“It was the 3rd of September
That day I’ll always remember, yes I will
Cause that was the day that my daddy died…”
The opening lines of a a Grammy-award winning song ring true in my life… in 2014, on September 3rd my father passed away.
I always loved the song, starting with an incredible groove that leads into an all too common story for some families. The three opening lines are the only part of the song that applies to my Dad though.
I started writing the following on 12-1-18. It took me about 5 months to complete it. It’s lengthy… he’s worthy of every word
This has been a long time coming. My father has been gone 2 days shy of 4 yrs and 3 months. That’s 1,551 days. Why all that info matters I don’t know. I’m a numbers guy I guess.
I think sometimes that he actually died exactly 48 weeks prior. That was the day my sister sat on the edge of my parents bed, my brother and I standing next to her, and softly rubbed his arm. He lay there, eyes closed, I’m not sure if he was sleeping though.
My sister’s voice cracked, “She’s gone Dad”. Tears poured down my cheeks. Dad opened his eyes then clinched them tightly closed. “I lost my buddy” he said. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him refer to Mom that way before. It was one month before their 58th wedding anniversary. Dad didn’t open his eyes. He just lay there. We asked him if he wanted to stay in bed awhile. He nodded that he did.
That was a Wednesday morning. Mom had passed at 4:45 am. 48 weeks later, on a Wednesday morning as well, Dad passed away at 5 am. He was alone in Wuesthoff Hospital. That’s always bothered me. When Mom passed, all three of her children were right by her side. I’ve tried to figure out if any of that means anything... if it symbolizes anything. If it does, I haven’t figured it out yet.
So that was how my father died. I need to write this to tell you how he lived... who he was... who he was to my Mom, who he was to our family and who he was to me. In a word... everything. That’s the easy way out of course. I’ll have to do a better job than that. Let me begin.
He was born March 13, 1937 in Morganton, NC. He was the 16th child born to Wade and Sarah Walker!!! That’s right... the 16th!!! Five of the other children had died as infants. All 15 prior to him had obviously been named and for some reason, they chose their 7th boy to be born to carry on his father’s name... so it was, my father was named Wade Hampton Walker Jr.
He was called “Junior” by his parents and siblings. Sometimes it was shortened to “June”. His middle name of “Hampton” was also used for my Uncle... Wallace Hampton Walker. He was born 17 years prior to my father.
The name “Hampton” was first used for my grandfather by his father (my great grandfather) Jospeh Walker. He used the name due to the fact that he had served in the Civil War with a Lt. General named Wade Hampton III. He admired the man enough to use his name in naming one of his sons.
Interestingly for me, my grandfather was the youngest of 14, my father the youngest of 16 and myself the youngest of 3.
My grandmother having already gone through 14 pregnancies (one was a set of twins, who died as infants) was perhaps an expert on this experience. However, her body had been depleted of calcium and it was discovered at a young age that my father may experience difficulties due to this. They were told that his bones would most likely be brittle and subject to issues. In addition, his teeth would be problematic.
As far as his bones, he never had any issues. He did however have a broken leg at approx. 6 yrs old. He said he had been playing football and got hit on opposite sides of his body... “one hit me high and one hit me low” he said and his femur broke. He said he spent 40 days and nights in the hospital due to care needed to slowly heal the leg.
The prognosis of his teeth perhaps being a problem was spot on. As a youth, his baby teeth came in “black as coal” and often fell out on their own. As the adult teeth came in, they were in the same condition and had the same results. Dad said that from his earliest memories, he would cover his mouth anytime he laughed, was terrified to smile and was constantly aware of his appearance.
He went through all of his childhood, through high school and even through getting married with these teeth issues. His wedding pictures show him tightly clenching his lips so as not to show his teeth.
It was before his wedding, if I have the story correct that he went to Indiana to have all of his teeth removed and dentures made. This was 1955 I believe and he was 18 years old. I believe the procedure was done at Indiana University or it was somehow related to that college. He said they filmed the entire procedure and used it to teach dental students.
His childhood was one of a full house of family, love and activity. His parents were older and his father was a Baptist minister. A position I have acquired in my retirement years. His love for both his parents was deep. As he grew up, there were less and less kids/family at home and the 3 of them became closer and closer. Sadly my grandfather passed when my father was just 20 years old. It affected him deeply and he carried that with him the rest of his life. All of us kids, remember hearing a lot about our grandfather. A man none of us had met, but a man we got to know quite well. After my parents were married, they ended up living with my father’s parents. They both took care of his father until his death. My grandfather suffered from ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. My father being a caregiver for his father was something he never forgot about. We talked about it often in his later years.
Let me get back to one little part of his story... he got married. This was undoubtedly the most important event in his life. I say that of course to bring to light to how important my Mom was to him and to all of our family. I like to think that this union was ordained by God. Maybe it was just a stroke of luck on his part and our families part. Either way, it’s what I consider one of my life’s greatest blessings. I know my Dad felt the same about my Mom. She was “heaven sent” in his eyes.
They got married in 1955... almost exactly 3 years after their wedding, my mom gave birth to a son. My father eagerly named him Wade Hampton Walker III. They called him “Sonny” I believe simply because he was their “son”. I know it was a HUGE highlight of my father’s life. Shortly after Sonny was born, my parents moved to Florida, where they would spend the rest of their life.
Almost exactly 3 years after my brother was born, my sister was born. The story has been told that they had discussed the name “Denise Lorraine”... but my father decided on Robin Lynne. So there they were, both my parents 24 years old, a son just turning 3 and a newborn baby girl. They said they were so happy and thought their family was complete.
Another 3 years later, and I kind of messed that up. They were both 27 by now and have honestly admitted that I wasn’t planned and they struggled with the fact that they were going to have another child. They have also admitted what a blessing it was... they were older, more experienced and have said that obviously their third child (myself) was loved as much as the other two. That is true without a doubt. In another baby name story... Mom had said she wanted to name me “Douglas Brian” but somehow Dad won out with the choice of Rodney Blane. I’m not sure what I think of all that... but Rodney I am... :-)
So before I go any further about Dad, I need to explain that being a husband and father was his most important accomplishment. It brought him more satisfaction, happiness and feelings of accomplishment that anything else I believe. It wasn’t his only role in life though.
He was a hard, diligent worker from a young age and certainly when he became an adult. In his early 20’s he had held a few jobs, but finally was hired by a nationwide company called “Pan American Services”. He was hired at their clinic they had at Kennedy Space Center. No doubt his experience working at Broughton Psychological Hospital in Morganton for a few years had helped him land this job.
His brother Bill had moved to Florida before my dad did. Bill had become a police officer with the city of Cocoa Beach. My dad became interested in law enforcement as well.
In his late 20’s I believe, in the mid 60’s, he was hired by the Cape Canaveral Police Department. He was recruited from there to the Brevard County Sheriff’s office.
In the early 70’s he became a Homicide Agent. I have some of his business cards that actually title his profession as “Intelligience Agent”. I’ve always liked that. After several years in Homicide; having enough of the politics and wanting a change, Dad went back into uniform. He was quickly promoted to Corporal, then Lieutenant and a week later from Lieutenant to Captain. After reaching Captain, he was assigned as the commanding officer of the Cape Canaveral precinct. A city he had patrolled approximately 10 years prior.
It was during this stint as a Captain at the sheriffs office, that Dad dealt with perhaps his greatest life challenge ever.
It’s a long story, but the short version is that due to a car accident that Dad and I were in; we both were sent to the hospital and Dad had a chest X-ray. This revealed a large spot on his lung. Softball size I believe. There was no way to treat it. Removing the lung was the only option. This was a horrific idea to our family, but they made it clear that the only other option was death.
Dad had been living life “100 miles an hour” and was so worn down that they kept him in the hospital for three weeks before the surgery. They were trying to build him up with food, exercise, medication. Surviving the surgery would not be easy. I remember well that they told us he had a 40% chance to make it through the surgery and a 60% chance to survive the first 30 days. Insane odds, but there was no plan b.
I remember my Aunt Bobbie Sue and Uncle George coming down to be with the family during the surgery. I was 15. I slept on the couch the night before the surgery. Uncle George slept in my bed. I cried that night and prayed that Dad would be okay.
It doesn’t seem right to keep this part of his life to just a few paragraphs. This event certainly affected the rest of his life. He lived 35 1/2 years with one lung. Amazing. After this, he worked another 17 years. Demanding work... with one lung.
The lung removal was in March 1979. In December of that year he left the Sheriffs office and became an investigator for the Medical Examiners office. Within a few years he became the Chief Investigator and ran the entire operation. Overseeing all activities including the coroners who performed all of the autopsies. This job not only caused physical stress due to long hours, being called out at all hours of the day and night; it also took a toll emotionally. More about that later.
My father had dealt with alcoholism for nearly a decade. From the early 70’s to 1983. He was what is termed as a “highly functioning alcoholic”. He kept it in check, as much as that is possible. However, he knew it was a problem and battled it for years, mainly through AA. He became sober in March of 1983. That was an accomplishment that changed his life for the better, forever.
In 1984, my brother Wade blessed my parents with their first grandchild. I always loved hearing my dad tell the story of baby Adam’s birth. It was an extremely busy day for him. My mom was at the hospital with my brother and his wife. She called my dad to tell him of the birth. He said he would do his best to come and visit but he couldn’t be sure he’d make it.
He arrived exhausted from a long day. Walking up to the room he remembered telling himself to “brighten up and show some joy over such a beautiful event”. He didn’t know if he could pull it off.
The second he looked at baby Adam, at my brother, at my Mom... all the love, excitement and joy just bursted from him naturally.
He LOVED being a grandfather. He ended up having 4 grandsons and one granddaughter. The granddaughter was named Normalyn, after my mother Norma. My parents loved that.
His career ended in 1996, Dad was 58. It didn’t quite end as he had planned, but he was at peace. My parents worried if they were set well enough financially and if their insurance coverage would be sufficient. As it turns out, God blessed them tremendously in both areas. Certainly in a financial way. They were generous with others and were disciplined in giving to the church their entire lives.
Dad’s biggest challenge with ending his career and beginning his retirement was his mental health. He spent a decade or so dealing with this while he was still working. He dealt with the effects of it for the rest of his life.
The last year of his career was hard on Dad and he began to suffer from a deeper depression and intense anxiety. He had been to psychiatrists off and on for 10-15 years. His problems were minor at that time though. In 1995 and 1996 they strengthened and became a big issue for him.
He was diagnosed as “clinically depressed” and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was told that most people get this from one horrible event in their life or over time from being exposed to extremely stressful situations/environments. Dad was told that he had basically seen “one dead body too many”. His job for the final 16 years of his career had him seeing perhaps 50-100 “crime scenes” per year. This usually included either homicide, suicide or traffic fatality scenes. In addition, almost daily he would enter the morgue and view the deceased they had taken in for whatever purpose. Usually for an upcoming autopsy or even just being stored there until being transferred to a funeral home.
He also witnessed or even assisted with autopsies, sometimes 2-3 times a week. He often knew, even if distantly, a lot of the people he dealt with. The psychiatrists told him this was taking an emotional toll him.
He spent perhaps the first decade of retirement going through an array of meds to find the one that would keep his mind and emotions in a stable setting. After years of trial, they pretty much settled on a surprising result. Ritalin seemed to do the job better than anything else. He and our whole family were thankful for the doctors who never gave up. We were also proud of Dad for the battle he fought and the openness with which he discussed it.
Over time, as a retiree, Dad become more and more of a recluse. They traveled some, not much, early in their retirement. Spent time at “the home place”, his childhood home; but more and more, Dad just wanted to be at home. At times this caused concern, but Dad insisted he was fine. He just had no desire to go anywhere or do anything. Those in his life had to work around that. He had every right to live his final years on his own terms. He was loved by all his family and was able to show his love with phone calls, etc. If you wanted to spend time with him, it was simple... “Come on over”... cuz he wasn’t going anywhere!!! :-)
The last 5-10 years of his life drinking coffee, watching TV, visiting with family who stopped by and “doing just fine”. I spent thousands of hours with him doing just that. Hanging out, just visiting, drinking coffee, talking about anything, everything and nothing. He was easy to be with.
In his last 10 years, Dad invested quite a large amount of money in Publix stock. He loved seeing his money grow. Not for his own benefit, he said he knew he would never spend any of it, and he never did. Mom and he were able to leave such a financial blessing to their three children due to these investments.
Publix was where I had spent 35 years of my life. It brought me joy to have my parents/family experience some of the financial blessings that we did.
So, Mom passed in October 2014 and there we all were. Just Dad and all three of his kids. It was different for all of us for sure. He was grieving, but always put up a strong front. He certainly comforted all of us as much if not more than we did him. It was only eleven months and then he was gone.
I spent that time just as I had always done. Visiting, drinking coffee... hanging out. We started doing something that final year that we had never done before. We would watch a movie almost every time I visited.
I’ve kept journals off and on my entire life and since I got my first smartphone, September 2007, I’ve kept a daily journal in my iPhone. I’ve got all the files saved on my desktop, the cloud, etc. Almost 12 years!!! EVERYDAY!!!! I’ve written down what I did, often just short and sweet entries.
However, I’ve written down other things as well. I started logging what movies we watched. I’ve got a journal of 57 movies/shows that we watched. Some entries include what we may have talked about, etc. Very few of the movies were anything special, but the time together was priceless of course.
We had kind of become just two old guys, getting through life. Myself in my late 40’s- in a career I was growing weary of; and Dad in his mid 70’s/ in a life without Mom that he was growing weary of. We were at different stages in life, but for decades, we had just been good close friends. I’m thankful for that year.
I could have spent this entire time writing about Dad’s feelings on love, truth, work ethic, God, world affairs, being a husband, father, grandfather... so many other things. Forgive me for injecting myself at times in his story.
There are SO many stories I could have written of, I didn’t have an agenda when I started this. I’ve spent almost exactly 5 months writing this. A little at a time, when I felt inspired. Whatever came to mind. I tried to follow along chronologically of course.
Another story that should have been included, was the night I accepted Christ as my Savior. Simply explained, he was there, encouraging me as always.
Summing up his life... who he was in the world... who he was to me and our family.... is not possible. I can only tell you of some of the facts and of my experience. He was everything I could ever ask for. With all his life’s experiences, he was ALWAYS THERE. Always with a kind word, sometimes along with some advice. Completely loving, always so proud of your accomplishments. always encouraging... and how was he doing? He’d always say, “I’m doing just fine son, how are you” :-)
Lastly, allow me to include myself one more time. In retrospect, I think Dad was quite complex. I think that more now than I did when he was alive. I see it in myself. So many of my behaviors, anxieties, appetite (eating) issues, coffee addiction, being a recluse... moods, etc. At times, I don’t recognize myself. I don’t understand why I am the way I am.
It’s then, that I think of Dad. I realize he dealt with all these same things that I now deal with. He’s my example... do what you can do, love and encourage others, be a listening ear... just keep doing what you can... you’ll probably be “doing just fine.”