My hand turned the door knob. My feet stepped across the threshold. My arm pushed the door shut behind me. My head swiveled to face the living room. My legs propelled me forward into the room. “Hey, Girl!” That’s what he would say. From his reclining chair or his desk chair or standing superman pose in the middle of the room. Every trip I took, every outing I went to, every shift I worked, I would come home and there he usually was.
“Hey, Girl! How was it?”
Sunday, May 28, 2017 will go down in my books as a day to remember. I was in Michigan for Memorial Day weekend with Clay Baker and his family. That day, we were at a birthday party for a cousin, Natalie, who was turning 60. She was delightful and so was the property she had with her husband. There was a baby grand in the front room and a creek out back. Clay and I spent some time down there talking about life and perspectives. When she came up, she took a photo of us and told us about all the wildlife they have up there. Sure enough, a momma duck (Emma) lead her eleven ducklings right past us. Emma clearly knew Natalie and was okay with her. Natalie talked to her the whole time and they accepted Clay and I as friends – or at least not enemies.
“Hey, Girl! I’m going up to work at the cabin, want to come with?”
When we got home after the party, Clay and I were going to watch a movie. 27 Dresses. As the movie was put in, I turned to Clay and talked to him about my future father daughter dance at my wedding. I questioned what song we’d play, if we would sway or do a more elaborate dance. Two minutes after I brought that up, my phone started vibrating. Isaac was calling. It was 10:24pm EST.
“Hey, Isaac – what’s up?”
“You’re in Michigan, right?” I could hear Elliot in the background.
“Yeah. Are you guys okay?!”
“Um. Yeah … WE’RE okay …. Are you sitting down?”
“Okay. Good. Dad went up to the Gitter’s today.”
“Is HE okay?!?!”
“Um. No. Not really. He had a heart attack. He’s dead.”
The rest of our conversation is fuzzy to me. I know I must have been on speaker phone, because Elliot shared more details. I heard Mom end a phone call, say a few words to me, and dial someone else.
“Hey, Girl! How was your trip?”
Clay checked on me after I hung up. I choked on my words when I told him that my dad was dead. He clutched me tight and started to rock me, choking up himself. He called for his parents. It was 10:29pm. They brought Forrest into the room with them. “Can you stand?” I nodded weakly, but by the time I got turned around and kneeling, Lori was falling to her knees to hug and cry with me. The rest joined us and we prayed and cried together. They stayed by my side taking turns who hugged me or handed me tissues. Aaron, Lori, and Clay called friends and brethren – whomever I wanted notified. I just sat and cried. I remembered all the good times.
“Hey, Girl! Whatcha doin’?”
Thursday, Dad counseled me on my trip to Michigan. “It’s a holiday weekend, so you need to be careful. There will be a lot of people on the road, so be smart and safe. Don’t drive between 10pm and 3am – at all. It’s not safe. There’s going to be a lot of drinking going on this weekend. Be careful. I love you, Girl.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
“Hey, Girl! How was work?”
Earlier that day, I was playing cards with Mom. Dad’s voice carried from the other room, “I HATE computers!” Mom shook her head, I giggled, and walked over to Dad. “What’s up, Dad?” He was trying to update something on his boat, but there was difficulty getting the update onto the SD card and the video wasn’t making sense. I helped him do what the video said, but it didn’t work. He came back into the house frustrated. After calling the company, he was told that he had to watch a different video because he has an Apple computer, not Windows. I helped him again and he was able to update it.
Mom marveled at my ability to be so patient. Dad did too a little.
“I still HATE computers!”
“Hey, Girl! How was your drive?”
Clay and Aaron drove me home Monday, May 29, 2017. My birthday. I cried a lot. Dad’s voice replayed over and over in my head. I knew I wouldn’t come in the door and hear his loving voice. My sister called from Alaska and asked what was going on. She had a message on Facebook from a friend. “Sorry to hear about your dad. He was a great guy.” and a text from Mom, “CALL ME ASAP.” She knew something was wrong and took it in stride. After hanging up with me, she went on a hike. I cried some more. She’ll be home Wednesday, May 31, 2017.
“Happy Birthday, Girl!”
Dad and I had a lot in common. We were the huggers of the family. He smiled about as much as I. He laughed heartily.
Dad lived in “Donny World”. It’s a carefree place that doesn’t touch reality.
Dad was loved by all who knew him. He had a sense of humor that few could rival. He was a good storyteller.
Dad loved deeply. His family meant the world to him. He always wanted us around.
“Hey, Girl! Glad you’re home safe. I’m going to bed.”
My family is choosing to be “Donny happy”. He always wanted to die in the woods and he did. He retired from 32 years in law enforcement: Marine turned Appleton Police Department Police Officer. He has been living life the way he wanted to. He often went fishing and hunting. There’s nothing in that to be sad about. Evidence suggests he didn’t suffer when he passed.
There are many blessings in all of this for the timing of everything. Blessed be the name of the LORD!
“Love you, Girl!”
My love for Dad will exist forever. I will cling to memories and cherish all the advice he’s ever given me. In God’s Kingdom, I hope I once again get to see his bright smile and be in his warm embrace.