I can’t believe it’s almost mid-May.
The weather here in town is finally getting warmer, and the air is – for the time being – a bit fresher.
We’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day.
A month from now, it will be Father’s Day.
But this one will be different. And it’s the reason it’s taken me so long to write this.
Mid-February. Valentine’s Day, to be precise.
I’ve been at work for perhaps an hour, at most. I’ve just left my desk to get my morning snack, when I look at my phone and notice my younger brother has called.
He pretty much never calls me.
I don’t automatically think anything is amiss. I just assume maybe he needs some sort of favour.
I dial, and my brother picks up. All he says is “Hi.” But his voice sounds … strange. I can’t tell if the line is strained, or if it’s him.
But the next voice I hear is my mother’s.
My dad isn’t doing well. He’s in the emergency room at the hospital.
My mom explains he was at a self-service car wash, when his heart stopped. He fell and hit his head. A fellow customer found him – on cold, wet, soapy concrete – and started performing CPR until an ambulance arrived.
I hear myself say, “Oh, no.” But it sounds … like it’s someone else doing the talking? It sounds much too calm for it to be me.
But as soon as I’m able, I’ve left work and am on my way to a hospital in the north-east end of town.
I’ve heard it said by other people, that your father is the first man who will ever love you.
In his quiet, awkward way, I can’t dispute that he has.
He was the one who would come home from work, and whose voice would soothe me, after I’d been crying in my playpen for most of the afternoon (and driving my mom nuts).
He was so good to my brother and me. When it wasn’t our caregiver, he’d look after us in the evenings, when our mom was at work. I especially looked forward to the summer, when he would take us on bike rides around our community.
I recall him helping me with my first big science project in second grade. Although, it was painfully obvious that there was no way an 8-year-old could accurate reconstruct electric transmission towers, nor properly explain the concept of electricity, without a lot of adult input.
He took us everywhere – to skating lessons, softball practice, piano lessons, anywhere we needed to be dropped off.
He bought us pets. Helped us with multiplication tables. Taught us to drive (he was an excellent driver, but a terribly impatient teacher). And, on the odd occasion when we were frustrated with school, he’d listen and help us talk things through.
He helped me move back and forth between home and school in Ottawa during university.
He helped me move into my current apartment.
And he continued to help me, whenever I needed it.
Dad was never the kind of person with whom you’d had long conversations. At least, not with me. I try to call my parents’ house every other day or so. Sometimes my mom wasn’t there, and I’d say hi to Dad. A good conversation was one that lasted more than 90 seconds.
Whenever I’d go to visit, he would drive me home. He never said he wouldn’t.
The last time I saw him was at the end of January – just days after my 37th birthday.
As a birthday present – as he felt he had to get me something for my birthday – he got me a WaxVac Ear Cleaner (“as seen on TV”). Truth be told, I was annoyed. But I knew that he meant well. He always did.
I arrive at the hospital, where my brother is camped out in the waiting room with various other people.
Eventually, my mom appears, and explains to me what she knows. She wasn’t with him when it happened. She was at home, waiting for him to return with the car so she could go grocery shopping. When she hadn’t, she’d gotten annoyed and left him a voice mail on his cell phone, asking where he was.
The next phone call she got was from an emergency room doctor.
Shortly after that, the doorbell rang, and she came face-to-face with two police officers, who came to identify my dad, and took her to the hospital in their cruiser.
She takes me to see him, but warns me beforehand there are a lot of tubes and the like surrounding my dad.
And she’s not kidding.
Tubes. Machines. At least one IV drip. And my dad. Motionless.
As hours progress, they change his sedation when he starts moving around. They do a scan to see if there’s any sort of brain damage (he hit the back of his head when he collapsed). They eventually move him into intensive care, put him on a cooling pad when he spikes a fever.
The next 72 hours are worrying. Heart-wrenching. We all have our moments where we break down and cry. Family and friends stop by to keep us company. But we try to remain cautiously, quietly, optimistic. We keep watch for a sign – any sign – he’s going to improve.
But despite all the various drips keeping him medicated, hydrated and fed, he doesn’t get better. He doesn’t even squeeze anybody’s hand when they talk to him. All he starts to do is bloat from all the fluid.
So we have to meet with a doctor, to decide whether to keep going a bit longer or let him go.
Just after 11 a.m. on Tuesday, February 18th, we request to the staff to start removing tubes, but to keep him sedated.
We want to give him a dressing gown and socks to put on him – my mom says if he could see himself, he would be a bit mortified and want to look a bit more dignified. And especially have his feet covered – he wore socks most of the time and didn’t like people touching his feet. I don’t recall if we got very far with either request. Maybe the socks.
My brother is taking it really hard, so he spends a lot of time in the cafeteria or the chapel. But my mother sits to father’s right, and me to his left, each holding a bloated, motionless hand, getting up every once in a while. When we’re not looking at him or each other, we’re glancing at the machines monitoring his breathing and heartbeat.
Late afternoon/early evening, the nurse on duty swabs out his mouth and cleans him up a bit. You can hear the noisiness of his breathing as he attempts to inhale and exhale with all that mucus.
And then – sometime between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. – he breathes. Stops. Takes another delayed breath. Then just … stops.
This feels like I’ve just witnessed someone else’s dad pass away. Not mine.
I know exactly what’s happened. But it doesn’t fully register for another seven or eight minutes.
It’s been almost three months.
The raw wound of grief is presently scabbed-over, intermittently throbbing at its source.
Some days, I’m fine, and go about my business. Some moments, all it takes is a thought. A flashback from the hospital, or from the visitation before the funeral. And then the lump forms in my throat, my eyes start to water, or my nostrils start to sting.
And now when I look in the mirror, I’ll see my missing family member in my face, for the rest of my ife.
Even when I laugh at someone’s jokes or try acting like myself, I obviously won’t feel like myself, and don’t expect to for a long time. The melancholy is holding on and lingering.
I’m a bit frustrated at all the things I’m trying to learn how to do, because when my dad was here, he would insist on doing it for me. He’d never show me how. He’d just do it.
I look at my mom and worry. I worry when she gets upset. Even more when she tells me she’s had another sleepless night, and has tried a number of remedies, with zero result. Wonder how much time she has left with us. Wonder how much time I have left.
I know this happens to everyone. I knew it was going to happen one day. Prior to all this, I’d only recently found myself wondering, how much longer will he get to stick around? A couple more years? Five more?
I honestly can’t explain why. I wasn’t wishing him ill will. But the thought was there.
I just didn’t think I’d get the answer so soon.
My dad was a lot of things. Quiet. Gruff. Generous in time and spirit. A complainer. For all his good qualities, he had his foibles and failings.
But he had a huge role in making me the person that I am. For that, I’m thankful to him. For everything.
And right now, I’m missing him terribly.