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COMING HOME: The day my dad lived

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WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- I want to tell you about the day my dad lived.

My dad, with his beautifully raspy voice and strong, callused hands. My dad who loves unconditionally and laughs with a promise that things will be OK.

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Our dad who knows things. Takes care of things.

Takes care of us.

The weather report warned us that the early January thaw was about to turn treacherous, sending snow blowing across slushy roads and dropping the temperatures to dangerous lows. But it was warm that early morning when dad struggled to find the phone to make a call that would save his life, a call that would shock me awake at 2 a.m. as I lay in bed unaware that we would spend the next hours fighting to keep our blessed life intact.

And those hours are indescribable, a nightmare that threatened to paralyze me at the sound of my father’s voice asking for help and the sight of him lying helpless on the floor. But deep down under the boiling fear was a reassuring belief that this was only an obstacle and not the end.

My dad looked up at me from the floor of the home where he raised three girls and loved one woman, the walls that absorbed the notes of his guitar, the smells of supper on the stove and a life well lived, and he told me he was dying.

I held his hand, looked him in the eye, and I said, “No. No, you are not.”

But he was. I didn’t know it then, but he was.

That big strong heart of his, the one that taught us compassion, patience, bravery and tenderness, was torn, leaking and poisoning his body.

And with each passing minute, each passing hour spent searching for a remedy, the odds fell quickly and silently away from his favor.

“Dissection of the aorta,” the doctor said. “We’re calling an airplane. There’s no time to talk.”

My mother’s hand went to her mouth. My sisters gasped. The temperature dropped outside where the rain fell, and I ran out there to stand in it, to come to grips with the idea that we might go on living in this world without my dad.

But I couldn’t accept it. This wasn’t our story.

I pushed down the fear and walked back inside where we hugged him goodbye for now.  

“See you in the big town,” I said.

Then, silent and shaken, we faced the 180 miles of daunting highway stretching before us under the darkening and freezing winter skies.

And up in those skies they flew him, my dad, on the wings of the plane and some merciful angels, to get to where he was going in time to be saved.

Who am I to give words to the feeling of moving through those miles in the dark, uncertain and silently pleading with God?

How can I tell you what those hours were like, waiting while my father was in another room with his chest cut open, his big, strong heart exposed?

What words do I use to thank the doctor who saved him? The nurses who cared for him? The family and friends who sent prayers, begging to spare a man we love while all around the world souls with much better odds were being taken up into those spinning stars?

How do you thank God for second chances?

Seventeen days ago my dad lived. The earth froze solid while he slept, and we were frozen with fear.

Two days later he breathed on his own, and the air warmed up enough to let the snow fall.

Twelve hours later he was walking down the hall of that hospital aware of his mortality, grateful for his saviors, both unseen and on this earth, and planning his escape back to the ranch where there is more life to be lived.

And with each passing day our worries eased, the temperature warmed, the earth thawed, and we all learned to breathe again.

Our dad is a miracle.

I could tell you the odds, but it doesn’t matter now. He was meant to stay with us.

Because 17 days ago, in a world that worked to freeze up and break our hearts, my dad’s heart, big, strong and open, against all odds, kept beating.

And he lived.

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Jessie Veeder
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City.
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