On October 10, one of the strongest hurricanes in U.S. history roared through Middle Georgia after slamming the Florida panhandle. In its wake was my beautiful hometown, historic Vienna, Georgia. My parent’s home was left with holes in the rooftop, water damage and thousands of dollars’ worth of repair work but that didn’t matter to the Bryant family. We were weathering our own personal storm at the hospital as we were given the news that my dad’s battle with cancer was about to take a fatal hit. In a few short weeks, my superhero would be gone and life as I knew it would change forever.
Since the start of 2018, my dad has been fighting one ailment after another, and the weight of it has taken its toll. Watching my dad’s resolve as he pushed through body aches, pain and the reality that this round was going to be a tougher fight than ever before, left me with more jagged edges to my emotions. I needed to be strong for my dad, mom and sanity. I’m not sure how I processed all the fears, hurt and sadness that somehow got pushed down behind smiles and southern girl grit. I’m still reeling at how quickly we ended up in my dad’s final days. My father was first diagnosed with colon cancer in August 2014 when we were given the ‘all-clear’ that he was completely cancer-free and wouldn’t require chemotherapy or radiation. By May 2015, we were shocked to learn that the ‘all-clear’ was now Stage 4. From that moment, dad, my mom and our family geared up for a fight, and by 2016, the tumor markers were nearly nonexistent, and we enjoyed life on maintenance...for a while.
This rollercoaster has been one heck of a ride for our entire support system, and while we’re in shock at how quickly dad’s prognosis spiraled downward, my dad was preparing us for this moment. Thanksgiving 2017 was an epic gathering at my parent’s home. My dad insisted that all of his eight siblings come to his home for a four-day Thanksgiving throw down. He got more than he bargained for when his brothers and sisters, their children and their children’s kids showed up for what could only be described as divine. If you could roll up your feelings from your favorite holidays, favorite meal, first love, first kiss and most of all, feeling the Holy Spirit, then that’s what this moment was like. I still get chills just thinking about it. To see dad’s meticulous planning, attention to details and smile on his face when it came together, we knew that he was fully operating in the spirit.
I guess that’s what gives me peace in this ordeal. My dad was a wise man, and he always seemed to have a sixth sense about things. He was also a man of faith, and while he was praying to God for more time on this earth, he knew that Thanksgiving 2017 was possibly his last. This knowledge didn’t stop dad from teaching, something he did professionally for 34 years, and personally after his retirement in 2000. Even as I watched my father live out his final days, he continued to teach me how to live.
From the moment dad walked into his chemo appointment, he stole the hearts of healthcare providers with his smooth walk, quick-wit and ability to make everyone feel as though he had known them forever. Even when times got tough, and dad’s battle would land us in the hospital, he and my mom connected with the nurses, doctors, techs, food and custodial service providers. I would often visit his hospital room to find them giving out advice, sharing a history lesson (my dad’s specialty) or just listening. I’m an only child but I have more extended sisters and brothers through my dad’s sickness as a result.
When dad and I talked about how he felt about his cross to bear with cancer, he said that perhaps God’s purpose was bigger than him being taken care of. Maybe his purpose was to be that listening ear, father
figure or wise counsel to those he met. Even through his discomfort in the hospital, he was giving and serving others. A product of the Civil Rights Movement, my dad believed we were all called to live out a higher purpose, together as long as we practiced loving each other. He always joked that he could tell us how to do this thing called life the right way, but no one wanted to listen to an old man.
I beg to differ. I wish dad knew how many lives he touched. From the people who rearranged their schedules to fly to Georgia for a few hours to attend his Homegoing to the hundreds of students who reached out to let us know what my dad meant to their education and outlook on life, dad impacted more people than he could ever know. Moreover, he did it with integrity.
If I gain nothing else from 45 years with my superhero, it’s to be a woman of my word, live with integrity, treat everyone the same from the janitor to the CEO, and keep the faith. This sustained my dad for 73 years, and the works he did certainly spoke for him. I’m at peace because of my faith in God, but my heart is still broken. The first man I ever loved has said goodnight, but he lives on in those of us who know him. I am forever grateful that I was blessed with a dad like mine. He is now cancer-free. I'm thankful that he and Mom made sure I always knew where to seek refuge in the midst of a storm. Because of that, I can find joy. Until we meet again, dad.
The Jasper Bryant, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund was founded to honor the legacy that Dad left through his 34 years of creative and fun teaching style. Although he retired in 2000, his love of education and the students he impacted remained a focal point in his life. Dad had several philosophies about life but the one that struck his family the most was his desire to use every opportunity for a greater purpose in hopes that it would bless others. Thus, the scholarship fund became a reality. Please visit our Jasper Bryant, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund website to learn more about the first man I ever loved.