Two of my friends recently received a call from their mother with news no one wants to hear: their father’s health is rapidly declining as he battles end-stage liver disease.Steve Torbeck’s weakened condition and the risks of contracting the COVID-19 virus don’t allow him to receive visitors. The fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic has also complicated his prospects of receiving a long-sought liver transplant.
Knowing their chances of again seeing their beloved father in person may be fading, Lauren Yanike and her sister, Jordan Tippett, hatched a plan.
Early Sunday morning, the sisters separately loaded their families into minivans to make the more than 150-mile, three-hour dash from Carroll County to their mom and dad’s home on the Potomac River in Virginia.
Lauren joined her husband, Anders, and their three children on the drive from Taneytown, where they are parishioners of St. Joseph.
Jordan, director of religious education at St. John in Westminster, traveled from New Windsor with her four children.
“When we arrived, we piled out of the car and I ran to the door — my hand covered with a sanitizing wipe — and pushed the doorbell,” Jordan said.
Jordan then stepped back 10 feet, joining other family members on her parents’ front lawn.
When Steve answered the door, he was greeted by both his daughters, his son-in-law and all seven grandchildren, all of whom silently held home-made signs with messages such as “We love you” and “U R MY HERO.”
Steve’s loved ones then spent 30 minutes joyfully giving him “air hugs” and singing songs such as “Did You Ever Know That You’re My Hero?” and “You Are My Sunshine.” Juliette Tippett, one of his granddaughters, even serenaded her grandfather while strumming a ukulele.
“We all cried big, floppy tears and sang with broken voices to try and tell him how much he was adored,” Jordan remembered.
Sarah, Steve’s wife, said she and her husband were speechless at first and couldn’t contain their tears. She got a chair so Steve could sit in the doorway and enjoy the surprise concert while still in his pajamas.
“When I saw the people I loved the most standing in the front yard with signs of love and support, I thought, ‘God knew that this was exactly what I needed,’” said Steve, a retired lieutenant in the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
Sarah noted that although her husband has been ill for a long time, the last few months have been especially difficult. Her husband has cryptogenic cirrhosis, which means the cause of his liver failure is unknown. It’s not from alcohol, drugs, disease or metabolic disorders. She was overjoyed at her loved ones’ gesture of love.
“It felt like the ambassadors of mercy, who also happened to be our family, from the Archdiocese of Baltimore traveled to the furthest outposts of the Arlington Diocese to bring us comfort and some much-needed consolation,” said Sarah, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Colonial Beach, Va.
Given the order that came today from Gov. Larry Hogan for Marylanders to shelter in place, Lauren and Jordan see the timing of their visit as providential. Had they waited any longer, they would not have been able to see their dad in person.
“In the midst of this pandemic, and in the midst of my dad fighting for his life every day, we wanted to do something, anything, to lift his spirits and show him our love,” Lauren said. “And really, all that matters in difficult times is God, each other and family.”
Lauren, whose son, Eli (my godson), is dealing with his own health challenges living with acute flaccid myelitis, the mysterious polio-like condition that has afflicted children around the country, said she and her family members are hopeful her father will receive a life-saving liver transplant.
“We’ve been praying for a miracle to his favorite saint, St. Philomena,” she said. “We trust in God’s perfect plan.”
Please keep families like the Torbecks in your prayers. The coronavirus pandemic is touching lives in so many ways that we are only beginning to realize.