As many of you know, my Dad passed away December 22. Amy and I have been talking that we needed to update both of our blogs, but agreed, that the first post should be a tribute to our Dad. Amy updated her blog last night. She put our feelings into words so beautifully that I decided to just share with you what she posted on her blog. At the end of her post, I have added some videos of Dad. We will cherish all the sweet memories we have of him everyday. I was blessed to call him Dad for 28 years. He truly was the greatest Dad we could ask for.
Celebrating My Dad ~ Amy Cristina
I know that my posts are usually all things Aubrey and after a six week hiatus, it will still be a little while before she makes her debut again. This post is all about my sweet, precious, amazing father, Capt. Richard Holley, who passed away on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at the age of 64.
The last nearly ten years of Dad's life have been filled with one medical obstacle after another: intestinal blockage, triple bypass surgery, complications with diabetes-including the amputation of toes, and ultimately, his diagnosis of advanced liver cancer on May 28, 2011. Despite all these setbacks, my Dad never once wavered in his faith in the Lord and prayed without ceasing until the very end.
There's so much about him I miss--his bright smile, beautiful blue eyes, loving hugs, rambling voicemails, encouraging words, contagious laugh, crazy stories--just to name a few. But when those waves of sadness hit me, I give into them for a moment and then am reminded that I've only said goodbye to him for just a little while because of our shared faith in Christ, we'll one day be reunited forever in our eternal home.
I'm not going to lie, I think my Dad was pretty awesome--as a son, brother, husband, uncle, father, grandfather, friend, boat captain, magician, Sunday School teacher, comedian, and story teller--and any other hat he wore. He was the eternal optimist and had this uncanny ability to make friends with nearly everyone he met. He was never ashamed to tell you about the things he was passionate about, namely, Jesus Christ and conservative politics. He loved the Lord, his family, and his country.
I'm thankful that Paul, Aubrey and I already had a trip planned home for December 10-17 and I got to spend some precious time with him before his death. In the early morning of Friday, December 16, only hours after our family had gathered together in Mom & Dad's living room to celebrate Christmas, my mom called to tell me that Dad had stumbled and due to his increasing fluid retention, he could no longer bend his legs, making moving and walking a difficult task. Paul and I left Aubrey at Shane and April's and raced to Mom & Dad's. When we arrived, we were greeted by a dear family friend and an ambulance. He was admitted to the hospital and on Saturday we learned that Dad's kidneys were slowly shutting down and that there was some fluid building in his lungs. We made the decision as family to bring Dad home on hospice, but due to his swelling and some bleeding from a few places on his arms, that did not happen until Monday night and Dad came home to a full house--April, Madison, Aubrey and me were all there with Mom to welcome him home.
The two full days we had Dad home are still very much a blur, but our home was filled with love and laughter as friends and family came by to offer their love and support and spend time with him. While I will always believe Dad knew it was the end, being the strong and courageous (and sometimes very hardheaded) leader of our family, he continued to fight and encourage us until the very end. I'm so very thankful that Dad was still mentally 100% Dad even when his body was completely broken. He always knew when someone walked in the door, could call them by name, and was constantly checking on Madison and Aubrey, and as usual, kept us laughing and smiling and trusting in the Lord. He lead our family in prayer on Monday and Tuesday night, still praying for everyone else before he pleaded with the Lord for healing of himself. On Wednesday night, he was too weak to speak, but he held our hands as we prayed our nightly prayers over him.
For as long as April and I can remember, we've been told the story from Dad of how my Granny's final words to her father when he died were that she'd love if it he could just let her know he'd made it to Heaven okay and then how on the night before his funeral, she had a very vivid dream in which she heard very specific words that were repeated verbatim later that day by the pastor, a dream which she shared with no one until after his service was over. When Granny passed away in 2003, Dad was by her bedside, holding her hand in the family Bible as he read Scripture to her. We knew Granny's heart so while we didn't need any outward confirmation of her eternal fate, I know Dad was praying that the Lord would visibly present Himself as He welcomed Granny Home. While that didn't happen for Dad, it most definitely happened for us and I know that the den at 1104 Carolina Ave was truly holy ground as we witnessed the beginning of Dad's eternal life with his Savior He loved and served so faithfully. These words, taken from the beautiful and touching eulogy Paul gave at Dad's funeral, describe Dad's homecoming...
In the last night at home before he died, we held what turned into a worship service in the den, and each of his family around him bathed him in prayer--prayer that asked for healing and God's will. Who but a family of believers can ask the Lord to take their beloved husband and father if it be his will? How does a family get that faith--it has to be taught by a spiritual leader. It was taught by Richard. Richard passed away at 6:54 a.m. surrounded by his loved ones. We believe he waited long enough for Madison to awake that morning so that he could hear her words--Hey Baba--one more time. Just moments after she joined him at his side, Richard opened his eyes, looked upward, lifted his arms off the bed, and spoke the same words four time, each more clearly than the last: Hurry...
Then his breathing slowed to a stop, his heartbeat ceased, and he was gone.
We were fortunate to witness Richard peacefully leaving his earthly body, which was broken by disease, and joining his Savior in Heaven to receive the complete healing for which he prayed. How could anyone ask for a better ending to their life and testimony?
We spent Christmas morning looking at old home movies--the Holleys attempt at assemblying an above ground pool, birthday parties and Spring Break trips aboard the A.R. Holley, old magic shows performed by my Dad in area elementary school cafeterias, fishing trips with his high school classmates, and Dad's appearance on a local fishing show in the early 80s. It wasn't exactly how I imagined spending Aubrey's first Christmas, but it was perfect.
On Monday, December 26, we held Dad's visitation as the First Presbyterian Church of Lynn Haven, the church where he and Mom have faithfully served for over 30 years. We were humbled by the number of people who came, standing in the cold rain, as they waited to pay their respects to their friend and my father. His funeral service was on Tuesday, December 27, and we wanted it to be a celebration of his life and faithful service to the Lord. We wanted the Gospel Dad cherished and knew so well to be shared and we prayed for the Holy Spirit to do mighty things in the hearts of all in attendance.
I'll end this post with a few pictures that I could readily find of Dad through the years and with the closing words of his prayer that he prayed in his hospital room, with family and hospital staff gathered round, that once again gives witness to his faith in Christ Jesus:
Heavenly Father, above all, I want your will to be done. And if it is in your will for me not to beat this cancer, so be it. It just seems appropriate for me to stand beside you when we welcome Madison into Heaven's gates.
The early years...that's Dad sporting the sideburns in the white shirt on the far right, at the wheel on one of the Davis Queen Fleet party boats, and rocking me in the nursery while he was probably singing a song that he'd tweaked the words to to make them include "Amy Holley" somewhere in the lyrics!
Mid 2000s...Dad and me dancing at Mark and Rachel Jones' wedding (2003), with April and Dad before her wedding, and Mom and Dad walking down the aisle after April and Shane's wedding (2006).
2007-2011...Dad really wanted to be Paw Paw, but once Madison started talking, his name was Baba and he loved hearing her say it and relished every minute he got to spend with this sweet girl. These pictures include the first time he held her in the NICU, an Easter morning tradition of family pictures in front of the church's red doors, and lots of hugs, laughter, and playtime together.
Will, Ben, and Ella weren't his grandchildren by blood, but he loved them as if they were. Here's Ben and Ella with Dad, Christmas 2008.
And I couldn't leave out his granddog, Scout. She loved Dad for a number of reasons, perhaps some of the biggest being that she always got to ride shotgun in the truck, he gave her AMPLE amounts of table food, and that she could sit with him in the recliner, but only when Mimi wasn't around! ; )
These next few pictures are probably the most precious to me. When Aubrey was two weeks old, Mom and Dad flew out to Dallas to spend a week with us. It was towards the end of this trip that Dad started not feeling well and was just two weeks before his diagnosis. In classic Dad style, he changed the words around to a song so he could add Aubrey's name (or something close, in this case, Aubrina) to it. I'm sure that's what he was doing in the first picture below. The original song is from the 60s and is called "Corinna Corinna." Around here its called Aubrey's Song and we sing the chorus all the time, I mean, ALL THE TIME.
These pictures are from June, just after Dad started chemotherapy. I know I posted the family pictures once before, but thought they were worth including again. The one with Paul, Dad, and Shane still cracks me up. I can't remember what the conversation was but love how they're hamming it up for the camera.
I made another trip home in October and here's a few pictures I took from that visit.
I know that blog posts should not typically be this long, but when it comes to my sweet Daddy, I've got a lot to share. But what can I say, my gift of gab is something I'm so thankful to have inherited from him!
Dad seeing Aubrey for the first time.
Aubrey's first visit to Mimi and Baba's house.
Madison dancing to Baba's piano playing.
Dad singing to Aubrey.
This is our last video chat that we did with Dad.