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Ford Fairchild/Shutterstock Sara Evans
"My brother Matt called me and said it wasn't looking good at all and that they didn't think Dad was going to make it through the night," Evans, 49, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview about the fateful phone call she received on Nov. 23. "Then I just started freaking out, got in my car and drove around and screamed and begged God not to take him yet."
Evans' father died in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Nov. 24. He was 75 years old.
"It was never not fun to be with him and hang out with him," says Evans of the man who spent much of his life working a number of jobs, from farmer to a sales rep at a printing company. "He had such a quick wit. He loved the simple things in life. And he was absolutely gorgeous."
"That was the thing that everybody would talk about when I was growing up. 'Oh my gosh, your dad is so handsome and so cute,'" she adds. "I was always so proud of him not just for his heart and his brain and how he loved us, but I was always like, 'Yeah, my dad is handsome.'"
Evans' handsome father also had a pivotal impact on her career, especially as he was the one who drove the country music songbird to Nashville for the first time in 1991.
"He not only taught me how to sing, but he also taught me how to sing harmony," recalls Evans, who performed alongside her siblings in the family band during much of her childhood. "He was so proud of all of us and our music."
But in 2017, Evans' father began showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and the very next year, he entered an assisted living home in Dallas, Texas. In recent years, Evans' father dealt with his share of medical setbacks, as he also was suffering from diabetes. But in the last few months, Evans noticed that her father's Alzheimer's disease had begun to decline quickly.
But Evans didn't worry. He always seemed to bounce back — except for this time.
"We didn't have a lot of warning," remembers Evans, whose now 21-year old son Avery Jack was named after her dad. "My stepmother texted us all on Saturday night the 21st and said my dad was not looking well. They thought that somebody might have COVID-19. They did mass testing throughout the whole facility. He didn't have COVID-19 so that wasn't it, but they think he might have gotten pneumonia."
Courtesy Sara Evans
And in that moment, Evans says she felt nothing short of helpless. Because in that moment, Evans was not the country music superstar with the No. 1 hits. Instead, she quickly became one of the thousands of people who have been unable to spend time with their loved ones in their final hours due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
"We had been planning on going back to see him this year and then COVID-19 restrictions happened," Evans recalls. "That is another thing that tore me up and tears me up and is tearing me up. And it's brutal. My stepmother was not able to see him much at all for the last three or four months and I think that definitely sped up his decline, for sure."
Evans' anger over the entire situation can't be understated.
"It is cruel, and it is inhumane," Evans says emphatically. "These patients are sitting there, and they need that personal touch and that personal connection and people who will touch them and treat them like only a spouse or a relative or a child would do, not a paid caregiver." She pauses, then adds, "[His caregivers] were great with him. It wasn't their fault. It's just not the same."
Evans is also realizing that losing one's own parent radiates a pain through one's heart like no other.
"You are never ready for it," says Evans, who says she is being "held up" emotionally at the moment by her entire family, including husband Jay Barker. "It just doesn't feel right at all. You prepare for your parents to go before you, but then when it happens, it's just awful. It's sickening. I'm just letting the grief do whatever it wants. It can be very scary at moments. My way of grieving is, I mean, I'm a crier, but I also scream. I just want to scream because I'm so angry. I guess it's just part of it."
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As detailed in her memoir Born to Fly, which was released back in September, Evans was just 12 years old when her parents got a divorce, complicating what had been, to that point, a sweet and strong relationship.
"When you have that situation where you don't get to live in the house with your dad and you don't get to see him all the time like normal kids who grow up with their dads, it's even more of a pain and a hole in our hearts," explains Evans, who hit the No. 1 spot on the iTunes Country chart earlier this year with her album Copy That. "We always wanted more time with him, a longer weekend or a longer visit with him in Dallas."
"We all just loved him," she adds. "We all just craved his attention and his approval and his laughter. If we could make him laugh, that was awesome.”
Jack Evans also taught his children to be strong, and that's exactly what they are doing right now. After a brief service in Dallas over Zoom, the family is currently planning to hold a memorial service for their father over the upcoming holidays in their home state of Missouri.
And yes, it is this service that will, in fact, be filled with music.
"He was always singing and dancing and playing drums and he absolutely loved music," Evans says quietly. "Yesterday I put on a Lionel Richie record and for some reason that just reminded me of my dad. And that made me cry a lot. Because that's exactly the kind of music that my dad loved."