got into ‘busy’ mode. I functioned as an observer and didn’t get engaged like I probably should have. Just like a guy. But some things I will carry with me always.
He wanted the potato shoots covered up in the spring to keep off the frost, knowing full well that he wasn’t supposed to see them harvested; he told the oncologist that he would just as soon head up on the mountain to die as in any hospital; the toughest man I knew having at last to use a walker; somehow slipping past me at 3 a.m. just a couple weeks before dying (I about freaked out when I woke up and he was gone); my mother crawling into bed with him on the last night; my brother’s resolve; my sister’s tenderness.
Other things I learned. I learned that it’s important to care and follow through. It’s important to visit even when you think it’s awkward because it’s not awkward. I learned that Hospice of Southwest Virginia is staffed with some terrific people. I learned that my mother is amazing. I learned that peace is more important than healing. I learned that family has nothing to do with blood, but love.
I’ve been reading the Bible through this year. Sitting with my parents, I would sometimes read the daily assignment aloud. Just two days before Dad died, God providentially brought us to Ecclesiastes 3, “To everything there is a season, a time and purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck what was planted; a time to kill and a time to heal….. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor – it is the gift of God.”
The autumn is here, Dad. The hay is in the barn, the wood is cut, split and stacked. And the apple butter is in the pantry waiting to bless us on cold winter days. You can rest.