In the dark early morning hours, I woke to Dan’s heavy breathing. It was irregular and, thinking he was having a nightmare, I reached out with my eyes still closed. “It’s just nightmare, hon.” I shook him. “It’s okay.” A few seconds later, more awake, I realized this was not nightmare breathing. It was something very different. I jumped out of bed, flipped on the overhead light and could see instantly, Dan was not okay.
I immediately became like two people. Part of me went into response mode, giving directions to my older kids who had heard me call out to Dan. “Nick, call 911. Seth, run down and get Mr. Gillespie. Rachel, take Matt and Annalise upstairs.” The other part was actually watching the scene take place and thinking, surely there is no way I am giving CPR to my high school sweetheart, the man I just kissed goodnight.
The 911 operator walked us through CPR and I got about two rounds in when I had to stop to take a pulse. I couldn’t find one but pressed on trying to hope it was just my lack of skill. Between chest compressions, I told Dan over and over that we loved him. I wondered whether he could hear me. Within minutes, the paramedics arrived and I thought surely now, Dan was in good hands and all would be alright. I paced the living room, praying out loud and begging God for mercy. After answering routine questions from a police officer, the paramedics transported Dan to the nearest hospital.
I ran upstairs to tell the kids I was going to the hospital. I will never, ever forget seeing them huddled together on the floor of the boys’ room, sobbing. How I wanted to reassure them that I would be bringing Daddy back home! But I could only say that I would be back soon. We prayed quickly and I left. It was about 4:30 a.m.
Every single minute of that morning is etched in my memory. I knew when I entered the ER waiting room that it was not good. It was very quiet and they asked me to wait. Then they showed me into “that room.” The few times I’d been in the ER, I’d watched families go into that room and leave crying. So I pretty much knew even before the doctor came in to talk. He did come in and gently told me they had worked on Dan for more than an hour and could not revive him.
It’s difficult to even describe what life felt like. I felt like someone had suddenly ripped off one entire side of my body and left me with raw, dangling threads. Our life — tomorrow’s plans, next week’s list, our comfortable routine with the seven children we were raising — was shattered and would never be again. My four-year-old would grow up without her daddy. What about my littlest boy who would have no more Saturday trips to the hardware store or rides to the rental house in Dad’s truck? I hated that my kids’ lives were split wide open with such gut-wrenching grief.
I had cried out for mercy. God had not spared Dan. I headed home to tell seven children their dad would never come home again.