Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Obituary You Never Got

The Obituary

Tommy Jene O'Dell, 71, of Grand Prairie, Texas, passed away peacefully on October 22, 2015, at 12:11 a.m. at Baylor, Scott, and White Hospital in Irving, Texas. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in February of 2015, resulting in an eight month coma before his passing.

He was born on August 14, 1944, in Columbus, Mississippi, to James and Kathryn O'Dell. He was saved in March of 1960 and surrendered his life to ministry in September of that same year. He served in the United States Air Force from 1962 to 1966. After his time in the Air Force, he moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he met his wife Sandi. Bro. O'Dell was an old-fashioned preacher, singer, silly song writer, and musician. He loved his family, his preacher friends, missions and missionaries, thrift store shopping, Alabama football, Coca-cola with lots of ice, road trips, bargains, and telling jokes.

Tommy O'Dell is survived by his loving wife of 45 years, Sandra, and his children, Craig (Tammy) O'Dell, Kari (Clay) Hix, Julie (Jake) Turner, Jana (James) Beauleau, Ashlae (Florian) Kloes, and Adam (Stephanie) O'Dell. He had thirteen grandchildren that loved him and his silly songs and stories. He is also survived by his siblings Julia (Ron) Senechal, Michael (Deborah) O'Dell, along with his nephews and nieces.

Bro. O'Dell was a faith-filled pastor, evangelist, and missionary, dedicating his life to making Christ known. Through his life and ministry, churches were planted and lives were changed because of the gospel he shared. He was faithful until the very end. He will be missed.

The Rest of the Story

My dad was a fan of obituaries. He read them every morning over breakfast. If you ask him why he was reading the obituaries, he would say "To make sure I'm not dead yet".

I think his fascination with them came from his love of people in general. He liked to read about their lives and families. As a pastor, he liked he see what religion they were, and where their services would be held.

Over the last ten years, he had a handful of restaurants where he would go to read the newspaper, read his Bible, and have his breakfast. Sometimes he would come across something interesting in the obituaries and take a picture of it with his phone and text it to us. So it seems strange that he didn't get one. There was a death announcement in the local paper, containing the bare minimum of details. But no obituary. My brother was going to write it. Then I was going to write it. Then time passed, and I kept thinking that I would get to it. But it just felt too hard. How do you summarize the life of a person that meant so much in a few paragraphs? There will always be things that are left out. Stories that are untold. A man is more than his birth, education, jobs, and survivors. So this finishing of his obituary was hard but necessary. I needed to have it written.

But obviously, this isn't all there is. I could write all day and never quite get it right. But bear with me for a minute as I try to tell you who my dad was.

He was a servant of God. After church functions, he didn't wait for other people to start cleaning up or breaking down chairs and tables. He worked like he was the only one working, and sometimes he was. He was an early riser, heading out the door to head to the church before most people had gotten up. He studied God's Word in so much detail. His office was filled with books and resources. He put 2 Timothy 2:15 into practice. He was a teacher and a preacher and a shepherd.

He was creative. He was known for his "sermon songs", as he called them. He would take old country songs or other familiar tunes and put different words to them, telling Bible stories or talking about funny church situations. They were all humorous in nature, and people loved them. He would write poems that he used during his sermons or gave as gifts. When we were expecting our first baby, I returned the favor, writing him a silly poem to tell him that another grandbaby was on the way.

He loved his family. My dad wasn't the type to take his daughters on daddy-daughter dates. That just wasn't who he was. But he loved us in other ways. He poured into us his love of songs. He gave us the gift of music, a thing that has always brought us together. Many days after his accident, we stood beside his bedside, singing the hymns that he taught to us, giving back to him what he gave to us. As adults, he would give us AAA memberships for Christmas so that if we locked our keys in our cars, we would have someone to call. I was clearing out my email this week, and I came across numerous emails from my dad with moving quotes from trucking companies. When we were moving from Delaware back to Texas, he researched endlessly to get us the best prices. This wasn't something we asked him to do. He just did it because he cared. On the first Mother's Day after I had Jude, I went home for a visit, and he presented a mother and child diamond necklace to each of his daughters. I cried when I opened mine. My dad was generous in quiet ways, giving without recognition or announcement. Underneath a tough exterior, he was exceptionally compassionate. He didn't think twice about pulling large bills from his wallet when he came across someone with a need. He loved people in practical ways.

If you look at my dad's Facebook profile picture, he is standing with my brother and another church member, wearing a hazmat suit. He never publicly explained why he was wearing the suit, but let me tell you the story:

A elderly couple in my dad's church had bedbugs. They had been dealing with the bedbug infestation for years, but they had never been successful in getting rid of it. When my dad found out, he bounced into action. He made phone calls, sent emails, called local authorities, and spent weeks trying to figure out how to help this family. Eventually, he found a company in Houston, Texas that would help. He arranged to have the home covered with a tent and fumigated. He booked a hotel room for the couple so they would have a place to stay while their home was being taken care of. After the tenting, my 70-year-old dad went into the home and cleaned from top to bottom. Thus, the hazmat suit.

After he passed away, I was clearing files from his church computer, and I came across something that made me smile. He had actually typed out step-by-step instructions to give to the elderly couple, instructing them to take their potentially infested clothing and put it into a trash bag outside their hotel room door. He had given them new, bedbug-free clothing to change into. He then took their dirty clothing and washed it before returning it to them. So much effort for something that was not his responsibility. But he made it his. If you had a problem or a need, he would work to solve it or to meet it.

It has been a whole year since he passed away. It's still shocking and it still brings me to tears. Right after his death, his sister, my Aunt Judy, passed away. There was a big reunion in heaven that day.

I'm in no hurry for my life to be over. I like being a mommy to my babies and watching them grow. But I have to tell you that heaven sounds a little sweeter knowing my daddy is there. But until then, he lives on. In every family picture, in every "Roll Tide" we yell, and in every song we sing.

We love and miss you, Dad.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Taking and the Giving

The night my dad died my brakes went out on my car. I was driving home from being at the ER all day. I had left him peaceful and restful and very much alive, though still in a coma. But this was our normal, his silence, and it had been for eight months. There was traffic, and as I was driving across the ramp to transfer from one busy freeway to another, I pressed down onto my brake to slow down and nothing happened. Just my foot pressing the pedal all the way to the floor. I was not too far from home, so I managed to make it without incident by using my emergency brake.

I walked into my empty house, ran to the bathroom, and I took a pregnancy test. It may seem like an odd priority to a regular person, but to a woman who is desperate to have a baby, it is normal. When the test was negative, as it had been for several months in a row, I cried.

I don't usually kneel down when I pray. Maybe I should, but I just don't. But on this night, I fell onto my knees in desperation beside my couch. I cried and prayed and begged God to do something, to give us something. I was tired of months of what felt like nothing. My dad was still not awake, and I was still not pregnant. Both of these things felt equally heavy. Life is valuable, and I was feeling the heaviness of all of the life that was missing. My prayer wasn't pretty. Or even intelligible to the average person. Thinking about it now, it was probably a lot like Hannah praying in the temple for a son. I probably looked like I had too much to drink. But both Jake and Jude were still at church, and it was just me and God, so it didn't matter. I'm not sure how long I knelt there. I don't remember what I said exactly. I just needed God to move.

That night before I went to bed, I remembered to turn my phone ringer on. That morning I had given the ER staff my number as the primary contact person for my dad, and even though I was exhausted I had a moment of clarity in remembering that. I hadn't been asleep long when the hospital called. The nurse on the other end of the line thought the family should come back to the hospital. I have to admit that I wasn't really alarmed. We had done this before. I hoped that this night would have the same, that-was-a-close-call-but-ended-okay outcome as the other times had. I got up, got dressed, called as many family members as would answer the phone. No one was frantic. This was becoming a common thing.

But my sister called as I was getting off the interstate at the hospital exit. She had already arrived at the hospital, and my dad had already passed away. I had missed him by just a matter of minutes.

Exactly one month after my dad left this life, I got a positive pregnancy test. I had already taken several tests that were very, very negative. So this positive one left my head spinning. I couldn't believe that we were being given another baby. Not now. I was still deep in grief over my dad, and this? Well, this wasn't the way it was supposed to go. For several months before his accident, my dad had been asking us about another baby. We needed a girl, he said. Out of his thirteen grandkids, nine of them had been boys. That's a lot of testosterone. And the youngest of the four girl grandkids was already almost school age. He was waiting patiently for another grandbaby and hoping for a girl. He had already started scouring Craigslist for a suitable minivan for us. This is what he was good at, hunting down deals and bargains. This was one of the ways he loved us. So this happy pregnancy news was clouded by the sadness of the relationship between my dad and this baby that wouldn't be. Not in this world, anyway.

The night we found out that our girl was a girl, we had a family dinner. I opened up the box with a surprise pink outfit, revealing her girl-ness, and I cried. I loved the thought of another girl to balance out our family. I felt the generosity of God, giving us the thing we needed. But there was a tangible absence. There always is at family events now, and I really felt it that night. All of the sweet things are a little less sweet.

I don't know why God does things the way He does them. I mean, that's kind of an understatement. But when it comes to the life and death things, those feel hard to understand. We have moved and had weird job transitions and there have been uncomfortable times in life, but we have come back from those with a deeper faith, more confident of God's sovereignty and goodness. But death is a tough one to reason out. Even for those of us who firmly believe in heaven, death is still a huge loss, even if it's only for now. There is still grief. I don't know why my dad couldn't have had the miraculous recovery we all prayed for. There are people who get those kinds of stories, you know. But he didn't get the kind of healing we wanted. And with that, lots of future things have been taken from us. He won't get to meet her the day she comes into the world. He'll never put this baby on his knees and sing Shortening Bread, like he did with all of the other grandkids. So many things we have lost.

And I don't know why. But it's not really up to me to figure the why. God takes, and He gives. And all the things that He does are good. All are right, even when it doesn't feel like it. He is God, and I am not. And so I trust and trust and trust some more. I trust Him in the taking and the giving.


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