Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Great Man

Shortly after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, someone said, "A tree is best measured when it is down." The same can be said about a very important man in my life.

Lloyd Smith is my father-in-law. He is a gentle and humble man who is always in motion fixing this and doing that. I don't think there is anything that he could not fix with his hands. He has accomplished much in his lifetime. He has not amassed a huge fortune or become a prominent business man. Those are things the world counts as accomplishments. No, this man has accomplished what all of us wish to accomplish and that is a life led in courage and dignity.

He was hard worker all those years as he raised a family of five along with his wife, Eileen, at his side. Like every family, there were good times and bad, funny stories and sad tales. Camping was the family's main source of entertainment and Lloyd led them proudly into the woods for magical weekends of swimming, canoe trips, and warm summer nights spent by the crackling campfire. Memories, bolstered by family movies shot on the latest technological marvel, the home movie camera, flow freely at each family gathering. Laughter abounds at stories now told and you would think that these things just happened last week instead of many years ago.

Eileen, Lloyd's lifelong partner of over fifty years, died nearly five years ago. I cannot imagine what that must have felt like to him. During those sad days, I had the opportunity to witness this gracious man go through the funeral rites with dignity and integrity, surrounded by a loving family as his support. Over the years since Eileen's departure, Lloyd has grown older and in some ways a little weaker as we all do with the aging process. But one thing has remained: character.

Only a week ago, Lloyd reported that he had been experiencing shortness of breath. He thought it might be the flu or a cold. Certainly it could be nothing more drastic than pneumonia. Upon consulting with his doctor about the situation, Tom, his son and my brother-in-law, was instructed to get him to the ER to have this checked out. The doctor didn't seem to think it was much but did bear examination. This advice saved Lloyd's life.

Much to every one's surprise, it was discovered that Lloyd's heart had suffered damage from a heart attack that occurred some time ago. Then, only recently, another one had assaulted this vital organ. Lloyd was admitted to the hospital for further testing. The results of those tests were not encouraging.

Lloyd's heart had serious blockage and he was urged by doctors to have cardiac catheterization to see exactly what the problem was. This news was very frightening. You see, Lloyd had never been sick enough in his life to require hospitalization. He was always the caretaker, never the patient. He was frightened. As was typical with him, he gathered his family about him to discuss the options and possible outcomes. It was decided that there really was no decision in this matter. The procedure must be done.

Once again, the results were not what was hoped for. It was found that Lloyd's arteries in his heart were nearly all blocked. Bypass surgery was the only procedure recommended to correct this situation. If he would not have surgery, death was imminent. And so, not two hours after the cardiac cath test, Lloyd bravely bid his family good afternoon and was wheeled into surgery for what would be a nearly six hour procedure.

As evening descended, the family gathered in the waiting room. There was little talk of what was going on one floor above, but no one in the room had anything else of real consequence on their minds. After an exhausting wait, a call came from surgery that the procedure had ended. Lloyd's blockage was so severe that it required six grafts! This is, indeed, rare though not unheard of.

When the family was permitted to see him after surgery, Lloyd was found to be resting completely under the influence of anaesthesia and sedatives. A breathing tube kept his respiration's even and oxygen flowing into his wounded body. In a way it was hard to see this robust man laying in that bed with all the tubes and instruments tracking his every movement and bodily function.

As the week progressed, Lloyd has slowly come out of the fog of surgery. The breathing tube has been removed and he now rests more comfortably. Somewhat confused, he is beginning to communicate with visitors.

It struck me that after watching this amazing man for a week in a hospital bed, tied to monitors and machines geared to help in his recovery, that we could all take a lesson from him. He faced all of this with courage and determination even though he was scared. Who wouldn't be scared at the prospect of having your chest cut wide open and your heart brought back to life through delicate, complicated surgery? Yet, because Lloyd loves life to the fullest, he has chosen to fight the battle upon which he is now engaged. He has fought it with his deep abiding faith and the loving support of his family that is his lifeline. He has taught all of us who have witnessed this struggle that we must face our challenges head on with a sense of integrity and dignity that reflects our standing as a human being and a child of God.

No one knows for certain the outcome of all of this. The prognosis is very positive at this point, but none of us can be sure that we will wake up tomorrow morning. But the way Lloyd has fought this fight, the fight of his life, should teach us all of the very precious nature of life. We must take care of ourselves and each other with loving care, ignoring all the unimportant trivialities that afflict families at one time or another.

Lloyd Smith is a great man not because he is my father-in-law but because of the life he has led. It is a legacy of strength and determination guided by a deep faith, a lifelong partnership, and a family that provides the energy of his life. He is a true inspiration!