I always thought that the name Ovid was very strange. I could never understand why anyone would want to name their child Ovid. But at least I understood why my father-in-law always wanted to be called Earl. His full name was Ovid Earl Stanley, Sr. Of course, when I found out that he was a Sr., I immediately felt sorry for the Jr. in the family. Earl Sr. could easily joke about his name, but if you ever called him Ovid, he’d let you hear it. Earl was one of those very quiet men, who didn’t say much, but somehow you always knew what he was thinking. He had a funny habit of aggravating his wife by watching TV and reading the newspaper when “company” was around. Of course, “company” to his wife was his own kids! He was a very proud man who had a very deep history, but he never really talked about it. He served two terms in Vietnam in the Navy, and when he came home, he helped raise six kids. That was really all the history I ever knew. But I didn’t’ need to know any more history about him. To me, he was also my father as well; as I had already adopted him as such in my heart. I adored him. I would even mimic him at times – irritating my mother-in-law by reading the newspaper with him; when my husband, David, and I were visiting. She would get so upset that Earl wasn’t making “small talk” with me. I loved how he adored his grandchildren, and I loved hearing stories from my husband about the things he did to his own children as they were growing up.
So when offered the opportunity to help the only father figure I had – I jumped at the opportunity. On April 2nd, 2004 my husband, David, and I were at home relaxing and playing with the kids when we got a call from Earl Jr. that Earl Sr. was in the hospital with a broken hip. We immediately drove up to see him and we found that he was diagnosed with secondary cancer of the bone. He had to have surgery on his hip, but they didn’t expect him to live very long because it was a secondary cancer which had probably originated from his lungs from many years of smoking. We weren’t surprised when we heard the news because we’d had suspicions about it for a long time. We knew that Earl Sr. smoked like a chimney, and even when he said he had quit – he would always sneak one or two out back in his sheds. We also knew that recovery from a broken hip would take a long time, and a lot of care would be needed to help him during his therapy. Because David was a nurse, we immediately decided to move in with his parents in order to help with Earl’s recovery. We knew that David’s mother could not take care of her husband properly, as her strength and health wasn’t enough; and after much deliberation, there was an excuse or a justified reason for each one of David’s siblings inability to help care for their father
During the first few weeks of his recovery, we all thought Earl would be fine and he would be back on his feet in no time. But after those initial weeks, his health began to diminish. It seemed as if he was bound to his wheelchair; only able to go out on the deck for a few minutes at a time before it exhausted him. Soon he was bed ridden. Even sooner after that, he was incoherent. Not only could he not talk, but he couldn’t really understand what anyone was saying anymore. He did have good moments: a few hours where he would sit up a little and talk to his children and his wife. He could ask for drinks of water or ice to moisten his tongue, and occasionally he could even comprehend that my son, Bobby, was saying, “I love you Pa-paw.”
So one afternoon, David’s brother, Kenny, asked his pastor to stop by the house on one of Earl’s good days and talk to him. We all knew that Earl believed in God, but even his wife didn’t really know for sure if he had ever accepted Jesus. We all left the pastor and Earl alone in his bedroom for a while, and when the pastor finally came out, the family all wanted to know the answer to one question: ‘Had Earl accepted Jesus?’ I was watching the kids when it happened, so David had later told me that his father did accept Jesus that day. We were overjoyed.
It eventually came to pass that Earl could not speak at all. We wondered if he could even understand what we were saying. He would mumble things some times, and he could occasionally lift his finger to point at his water glass; but other than that, it seemed as if the end was very near. Every day the family would take turns sitting in the recliner in his bedroom, watching, waiting, to see if he would breathe his last breath. I tried as often as I could to sit by his side and watch his chest rise and fall very slowly. There were even times when he would stop breathing and I would think that was it. I would have to tell the family that Earl was gone. But after a minute, he would start breathing again, and I would wonder why he fought so hard to stay alive.
On one of the days that I was sitting by his bedside, I thought it was very quiet. There was a small radio, but what if he really could hear me? I turned and looked at him with his eyes closed. His face was so pale that it looked as if he was already dead. I touched his cheek and asked him, “Earl, do you want me to read you something?” His eyes fluttered for a moment, and he very slowly nodded his head ‘yes.’ I didn’t know what to read, I really didn’t think he would have answered me. So I went into my bedroom and grabbed my Bible. When I came back, I touched his hand to let him know I was there, “Earl, do you have a favorite passage?”.
“Psalms 23,” I heard him whisper in a dry, raspy voice.
I didn’t know the Bible that well, so I didn’t know off-hand what Psalms 23 was. I quickly opened my Bible, and found the tab that marked Psalms. I quickly found chapter 23 and scanned through it. After the first sentence, I knew what passage it was. Tears welled up in my eyes as I leaned down closer to his ear.
I could feel my throat tighten as the words came out of my mouth, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
I looked over at him, and thought I could see a hint of a smile. He had his eyes closed, and he was breathing slowly. I wondered if he had fallen asleep. Though he spoke no words, I could see his lips slowly mouth the words ‘thank you’. Fighting back tears, I stood up and stared what seemed like for hours at his face. Thousands of thoughts raced through my mind about how much I loved this man. I put my hand on his cold forehead and leaned down to kiss him. Slowly, I whispered, “I love you, Dad.”
Ovid Earl Stanley Sr. died two days later on May 14th, 2004 at 10:30pm. Those were the last words I ever spoke to him. I am grateful for the last moments we were able to spend together that he could actually understand what I was saying, and I’ll never forget them. I am even more grateful that I could make him smile one last time.