It’s funny – in the midst of arguments with family or friends, you always think you have all the time in the world for resolution. You never consciously consider that someone could pass away at any given moment. I lost my dad in such a manner and the pain and consequences of his death will haunt me for the rest of my life.
It all started on a Wednesday afternoon. I was at work when my cell phone rang – I froze. God I hated that! It had become my natural reaction every single god-damned time. I looked down at the screen and saw the word “Dad” flashing. I picked up, “Hey, Dad.”
“Hey, honey. I’m going in for a surgery tomorrow. Nothing to worry about, just routine to check a couple things out with my heart.” he said. I remember feeling a small sense of progress. I hadn’t spoken with my parents hardly at all since the family “incident”. After so little communication, I felt like he was actually making an attempt to open up communication and rebuild something with me. I felt a little bit of hope and I think I even started to smile. He continued, “Can you tell your nephew that we can’t pick him up from work today and to see if he can get ride home from someone else?” And there it was – this wasn’t about me at all. My nephew worked with me and this phone call was about him. My heart fell, my throat choked. How many hits can one woman take?
“Sure, Dad, I will let him know.” He then gave me the details of his surgery, the time and location and then we said our goodbyes and ended the call. I sat there silent and still for a while, trying to come to grip with the ever-growing numbness growing inside me. I had been there for his previous major heart surgery but I knew I would not be there for this one. It was routine anyway and I could not face everyone. I could not face my siblings who had lied about me, who had turned my parents against me, who had helped turned my son against me. It was hard enough facing my parents and seeing the disappointment and lack of love in their eyes. Do you know what that does to a child? Do you know what that does to a child who did nothing to deserve it whatsoever?
The next day, Thursday, I received word that the surgery had been successful, my father had been released and he was home resting comfortably. On Friday, my husband and I left for a pre-planned weekend getaway to Reno, Nevada. My husband, being the sweetheart that he is, planned it for me to help me get away and find some peace for a while. He knew how much I had been going through with the family and he wanted to take me away from it all, even if just for a couple days. It felt good to drive away. We loved road trips and had always enjoyed them. This one I needed desperately.
Saturday started out as an awesome day. We got up early, had a nice breakfast and took off for the short drive to Virginia City, an old mining town in Nevada, now a tourist attraction. We did some shopping and bar hopping, trying the different Bloody Mary’s the town tourist bars are known for. We even visited some of the haunted buildings and clubs. It was a great day, especially since on our last trip to Virginia City, I had taken a call from my mother in which she yelled at me once again for something I didn’t do. I had ended up in a restaurant bathroom stall in tears that day. This time, a part of me kept waiting for that call throughout the day, but so far it hadn’t come.
That night, we went to dinner. I remember our conversation was about how great the day had been. For the first time in a while I felt almost like a normal person again. We had just ordered and were enjoying a nice bottle of wine when my cell phone rang. Oh God! I looked down – my brother. I looked at my husband and debated whether or not to pick up. I didn’t usually answer calls from my siblings anymore, but since my father had just had surgery, something told me to answer.
“Hello,” I said, my heart pounding.
“Sarah, we have a problem. Dad was doing okay but then he started struggling to breathe. He was rushed to the hospital. We’re not sure what’s wrong yet but we think he is going to be ok. It might just be a reaction to a medication,” he said. My mind was a mess of emotions and thoughts. I didn’t know what to do. Years before, I would have jumped in the car and driven the long drive home immediately, but now? I just didn’t know what to think. So much had happened, so much had changed.
“Oh my god, Matt! We’ll be home tomorrow. Please call me with any updates.” That was all I could manage to get out. He agreed and with that, the call ended. I sat there in the middle of that restaurant in Reno, frozen in my seat, staring down at the table in front of me. I felt numb. No, I felt angry – I felt sadness – I felt every emotion possible building up inside me. I relayed the information to my husband and he tried to help me calm down. He always tried to be the voice of reason, trying to keep things positive whereas my mind usually went to the worst possible conclusion. I told him that I was so afraid to have to deal with my family again. I had just gotten to where I was moving on without feeling such pain all the time. I was finally making strides forward, and now this. The whole time, I never imagined the situation with my dad was more serious than any of us knew.
The trip home was a long one. My mind was reeling with all different scenarios ahead of me and it also made me re-live everything that had already happened. When we got home, I was irritated that I hadn’t received any updates from my brother. On Monday, I finally called my brother for an update and he told me that dad was in the ICU. They weren’t sure why but my dad couldn’t breathe on his own. He was in a medically-induced coma and on a ventilator. Seriously Matt? This wasn’t important enough information to call me with?
My dad’s condition was far more serious that I had thought and I suddenly realized we could lose him. And then it hit me like a punch to the gut that I may have missed the last chance I ever had to talk with my dad. Would I regret forever not going to visit him in the hospital when he had his routine surgery? Not only had my family torn me apart, but now I was tearing myself apart.
The next day after work, my husband and I went to go visit my dad in the ICU. I was apprehensive and terribly afraid. Apprehensive of who in the family we might run into and afraid of what I was going to see. We sat in the car in the parking lot for a while. I was already shaking and quite unsure of myself. My father had always been so strong and I didn’t know if I could see him in such a weak condition. I didn’t at all know what to expect. No one close to me had ever died and I had been much younger when my mother had been so ill that I couldn’t remember it much. Finally, we went inside and were shown to my dad’s room. I caught my first glimpse of him through the window. Oh no! Oh my God! I can’t do this!
There he was, eyes closed, lying on his back with tubes and wires attached everywhere, his chest moving up and down as his lungs were being inflated artificially, machines breathing for him, providing life. The sound of the ventilator was overwhelming. A massive lump formed in my throat and tears began falling from my eyes in streams. The memories are foggy but somehow that makes sense to me now. The pain of deeply emotional moments clouds the memory. I vaguely recall my husband squeezing my hand tightly and then wrapping his arm around me. I remember noticing how peaceful my father looked and how I didn’t remember his hair being so grey. I remember holding my father’s hand and telling him how much I love him. And I remember, as we left his room, feeling that he wasn’t going to be okay, that the worst was yet to come, and that I didn’t know if I would survive it.
The hours seemed long waiting for progress reports on my father, but in a way no news was good news. I went to work, a Wednesday, but I felt like a drone for most of the day. I felt like my life had changed so drastically in the blink of an eye. Later that night, my husband and were cooking dinner when my brother called. I felt a dark cloud rush over me and I knew.
“Sarah, I have some bad news. Sometime last night, dad had a massive stroke. From what they can tell, a blood clot formed in his lungs and it traveled to his brain. They have found no brain activity and there is nothing left they can do,” he said, almost fatter of factly. Huh? The shock was so great that I honestly don’t remember at all what my reaction was or what I said back to my brother. I do remember looking at my husband and whatever I did say made him stop what he was doing and realize it was bad. My brother continued to tell me that my father had a living will and in it he had stated that he didn’t want to live by way of machines. He told me that we would be getting together as a family at the hospital on Friday to take him off the ventilator and that he would not survive. My father had two days left to live.
I felt myself shutting down. When I got off the phone I just sat there. My husband came over to me and gave me a hug. I explained everything to him. I remember being choked up but not really crying. That was when I started holding it all in even more. I couldn’t let myself cry, couldn’t let myself feel it. It would eventually be my undoing. My mind was a tornado of emotions, thoughts and feelings. It felt like I was outside myself, hovering over myself, watching everything happen from the outside.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. How could I? We were about to kill my father! I knew I couldn’t look at it like that, but I could help it. We were going to unplug a machine that was keeping him alive. How do you wrestle with that choice? I know it was my father’s choice, but still. He’s here right now, alive, warm to the touch. One pull of one cord and he is gone, cold. How can that be? How is that possible? That’s all there is to it? Life can end just like that? One moment my father was alive and well. He had thoughts, ideas and plans. Then another moment, it is all gone, and he doesn’t even know it. You don’t fall asleep with thoughts like that. And I was also hating myself. For the rest of my life I would have to live with how things ended between my father and me. There is no one to blame but myself for that one. Well, ultimately it is not that simple though. After all, there was a whole family involved that led to where we were. And what that family did on the day of my dad’s death was unimaginable.