Fifteen years ago from today, my father died.
He was sick in the hospital for nearly three weeks, hooked up to a life support respirator dying from bacterial pneumonia.
He was 59.
My mother, sister, brother and I would spend hours and hours with him. Even though visiting hours were very limited and were only allowed two visitors at a time, the nurses let that rule slide for us.
They became our friends, knew us by our first name and later attended my father's funeral.
I always felt that my dad loved my sister more because she was his first born and he adored my brother more because he was his only son.
I was the inbetweener. The middle child. I felt at times invisible and insignificant. Yet, during those final days, whenever I would walk into his room, the numbers on his monitors changed positively.
The nurses affectionately called me "the healer".
When my father's health started to fail, they called me at home on two separate occasions and asked me to come in to the hospital. As soon as I entered the room, the stats on his monitor would level out and return to a safe condition.
It was healing for me, too. For the first time, I felt significant to my dad. That I mattered and was important to him.
One night, the nurses called my family together and told us they they were surprised my father was still holding on. And that, perhaps, we needed to give him permission to die.
I will never forget that night in early December.
My mom spoke first. She held my father's hand and thanked him for his life. And for all the wonderful things he did as a husband and as a father to his children. She told him family stories. I listened as best as I could over the shaking in my skin and over my racing beating heart. I fought back tears. The lump in my throat felt like I was trying to swallow a ball made of velcro.
My mom kissed my dad and then it was my sister's turn taking my dad's hand. She sounded as articulate and passionate as my mother did. So clear-headed. I was so nervous, I felt I was about to vomit. I don't remember a word of what I spoke. I do remember staring so intently into his face and recognizing my nose as his nose.
After my brother had his moment with Dad... we just sat back in our chairs and looked at him. I knew that any moment, he would leave this world and enter into the next. What a perfect ending. We gave him permission, expressed our love and kissed him on his way.
I just stared. I held my breath. I waited.
Ten days later, my father died on December 10, 1990.
I went to work that morning. I was in the cafeteria ordering cinnamon toast and coffee when my co-worker and dear friend, Nikki, came running in to tell me that the hospital called and my dad was dying. I was to go immediately to the hospital.
Driving to the hospital on that sunny morning felt as though I was driving through sludge. It was the hardest drive in my life. When I got there and ran down the hall that was so familiar to me by then, I saw my sister and her three young babies under the age of four. She was crying.
"I tried to get here in time! I hurried as fast as I could! I wanted to be there for him! I wanted to hold his haaand!" she sobbed.
My mom and I arrived around the same time. And then my brother quickly on our heels.
He had already died.
I just stared at him for the longest time. And I will never forget.
Walking back down the long hallway alone toward my car, I was horrified to see everyone still going on with their business as though nothing so remarkable had just happened.
I was taken back by the girls in the parking lot laughing themselves silly! "How dare you laugh!" is what I wanted to shout. How could my grief, so unbearably thick weigh less than even the quietest whisper to the rest of the world?
Feeling lost and absent, we all headed for breakfast at a nearby restaurant called Lyons. Everything seemed dull and numb and in slow-motion.
Eleven-month-old Courtney was unwrapping the fake gifts under the Christmas tree near our table and we didn't even notice.
Several days later, I'm visiting my sister at her home and preparing for Dad's memorial service when we notice there is a new gift bag sitting on her dining room table. We walk over to it and she lifts it up and shakes it. Hands it to me and I shake it, too.
It is heavy. We both smile. She can't imagine who it came from. Who left this Christmas gift? I'm happy for her as well. We both are giddy with excitement.
Forgetting her husband went to pick up our father's remains in the crematorium, we both reach over to read the gift tag that simply says: Santa Rosa Memorial Park.
"It's Daaad!" we both replied.
The ironic thing was that he really was a gift to us.
I will never forget you Dad. I love and miss you.
See you on the other side.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Fifteen years ago from today, my father died.