“The 4th of July has always been a big deal in my family. Whether it was going down to the small town of Milo, Iowa to celebrate or going out to my Uncle Jim’s big party, we always had fun. In more recent years, we started a new tradition with my dad. Driving his prized Farmall tractors in the small-town parades around us. Man, oh man did his eyes light up when we were all ready to go on those gorgeous red tractors.
My dad poured his blood, sweat, and tears into restoring these things and had a big shop full of them. It is one of my favorite memories. Driving down the highway, with the wind blowing in my face as I sat on top of this huge piece of machinery gave me a feeling that is hard to describe. My dad was always the one leading us, and I was excited to follow in his footsteps. Here we came, the Tom Bowlin Farmall Gang. It was awesome.
On January 1, 2018, our lives were changed forever. My son and I took my mom and dad to an Iowa State University Men’s Basketball game. We got settled into our seats and waited for the game to start. I was on one end, my dad on the other. I felt this feeling come over me and I got up and went and stood by my dad. I remember my mom asking me what I was doing, and I said, I don’t know, I just want to stand by dad. A few minutes later, I see his cell phone drop from his hand and his head go back with his body shaking. For a split second, I thought it was a joke. He was quite the prankster; I love that I inherited that from him. I quickly realized, however, that this was no joke. I screamed for someone to call 911 and within a matter of seconds, there was a swarm of people around us. It is all kind of a blur, but I remember it kind of being like an out of body experience. I was screaming and holding my dad’s face, begging for him to wake up. My mom was kind of numb, crying and not knowing what to do. My poor son, who was 9 at the time looked lost. I remember a gentleman, who we later found out was an off-duty police officer, rushing down and holding my dad’s head. I remember he put his fingers in my dad’s mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue. I told him my dad wasn’t breathing and he assured me that he still was. I stepped aside and called my younger sister. I was in full on panic mode at that point. As I was on the phone with her, I remember the officer yelling that they needed to get him from his seat to the floor. At that moment, I knew my dad had stopped breathing. At that moment, my world stopped turning. I hung up the phone and ran back over to where he was. There were so many people around us at that point and I had never been more afraid in my entire life. I saw my dad lying on the ground with people starting to work on him. By work on him, I mean they started administering CPR. I screamed and called my sister back. All I could say through sobs was that dad wasn’t breathing and they were doing CPR. My mom stood by me, crying and holding her face in her hands. She had her back turned so that she couldn’t see my dad. At some point, two angels on earth too my son, who was crying and scared, down to the level below us to try to watch the game. I will never forget them for doing that. Although what he did see was very traumatic, they shielded him from the worst of it. My son and dad had an unshakable bond. My dad was my son’s steady father figure. With his own dad not being a part of his life, Grandpa was the one he looked up to the most in that aspect. Losing him was a heavy, heavy loss for his little 9-year-old self.
So, there I was, holding my mom, bawling, and talking on the phone to my sister. All while I was watching my dad’s stomach go up and down with so many people trying to bring him back to life. As they got him on the stretcher, someone brought Waylon back up to us and we followed them down the hallways of Hilton Coliseum. There were SO many people and they all just seemed to stand still. You know those movie scenes where the main character is running but everyone else around them is a blur, standing still? That’s what it felt like as we chased the stretcher to the ambulance. Our car was about a mile away, so we hopped in with a police officer who took us to the hospital. It felt like the longest wait of our lives. One by one, my 5 siblings and their spouses started showing up. They eventually led us to a private family room in the back of the ER where they brought us a tray of cookies and water. My sister, who is a nurse, said ‘That’s the sympathy tray.’ We still hadn’t heard any news on dad. Finally, a doctor came in and shared that they were able to get his heartbeat back but that he had gone without breathing on his own for over 30 minutes. He was on life support.
My dad was on life support. Those words punched me right in the gut. I was only 32. My dad was one of my best friends. I was his mini-me. How would I ever move on in life without him? We went back to see him in the room before they transferred him down to another hospital that was better equipped to care for him. I got a ride back to my car at ISU then drove by myself to the other hospital. That 35-minute drive was a blur. I called my best friend and just sobbed to her. How could it be? I didn’t understand what was happening. In a literal second, life as we knew it was over. I had this gut feeling that my dad wasn’t going to pull through this. I saw him collapse. I saw how long they did CPR. I saw his life slip away in an instant. I remember looking into his eyes at the game just asking if he could hear me. I had a hand on each of his cheeks and I was begging, through tears, for him to come back and to answer me. I knew he was gone.
We arrived at the hospital to see a waiting room full of my dad’s 4 siblings. He was transferred up to the ICU, where my sister happened to be a nurse. We received amazing support and my dad got the best care in the world. He was on life support for a week before we had to make the decision to let him go. They ran every test and did everything they possibly could to bring him back, but he was gone. My siblings, mom, and I all sat around as they took him off the vent. We sat there for hours, talking to him, sharing stories, loving on him. We watched him slowly slip away until we heard that dreaded beep that meant his heart had finally stopped. We all sat kind of quiet. Tears and muffled sobs were the only thing breaking that silence. One by one, we said our goodbyes. I couldn’t seem to let go of his hand. My mom essentially had to break my hand free. Walking out of that room was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It had been a week filled with hope, tears, and a lot of visitors. We found out pretty quickly just how loved dad was. I didn’t want to leave him, but I knew we had to.
The last year and a half without my dad has been rough. We are all learning how to live without him. I look back on that night and block a lot of it out, but I think often about those people that quickly jumped to action. The doctor who was a few rows behind us, the off-duty police officer who was a few rows behind her, those sweet ladies that took Waylon, the paramedics who worked tirelessly to bring him back. They worked for over 30 minutes to get his heartbeat back. That’s unheard of. Most people would have given up at that point. Because of ALL of them, my siblings, my mom, myself, my huge family, and dad’s friends were all able to come and say their goodbyes. Because of them, I didn’t have to call and say, ‘Dad died.’ Instead, I called and said come to the hospital, he is on life support. I will be eternally grateful for them. Our first responders are often under appreciated. They have such a tough and selfless job. There were many people involved in trying to save my dad’s life and I wish the outcome would have been different, but I know that it was all a part of God’s plan. They are all still heroes in my book. Losing my dad has taught me to genuinely appreciate life. We truly aren’t promised tomorrow so I try to live my life the best that I can by showing people love, living out my passions, and enjoying as much as this world has to offer with my son, my family, and my friends. I have a new outlook on life and I am anxiously awaiting the day when I can give my dad a big ol’ hug again.”
Provide beauty and strength for others. SHARE this story on Facebook with your friends and family.