Friday, September 13, 2019

A Date to Remember




In July of 2000, our family went to Johns Hopkins Hospital for our weekly visits with Deddy.  We would drive up on Sunday after church, stay the night, he would get his treatment on Monday morning, then we would leave and be home that night.  We did that for about 6 months.  But the last visit was quite different. 

One of the first things I noticed when we got to the hospital was that a number of the normal staff members were not there that day.  We had been going for so long that the doctors and nurses that worked in the oncology department became friends.  Everyone was always helpful, supportive and encouraging.  I was surprised that so many were not there that day, but I grew to understand why.

Travis and I were sitting in a small room where Deddy would be given an IV that injected the medication or chemo that he was receiving.  I got up and left the room to go find out what Mama and Donna were doing in another room.  When I walked in, a doctor that we had not seen as much was patiently talking about Deddy and his medical situation.  Then Mama asked her, “So what are we looking at?”   The doctor answered, “Probably two weeks.”   Since I had just walked in 30 seconds earlier, I asked “Two weeks until what?”  I’m standing there thinking…. until they change his medicine?  Until they do another scan?  Do we skip a week and come back in two weeks?   But the Doctor looks at me and then back at Mama and had a look of absolute shock and concern at the same time.  That’s when I said, “To LIVE????????”  The Doctor obviously overwhelmed and upset herself looked at Mama and said, “Oh my God, I didn’t realize that he didn’t know!”    At that moment, I knew what two weeks meant. That was one of the hardest things I ever had to hear in my lifetime.  I was 27 years old and the time I had to spend with my father was potentially only 14 more days.  I hyperventilated, I freaked out, I was angry, I was beyond hurt and I walked into another room trying to calm down, but it was almost impossible.  Mama walked in there and tried to calm me down and said that it was going to be alright.  Until that day in my life, I think I had been a boy and a young man.  That day, I became a grown man and I knew that it was a lot more complicated than “it was just going to be alright.”

In the time Deddy was sick, I never cried in front of him.  I am convinced with all my heart that the Holy Spirit helped me in those weak moments to strengthen my resolve for the sake of my father.  I gathered myself and was able to keep my emotions under control.  One of the hardest moments that day for me was as we left, Travis and Deddy were walking ahead of me.  I remember considering that neither of them knew what we had just heard.  I didn’t tell Travis until we got home.  We never told Deddy about that conversation and to be honest, we didn’t have to.  He already knew and he had already accepted his fate and gained his peace. 

During the year that Deddy was battling cancer, he had a tremendous outpouring of love and support.  He had several preachers that visited him on a regular basis.  He had family and friends around him all the time and I realized more than ever what a blessing his life had been.  One of the friends that he got to know even better during that time was a gentleman named Ray McNeil, who owned McNeill Paint.  If you are “old school” from Harnett County, he was “Archie Ray.”  I was recently talking to his sons, Jody and Marty about the passing away of their father last year.  They told me that they never realized how much they would truly miss their father because he had always been in their lives.  Mr. McNeill was 77 when he passed away, Deddy was 48.  I never knew before, but Mr. McNeill had a battle with cancer around the same age that my father died.  His initial prognosis was actually worse than Deddy’s initial prognosis, but he was able to overcome the challenge and live 30 more years.  My father talked to him a lot that year and I’m sure it gave him comfort.  In times of great distress, I believe it’s helpful to talk to people of great faith.   I have not met many people in my life with faith any stronger than Mr. McNeil.  Several years after my Deddy passed away, I was in the shop buying paint and he told me to come into his office.  He said he knew that what the next day meant to me.  He turned his calendar around and it said, “1:30 PM Bob Brafford my friend! 2000.”  He used the same calendar every year and he had noted significant events on different days.  Obviously, Deddy was important enough to be remembered on Sept 13th. 

We will all lose someone close to us at some point in life.  I see people all the time dealing with health issues, life challenges, even death.  I have learned over the years just how important it is to be supportive of others during difficult times.  We live in a world where people can gain fame, fortune and notoriety for some of the most unusual reasons.  But when life is coming to an end…. fame, fortune, money and possessions simply don’t matter. The person you have been, the people that you care about, the life you have lived, and your faith in Jesus Christ are the only things that matter. September 13th, 2000 changed the lives of a lot of people, especially mine.  Archie Ray McNeil thought it was significant enough to note it in his calendar. 

You see, the doctors and nurses at Johns Hopkins that had become friends with Deddy and our family, understood what that last visit was.  It was goodbye. It was not a coincidence that so many of them were not there, it was by design.  Although today is a sad day, I also consider that my father is with more family and friends now than he was on Earth.  It doesn’t make me miss him any less.  It doesn’t make me stop regretting that cancer took his life.  But it does give me faith and hope that I will see him again one day.  And I believe that faith and hope are two of the most important things that Deddy left to those he loved.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Voice of Reason























I learned a lot from my father growing up.  He taught me to always do the right thing, be respectful of others, and to forgive.  I’m still working on those things, especially the last one.  Helping Travis coach Colton’s baseball teams always brings back a lot of memories.  Its ironic that we play our games on the exact same fields that we played on growing up.  There were several years that Deddy coached Travis’ Tee Ball team and my Little League team.   He was really a dedicated Father to take on that much responsibility.  But we did have some great times.  Now Travis and I are going through the same experience and we are really enjoy doing it.  Travis is good at details and organizing our efforts.  He teaches them if they work hard, they will get better………I make them believe it. 

               Deddy did not just tell us how he wanted us to live, he led by example.   He was absolutely committed to doing the right thing.  He honored his mother and father, respected Mama, encouraged Travis and me in every way and he loved us all.  He loved his 3 brothers unconditionally and I think they would all agree that if any of them needed someone to talk to about anything, Deddy was the one brother that they all knew would give them good advice without judgment.  He would also kick their asses if he thought it was deserved and necessary.  He was always quick to resolve family issues.  He felt like that in a lot of ways, people were as strong as their family.  So, he liked everyone to get along and keep peace. 

               Respect was also important to Deddy.  He offered it to everyone that deserved it and he commanded it from others.  He used to often hire people on “prison release.”  I worked with many of those guys through the years during the summer.  We never had a problem at all.  Deddy treated them the same way he treated everyone else. There were a number of times when some of the gentleman would be released and come to visit Deddy to thank him for the opportunity and for treating them with respect.   I always thought it showed a lot of integrity by my Father to take a chance with workers that had been deemed a criminal by the rest of the world. 

               Forgiveness was the attribute of my father that I simply have a hard time understanding.  I saw many people lie to him over and over again, interrupt his weekend to borrow $20, let him down time and again, and Deddy would give them another chance. And another. And another. And……you get the idea.   He just always said that people make mistakes and it takes some people a lot more to learn their lesson than others.  It drove me crazy but always made me admire him for his compassion towards people even when they had done him wrong. 

               When he found out he had cancer, our family was devastated.  He basically called a meeting at Mema and Papa Brafford’s house with them and his brothers.  Everyone was overwhelmed with concern but Deddy was the voice of reason and assured them that he would do everything he could to overcome the cancer and regardless, everything would be alright.  He was the one with cancer and also the one that gave the encouragement. 

               Of all the people whose lives were affected by the passing of my father, my life was probably affected the most.  It changed my career path, I lost my advisor for everything, and I took on an incredible amount of responsibility.  To this day, there are things that I am dealing with that were left when Deddy passed away.  But the truth is, I don’t regret it.  I had such a wonderful father that the responsibility that I inherited is a small price to pay for the example he set for me and Travis.  I miss him every day for his advice, support and encouragement.  I miss him for his great sense of humor.  I often regret that he is not at our Little League games so he can tell me and Travis what we did wrong when the games are over.  But as I consider that this will be the 19th Father’s Day we will spend without him, I am glad that he gave us life lessons that will last forever. I think for my family and friends, I have evolved into the voice of reason for a lot of things.  I am certain that is something that Deddy would be proud of.

               I wish all of you a very Happy Father’s Day!  I hope those of you that still have your Father get to spend some time together.  For those of you that have children, I hope that you are able to spend time with your kids and relish in being a father. You never know when life can change, so take advantage of all opportunities you have with your loved ones.  May God bless you all!  #keepthefaith #HappyFathersDay