May Be The Last
lost my father in 1989 to a fatal car accident. I arrived at the
scene of the crash shortly after it happened. I was an EMT (Emergency
Medical Technician) then and was on duty the day it happened.
The last time I saw my father alive he was standing in our driveway,
waving goodbye as I backed out onto the road, heading to work
on that warm, muggy May Mississippi Delta morning.
Looking back, there was something different in his eyes that morning.
There was a spark, a twinkle that accented his smile and silver
hair. His blue eyes radiated a peaceful, soothing feeling as he
waved goodbye. He stood waving until I rounded the corner, out
of sight. This vision is burned into my memory.
My shift was into the third hour that morning, and my unit was
sent to an emergency call to the north end of the county. My fathers
crash happened shortly after that, just west of town. While I
was en route, the supervisor took the call at the base and made
a quick decision, thankfully, to continue my unit onward north,
deciding not to turn us around to respond to the crash. I was
barely far enough away to not respond the quickest. A second unit
was dispatched to the crash scene.
After I arrived back to the hospital, the ER was in shambles.
All hell was breaking loose due to the other victims who were
brought in from the wreck. Through the chaos, another call came
in from the coroner at the scene of the accident.
Can you send a unit to this MVA? [motor vehicle accident]
I need assistance with transport. Normally, ambulances do
not transport fatality victims. Coroners have their own vehicles
for transport, but on this day, his was out of service for repair.
My partner and I jumped into the ambulance and sped west toward
my fathers crash scene. When we arrived I saw an unrecognizable
car lying belly-up in the ditch. Lights flashed wildly from the
idling fire trucks, highway patrol cars, and other rescue vehicles
that were parked randomly alongside the highway. The highway was
closed to through traffic. Skid marks crisscrossed the hot pavement
that reeked with the smell of oily automotive fluids and burned
rubber. Shatters of glass were scattered everywhere like fresh
I stepped down from the drivers seat of my ambulance, and
every rescuer on the scene stopped working, stood motionless,
and glared at me. Living in a small town, we all knew each other,
but something was wrong. I saw it in their eyes and in their frozen
stares and felt it in my belly.
I tried to ignore the black-hole feeling in my gut. Maybe they
were looking at me like that because I parked the ambulance in
the wrong place or something. It was not normal for ambulances
to do what we were being asked to do, and that in itself was awkward.
But my partner and I started toward the upside-down car anyway.
Vernon, the coroner, was the only person to move. He stepped quickly
toward me and intercepted my path. He was a tall and thin and
polite white-haired man, the typical southern gentleman. Every
word he said had integrity. He spoke soft, with a longer drawl
than most others. Hes known me all my life and knew my father
even longer. He stood erect, positioning himself between me and
He called us out here so he was about to fill us in, I thought.
He removed his white cowboy hat from his head and held it over
his chest. He let out a long deep breath. He looked at the ground,
then back up to me. He paused a second longer, then asked, Lance,
arent you T. D.s son?
Yes sir, I told him, puzzled why he asked such a question.
I thought maybe being a Smith among the many Smiths in the world,
he could have easily confused the lineage.
Uh, yes, sir, I commented again before he spoke. You
know my dad; he retired from South Central...
He interrupted, Lance, Im so sorry.
Thats okay, I told him, thinking he was apologizing
for not connecting me to my dad.
Lance, his voice was stern and dead serious as he
looked into my eyes, I am sorry, Lance. Your dad, T.D.,
was a passenger in this wreck and he didnt make it.
What? What was he saying? I needed proof! He had this all wrong.
I just saw my dad a few hours ago, full of life, waving and smiling.
The evidence of the violent force that took his life felt so unnatural,
cruel, and merciless. I leaned up on my toes to look over Vernon,
for some verification at the wreckage. But he placed his hands
on my shoulders as if to lower me back down on my heels. My next
impulse was to shove past him, climb through the blown out windows
of the car and see for myself. But his sympathetic touch almost
made my knees buckle. He and all of the rescuers did not want
me here, seeing this, not like this.
I took a deep breath. Then, my wall of denial broke down and a
storm of emotions raged in the distance. Each of the rescuers
left their positions and walked up the embankment toward me. The
only sounds were the rumble of the diesel motor of the fire engine
and the searing noises of the invisible grasshoppers underneath
the tall weeds. All of the rescuers removed their helmets and
placed a hand on my shoulder as they walked by. Some shook their
heads from side to side and most of them looked down, not saying
a word. A few of them, barely audible, could only say, Im
sorry, so sorry.
As I stood there, I felt my fathers spirit. He was one of
the only few real men Ive ever known. Still wanting to make
him proud of me, I held back the tears. But I hurt deeply like
I have never hurt before. This was the moment that the vision
of him waving goodbye to me from the driveway seared into my mind.
It was his last goodbye to me and deep down I think he knew. His
goodbye is very clear to me, still to this day.
Vernon led me to his car. We left the scene and he drove me home.
The following days were a blur.
Looking back, I think somehow my father knew that humid, May morning
was our last together. It was his time to return home. His wave
was different, his smile more loving, his blue eyes, brighter.
I wish I had slowed down that morning long enough to hug him and
tell him, I love you.
Now, being a father myself, there are days and holidays I miss
him dearly. I wish he could have had the chance to see his grandchildren.
They both have his blue eyes.
As emotional and surreal as that day was in May, it left me with
a positive, life-changing lesson. Each mundane morning as my wife
and I head off in different directions to work, and my kids off
to school, we say goodbye. But I instinctively hug them and make
sure the last thing I say to them is, I love you.
I never know when this morning may be the last.
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to
live forever. Gandhi
Smith was born and raised in the heart of the Mississippi
Delta. He writes an inspirational column published weekly in the
South Cheatham Advocate newspaper. Music has always been
a part of Lance's life. He moved to Nashville in 1998 and began
a songwriting career. He continues to write fiction and nonfiction