Saturday, October 31, 2009

What October 31st means to me ...

While to some, October 31 means Halloween and trick-or-treating, to me this day has an entirely different meaning. It's the day my Dad was born in 1922. Today would have been his 87th birthday! The story below shares the emotion of "letting him go" in 1991.

My hope, in sharing this story, is to honor the memory of my Dad. He wasn't a big man, but he was a giant in my eyes! He wasn't an educated man for the first half of his life, having only finished sixth grade to help support his mother and siblings when his Dad walked out on them. At age 50, he earned his GED and began Bible college and earned his degree in 1977.

He wasn't a loud man -- he was rather quiet. What drew your attention was his appearance. Many people considered him "distinguished," because he dressed nicely, head his head high and looked like a professor.

Dad wasn't stuck up though -- on the contrary, he was a humble man that knew how to appreciate his blessings, having been raised in the slums of New York city. He reached out to all levels of people won respect from everyone who knew him.

Yikes, I didn't think about all that when I was growing up! To me, he was a fun, relaxed father that didn't mind flying a kite with his fifth daughter. He enjoyed playing games, teasing his kids, loved the holidays and made them special (on a shoestring budget). In other words, he worked hard to provide pleasant family memories for all of us ... something he never had as a child.

He wasn't a center-stage man, preferring to stand on the sidelines and observe someone else take the spotlight. His calling as a minister and college professor (yes, he taught!) put him in front of others again and again.

Here's my story ...

The last gift I gave to my father wasn't wrapped. I hadn't shopped for it nor even paid for it. Actually, it cost me nothing but a moment of time. The giving of that gift all started with a phone call from my sister.

"Daddy's had a massive heart attack," her voice was shaky. "I'm here with Mom, and the doctor just told us to notify the family."

As I hung up, my mind was reeling, like someone had slapped me senseless. How could I possibly get there in time? My parents lived in Missouri, and I was in northeastern Kentucky - as far as you could go before leaving the state. It was a ten hour drive, at best. My husband held me while I cried, then urged me to pack the things we'd need for the next few days. He'd take care of everything else.

We left early the next morning and met his parents in Bowling Green, Kentucky where we handed over our three young children. Visiting them would be a special treat, and that eased my mind while hugging them goodbye. Back on the interstate, we pushed to finish the last half of our trip. I tried calling my mother and sister and got no response. From that point on, it seemed the ta-thump, ta-thump rhythm of our tires mocked, "Too late, Too late!" A severe headache crept up the back of my neck and settled behind my eyes.

When we arrived at St. Francis Hospital, I yanked the door open before the car came to a stop. Dashing down the hall to CCU, I found my family huddled in a corner of the waiting area. One good thing about having a large family in a crisis is that you have a built-in-support system. Another is having someone to hold onto and talk with as you sort through a myriad of emotions. But the down-side is that you can't go as a family group to a patient in cardiac care. We could only go in two at a time.

I dreaded that first peek at Daddy. A dozen wires and tubes were attached to him, and at least half that many machines were whooshing, beeping and buzzing around his bed. I had planned to be brave, but this was more than I bargained for! The man who taught me to live life to the fullest was now dying.

Turning to leave after my second visit, I felt a strong urge to go back in. I longed to give something special to my father - just some little token of my love for him. When I turned around, I found it. Someone had left the blinds open, and bright slits of afternoon light were creeping toward my father's face. Daddy's blue eyes had been sensitive to light as long as I could remember. Maybe the staff thought it wouldn't bother him, since he was in a coma. Maybe they just hadn't had time to close them for the evening. One way or the other, I had no intention of leaving them like that. So I crossed the room, closed the blinds and then bent over to kiss my father's cheek.

"I closed the blinds for you, Daddy," I whispered. "Now the light won't bother your eyes."

Later that night my father died. I've given him many gifts through the years, but I can't help thinking that last little love-gift is the one that meant the most to him. I know it does to me.

Thank you, Lord for the blessing of my wonderful Daddy - John Adam Keltie.


  1. Oh...tears flow. A loving Daddy...a loving daughter. Thank you for this tribute Nan.
    I can't type any more right now...but I will be back later...emotions run high. I call my Daddy "Daddy" too....nothing like a love between a Daddy and his girl.

  2. And I'm finding myself choking back the tears as well, Nan...this is simply beautiful!! Those last acts of love are gifts we hold onto when our loved ones are gone, aren't they? I like your associations with this day much better than the general public's...what could be more wonderful than the legacy of a truly godly and loving father!!! You are a beautiful woman, Nan...and I am honored to know you!!! ~Janine XO

  3. Hi again Nan....
    It's later on Saturday night.
    I wanted to come back...and read your blog again. I loved it as much the second time I read it. What a wonderful man your Daddy was. Five daughters! A blessed man!
    You are a special daughter, Nan...and I love knowing you.
    Love to you,

  4. Nan, you're Daddy might not have been all those things you mentioned but he was a great man and he was yours. This was a wonderful tribute to him.

  5. Hello from Bollinger County, MO.
    A friend set me onto this blog and I'm so glad she did. I believe I posted your parents tombstone photo on Find a Grave and I almost spelled the name wrong. Go take a look at the Bollinger Co. Memorial Park for John Adams Keltie which I wanted to spell Keltje. My friends erased that idea from my head and sent me to read this blog. I really enjoyed your writting and I'm glad you have such great memories of a great dad. Marlene


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