These three children of mine have blessed me with such an abundance of adventures, misadventures, laughter, joy, and happiness. I consider myself fortunate to not only have captured in pictures and in words so many of our times together but also to have shared them with so many friends and family members.
When you surprise me with the memory of any of these special times, I smile, and I remind myself just how lucky a dad I am.
I’ve never noticed, though, what you say with these surprises:
Joshua, we care about you and the memories you share here.
Because you care, there’s more about this picture that I want you to know. It’s a bittersweet memory, and I want you to know that whenever I see it, I can’t help but remember what came next.
Three years ago, we were wrapping up a weekend visit to Blacksburg, Virginia. We’d just had lunch at one of our favorite spots, Macado’s, before beginning the journey home to Charlotte. When we walked to the car, our youngest found an empty stand for Collegiate Times, and he climbed right in. I took his picture and promptly shared it.
Extra, extra, read all about it.
Then we started for home.
It was Sept. 1, my dad’s 74th birthday. I was planning on calling him from the road. Or perhaps after we got home.
Somewhere, just north of Statesville, we stopped for gas, and as we pulled from the parking lot to approach the highway, my older brother, Trip, called. Dad had been celebrating his birthday with some friends, but he’d started to choke on something. And when the paramedics put him in the ambulance, he wasn’t responsive.
Keep me posted.
When we got near Charlotte, Trip’s wife called. Through tears she told me I needed to get there. As soon as I could. She didn’t know how much longer we had with him.
At home, I quickly packed a bag, kissed my wife, and through darkness drove to join my brothers. To see our dad. And to say goodbye.
On the way, I made up my mind that I would kiss his head and tell him thank you.
Whenever I see this picture, Facebook, I smile. Our youngest brings so much joy to us, and here he is doing it again.
But I also remember what happened next, which I shared on Sept. 2with friends and family.
And they let me be alone with him. The nurse brought me a chair and lowered the rail so I could sit and hold his hand. And when she left I put my head down by his arm and cried. I sobbed. The longing to be a kid again is never as overwhelming as it is at this very moment. I thought one day my children might do this by my side. And I sobbed more. Violent sobs though I tried to keep my tears silent. And I stood. I kissed his head and rested mine against his. I told him I loved him. And I thanked him.
Then I left so Zac could do the same. Then Trip.
Then we left to get some sleep knowing we would be back soon for tests and consults. And there would be no optimism then either. And we would wait for that time when we would have to make the decision.
In the end, later that morning, his heart simply stopped and there was nothing more they could do. So we hugged. And prayed.
And became three little boys who had just lost their dad.
Because you care, Facebook, I just wanted you to know.
Joshua B. Durham is a lawyer, husband, dad, and astronaut. OK, that last part isn’t true, but he did go to Space Camp. Twice. Follow him on www.lifetooquickly.com. A version of this piece originally appeared on Medium and has been reprinted with permission.