January 2010 Column Winner

You can never have too much love...

Jeff Mullin, Enid News & Eagle
January 29, 2010

He was dying, that much was obvious.

His breathing was labored, his face drawn, his skin bearing the yellow stain of jaundice.

His liver had been gradually shutting down for months, the result of hepatitis C, hence the jaundice.

He had just been approved for the liver transplant list at an Oklahoma City hospital.

Then his kidneys failed. His body was systematically shutting down. He was transported by helicopter to an Oklahoma City hospital, where his family was quickly assembling. A veteran doctor would later remark it was the largest such family gathering in all his years at this institution.

We gathered at his bedside in the hospital's intensive care unit, summoned by a frantic phone call. He was critical, we were told, and if we wanted to say goodbye we needed to come right away. We weren't sure he would make it until we arrived, but he did.

I had known him for more than 35 years, though I didn't come unto the family until he was a teenager. He was my bride's oldest sister's oldest son, the first boy in the family. His birth prompted my bride to celebrate with a banana split.

And now he was dying. We knew his liver would eventually fail, but we held out hope for a transplant. But viable, compatible organs are scarce. Every day in this country 16 people die waiting for an organ trans-plant. We knew the odds were not in his favor, but we held out hope. We did so largely because he himself was so hopeful.

I met him during a particularly difficult period in his life. The family had moved and his new school wouldn't admit him with his hair down to his shoulders. He wouldn't cut his hair, and thus dropped out of school. His parents were angry and frustrated, but he stood firm.

He was not perfect, he would be the first to admit it. He certainly had his moments of dangerous and self-destructive behavior. But in recent years he left that old life far behind.

"The person I used to be is dead," he told his brother by phone during an emergency hospitalization just before Christmas, "I'm a new person now."

And he was. His Christian faith was deep, abiding and evident. He was not afraid to share his beliefs. In fact he vowed when he got his new liver and recovered, he was going to share his testimony throughout the region.

But now he was dying, hooked up to monitors and IVs, in pain, his body filling with toxins, the urine gathering in the bag attached to his catheter the color and consistency of new motor oil.

He and his wife of 28 years raised five children. Recently they had adopted four of their grandchildren. Two things could make his face light up, even in his darkest hours — his family and the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was getting late and it was well past the children's bedtime. One by one they approached his bed to kiss him goodnight. But the bed was high, and they are small. I picked one of the children up and held him over the bed.

"Give Daddy a hug and a love," I said.

He accepted the child's kiss and embrace, and sighed a shuddering breath.

"You can never have too much love," he said as he lay back and closed his eyes. "That's for sure."

His was not a perfect life, nor privileged nor easy, but it was filled with love.

They transported him by ambu-lance the next day, so he could die at home, surrounded by his family. In the early morning hours of the next day, he did just that. He was 51.

We will bury him Saturday. The family will gather and hug and cry and eat and reminisce. And, above all, we will share love.

Because after all, you can never have too much love.