SHARON, S.C. — The doctor in the hospital July 6 looked across at Marshall McClain, so strong all his 61 years of life until the pancreatic cancer took it all. He said two words: "Days — maybe."
Marshall looked at his wife, Tracey, and the baby that was his whole life the past few months. The baby was named Alyssa but with a different last name than McClain on that day.
"Let's go home, Tracey," Marshall said.
Home is where they went, outside Sharon. Marshall McClain, truck driver, business owner, Vietnam War combat infantry veteran, father and husband and even a new grandfather, went home to die.
But there was a problem. As problems go, this was a biggie.
That baby who crawled on the floor to him at home, who days before had said "Daddy" for the first time, was not his.
Alyssa was a ward of the state. The adoption that Marshall and Tracey McClain, already with grown kids, had started for this baby was not complete. Marshall told family, friends, all, that all he wanted in his life before it ended was for the adoption of Alyssa to go through. For her to have a family forever.
But adoptions require courts and judges and lawyers and time.
Marshall McClain had no time.
Lesions on his liver had erupted. Hospice was called in.
"I called Dale and told him that we were looking at days, maybe hours," said Tracey McClain, who runs that trucking business with her husband. Tracey had seen that little congested, sick baby all those months before at church and agreed to take her home to care for her for a few days.
"Dale" is Dale Dove, the family's lawyer and an expert in adoptions who has such a reputation in his field that he has been honored at the White House for his dedication to finding parents for babies. Dove was on vacation. He stopped it immediately and came home.
After Tracey and Marshall McClain found out that little Alyssa had been in several foster homes since her birth in August 2010, they gave Alyssa refuge. The days at the McClains turned weeks and weeks into months for Alyssa. The Department of Social Services visited and inspected as Tracey balanced work and a baby.
The cancer-ridden Marshall doted on this baby, changing diapers, feeding her and getting up in the night when she was sick. The first step of an adoption - the birth mother terminating her parental rights to tiny Alyssa - happened a few weeks before.
Church friends threw a baby shower. Marshall, between hospital visits, changed diapers and loved Alyssa with all his waning strength.
But the father had not given up parental rights.
Dove, the lawyer who rushed home, found that father.
"He was in jail," said Dove, who talks in short, powerful, declarative sentences when it comes to the future of a baby. Dove's law practice is dedicated to one thing: Finding parents for kids who need them. He had found parents and he was not going to let them down.
By Saturday morning, July 9, Dove was at the Moss Justice Center in York, talking to the father about terminating parental rights. The father said he would think about it, as the clock ticked on Marshall McClain's bedroom wall, where he sat in the recliner.
Tracey McClain heard from Dove that the father would not terminate his rights. She cried. She wrote to the birth father about how much Marshall, who was dying, loved baby Alyssa.
"I wrote him a letter telling him who we were and how much we loved the baby and would care for her forever," Tracey said.
The birth father consented over the weekend, and Dove was called by jailers. Dove set up the proper procedures. With jailers as witnesses, affidavits were signed - all those things that are required were done in jail.
Dove called the Family Court in Rock Hill to request an adoption hearing. A hearing, with testimony and presentation before a judge, is required for an adoption.
"They said they could get us in at 1:45 in the afternoon," Dove said. "Nobody knew if Marshall would make it."
By Monday morning, Tracey was up long before dawn. She took care of the baby, with help around the house from daughter Danielle Susigan, 23, and son-in-law, Kevin Susigan. The couple, who had pushed up their wedding so Marshall could see it, are both college students. They live at the house, too.
"I told Marshall it was court day," Tracey said. "I started making up the bed and looked at him in that recliner. But there was no way he could go to court.
"I didn't want to leave Marshall, but he wanted this so badly I had to leave," Tracey said. "I had to go for him."
The phone rang and the court had found an earlier opening, at 11 a.m. Tracey McClain rushed into nice clothes and brushed on some make-up and kissed her husband goodbye and told him she loved him before rushing to Rock Hill with the baby. Danielle and Kevin remained with Marshall.
Dove found out about the earlier hearing time while pumping gas in blue jeans. He rushed to put on a suit. His secretary rushed to court with the file.
Court started at 11:09 a.m. Monday, Judge David Guyton presiding. Guyton is not just some judge, either. He is an adoptive parent. Adoptions are not court for Guyton: Adoptions are giving a second chance to kids who deserve that chance.
But rules are rules and the testimony began, with Tracey McClain having to answer about the home and how the baby would be cared for. Testimony came from state inspectors who declared that Tracey and Marshall McClain loved Alyssa and were fitting parents. Tracey was asked what name they wanted on a birth certificate and she said, "Alyssa Nicole McClain."
The birth certificate was stated, in the record, to have listed Tracey McClain as mother, and Marshall McClain as father.
The courtroom was asked if anyone objected to the adoption.
Nobody objected, and Guyton, a judge and father, a man of the law and a man of the heart, declared the adoption legal. A clerk rushed to the clock that stamps documents into official court records forever. For this adoption to be legal, both parents had to be alive.
The time was 11:50 a.m., July 11, 2011.
Back between York and Sharon, at the McClain house, the hospice nurse and Danielle and Kevin were in the room with Marshall when the phone rang.
"She's ours!" Tracey called into that phone as she raced to get back home to see her husband. "Tell him. Tell him we made it. Tell him I love him, and I am on my way!"
Danielle and Kevin leaned over to Marshall in that recliner. He had been in so much pain that he had trouble breathing. His chest bobbed with shallow breaths.
"It's final, daddy," Danielle whispered into her father's ear. "You are a father again."
Marshall McClain, with a 37-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old daughter, officially found out he had an 11-month-old daughter, too.
Marshall's face was serene and calm.
"A peace came over him," said son-in-law Kevin.
Marshall's lips formed the tiniest of smiles. He took three short breaths, and exhaled a deep sigh.
And then Marshall McClain died.
It was 11:53 a.m.
Inside that family and that court filled with people, there is no doubt that Marshall McClain, tough truck driver, Vietnam War combat veteran with 60 missions behind enemy lines, but most of all a husband and father, had willed himself to live until the adoption was official.
Some involved in the case of finding a permanent home for baby Alyssa, such as Dale Dove the lawyer and David Guyton the judge, have several words to describe Marshall McClain and his wife Tracey, and this whole family: "Resolve" is used. "Commitment" is used. "Love" is used more than any other word.
"I have never been more proud to help a family," said Dove, who has helped hundreds of families.
"All adoptions are wonderful but this — this adoption passes wonder," said Guyton.
The McClains use one word above all others: God.
This family says God is the explanation that can somehow tie together the science and biology of an awful cancer; the complexities of the law and adoptions; the timing in minutes during lives that run decades; and above all, the sheer will of a loving, human heart.
"Marshall wanted more than anything to make sure that Alyssa had parents, a mother and a father," said Tracey McClain, now a widow, who has to go on with her life.
Because she is a mother, Tracey McClain will go on.
"My husband spent the last weeks of his life worried about Alyssa. She became our daughter, because she needs us, and only then could he die and go to heaven. My husband did what he said he would do — be this little girl's daddy before God took him home."
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find more news and analysis from The Trucker, and share your thoughts, on Facebook.