Thursday, June 12, 1997

A tribute to my dad

"Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy." As we honor our fathers this Father's Day, I would like to share the following article with you. I wrote this about a year-and-a-half ago, in honor of my sweet Daddy, Larry O'Rear. It is a personal recollection of the events and the emotions surrounding his death, and is offered as a tribute to his life. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder to those of us who proudly wear the title "Daddy", that if we will invest our time and energy in the lives of our children, we will leave a legacy that will last long after we are gone. Thanks, Dad, for showing me what being a good Daddy is all about.

I remember the phone call as though it were yesterday. It was December 13, 1989, Wednesday night. Susan and the kids and I were preparing to leave for church when the telephone rang. I answered it. It was my oldest brother Mark, and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. "Dad went to the doctor and they think he might have cancer. They won't know for sure until they do a biopsy."

I didn't know what to say; I didn't know what to do; I didn't know what to think; I wasn't sure how to feel. Surely this can't be true. Dad is only ... How old is Dad, anyway? ... I'm not sure, but he's not old enough to get cancer. When someone gets cancer, they usually die. Dad can't die!

My head was spinning and my stomach was swimming as we went to church. "Maybe it won't be cancer after all," I kept telling myself, trying my best to sound convincing. "But what if it is?"

We had just seen Mom and Dad a couple of weeks earlier. We had gone to Susan's parents' house in Round Rock for Thanksgiving. On the way back home, we stopped by Mom and Dad's house in Georgetown to say "Hi". Dad wasn't feeling well. He had started feeling sick the day after Thanksgiving, having stomach pains and feeling nauseated. He and Mom just figured he was coming down with an intestinal flu (there had been a lot of that sort of thing "going around"). After a week with no improvement, however, he went to see the doctor.

The doctor was unable to determine the cause of Dad's ailments, and arranged for some tests to be run in an attempt to pinpoint the problem. After running several different tests and finding nothing, they finally did an ultrasound which revealed a number of suspicious-looking spots on his liver. A biopsy was ordered immediately.

The biopsy results were reported on Friday, December 15. The doctors' fears were confirmed. Dad had cancer. The initial prognosis was that he probably had six months to live.


I remember the shock, the horror, the disbelief, the fear, the complete sense of hopelessness and helplessness brought on by those two words: six months. Suddenly, life seemed so finite.

It was Christmas time. We were all supposed to be gathering at Mom and Dad's house in about a week or so for an O'Rear-style Christmas celebration. All five of us guys, our families, lots of presents, lots of love, lots of laughter, lots of good food ... and Mom and Dad, the Patriarch and Matriarch of this uniquely wonderful clan.

But the trip came a week early, and the occasion was anything but festive. Dad was put in the hospital in Austin on Monday after the biopsy results had been reported on Friday. The doctors wanted to do some more tests to determine a course of treatment. Now, instead of traveling to Georgetown for Christmas, we found ourselves traveling to Austin a week before Christmas to visit Dad in the hospital.

What would I say? What are you supposed to say to someone who has just been told they probably won't be here in six months? Dad was always the one who knew just what to say. And now he is the one lying in a hospital bed dying. Oh, God, help me know what to say.

Please, God, I'm so afraid.
Please don't let my Daddy die!

As it turned out, Dad was still the one who knew just exactly what to say. "Boys..." He addressed his five sons.

And, we were the five young men who had learned to love the Lord, and His Word, and His church -- from the very depth of our being -- because of this man who was now lying in a hospital bed dying, and because of the beautiful woman who stood by his side.

"Boys..." You could have heard a pin drop in that room as we hung on his words. "Mom and I have talked about this, and we want you to know that we are not afraid of what might happen. If it's God's will for me to die, then I'm ready to die. Sure, I'd love to stay around several more years and see my grandkids grow up. There are lots of things I'd still like to do. I don't guess there will ever come a time when I could say, 'I've done everything I ever wanted to do and seen everything I ever wanted to see, so now I'm ready to go.' But we want you boys to know that we are not asking, 'Why? Why us? Why this? Why now?' We are at peace."

In that moment, Dad left us a legacy that I will carry with me the rest of my life. Here was my Dad lying on his death bed, staring death in the face, and he was not the least bit afraid (at least if he was, you sure couldn't see it). He was truly at peace. Suddenly, all those things he had taught us through the years ... about God, about His love for us, about heaven ... they all became so very real in that one moment of time. Dad was about to go be with God, and he knew it!

Dad stayed in the hospital one week, and his condition quickly and progressively deteriorated. The doctors released him from the hospital on Sunday, Christmas Eve. He was pretty groggy from the pain medication and from the fact that his liver was not functioning properly due to the cancer. Monday and Tuesday his condition worsened further. He slept more and more, and became less and less coherent. Tuesday night he had a really bad night, and about four of us stayed up all night with him.

Wednesday, December 27, 1989, was a day that Dad had spent his whole life preparing for. I remember it as being a peculiarly peaceful day. Everyone had left the house that morning. I don't remember who went where; I just remember that Mom and I were the only two in the house besides Dad. He was sleeping in his easy chair and we were just a few feet away, sitting at the kitchen table, talking about funeral arrangements. It was obvious that Dad wouldn't be here much longer, and we wanted to be prepared. As we talked quietly, we could hear in the background the rhythmic sounds of Dad's breathing.

Then suddenly, we both realized in the same instant that the breathing sounds had stopped. We jumped up and rushed over to the easy chair, but Dad wasn't there anymore. His body was still in the chair, but Dad had gone Home.

Mom asked me gently and with remarkable composure if I would leave the room for a few minutes so she could be alone with him. I went to the back of the house, and Mom told Dad goodbye. His brief struggle had ended ... and our struggle to go on living without him had begun.

As I sit here writing these words six years later, tears still well up in my eyes and my heart still aches. You see, he was my Daddy, and I miss him.

Paul O'Rear is a resident of Waxahachie and youth minister for the College Street Church of Christ. He and his wife Susan have two children, Ashley and Justin.