On February 3, 2017, my father died.
My father was 73 years old and his death was unexpected. He had an odd cold for about two weeks. It started with the regular cold symptoms: fatigue, cough, loss of voice, fever and it became something else. I could hear it in his breathing and in his voice over the phone.
My parents live 4 hours away from me and while it doesn't sound very far away, it feels far away when you have 5 children, a job and you are in school full time.
When my Dad first got his cold, my mother was visiting me. She thought, like we all did at first, that he just had a cold and he was worn down. Getting sick when you older take its toll. He called my sister who was spending the night with her son and asked her to come home, he just didn't feel right and he had some chest pains. She rushed back home and took his blood pressure and he was doing better by the time she got to him, so he just wanted to go to bed.
A few days later, my mother went home and my Dad didn't seem to be getting any better, he had lost about 40 pounds. She took him to his family doctor and they said he just had a cold. My Dad also had a routine heart check up appointment that kept getting rescheduled. First, they needed a different machine, next my Dad couldn't take the test while he had a cold ......
The following week my Dad was still not sounding any better so they went back to the doctor's office and they prescribed an antibiotic. While my Dad was walking to the car, he fell down and hurt his ankle. My Dad was a very large man and it took a few people from the doctor's office to help him get in to the car. The said it was probably just sprained and he should keep his foot elevated and put ice on his ankle, this was the afternoon of Thursday, February 2nd.
I spoke to my family that night and said that they should take him to the hospital, he could have a blood clot, being that he was so large and in so much pain. They said, he doesn't want to go, we have his leg elevated. They said we will see how is feeling tomorrow.
I hung up with my Mom and called my brother, we don't speak that often, we just have so much going on but I made a point to call him and tell him to call our Dad. We always call my parents but we usually just say, "Hi Dad, how are you?" He would reply, "I'm fine" and we would ask for Mom. I told my brother that we both needed to make a point of just calling our Dad and checking on him. I had a bad feeling about our Dad's cold and I told my brother that it was important that he call when I hang up, he said he would call our Dad.
I called the next morning, Friday, February 3, 2017 and I asked my Mom how my Dad was feeling, she said he had a rough night, his ankle really hurts him. This was 11:30 in the morning, I told my Dad I loved him and told myself that if he didn't go to the hospital, I was going to drive straight to their house after work around 4 p.m.
My 27 year old niece who lives with them said that she heard them awake around 5 a.m. that morning and she went out to the living room and had a cup of coffee with them. She told them that she was really worried about Grandpa's cold and he said he was fine. She went to work that day with a heavy feeling in her heart. She was anxious and worried all morning.
At 1:30 p.m. on Friday, February 3, 2017, I was pulling into my work, where I teach and my phone started ringing. I got all my teaching stuff together, got out of the van and answered the phone while I was walking in to the school. I said, "Hi, what's up" and my sister was on the phone screaming "DAD IS DEAD, DAD IS DEAD!" I think I went into shock for a minute,
I teach at the same school that my young children attend. I knew I had to pull it together for the kids sake and try to remain calm so that I could tell them at home. Well, you can tell yourself one thing but your body sometimes has other ideas. I started shaking, throwing up and crying. Not just crying, it was a primal cry. I have never felt anything like it before. Thankfully, I work with some amazing people and they rallied around me and my kids. I got the kids in the van and managed to drive home on auto pilot.
My husband rushed home and we took the longest 4 hour drive to my parent's house. All I wanted the entire ride was to be there already and to be with my family. I wanted my husband to drive faster, I wanted the traffic to lighten up, didn't everyone on the road know that my father just died? That's the thing, your world stops but the world doesn't. When we were about 20 minutes away, I started to feel less anxious and I started to feel scared. I knew that once I walked in to my parents house and my Dad wasn't sitting in his chair, his death would be real.
I walked into their home and I sat in his chair and I cried. I cried out tears that stung, not the tears made of water, lipids, etc., it was tears made up of heartbreak, anger, loss, and pain.
I cried for my Mom, who spent 53 years with her husband and would never roll over and see him in bed next to her again. I cried for myself and my two siblings, who would never be able to speak to our father again and I cried for my brother who never made that phone call to our Dad, he got busy and thought he would just call him on Friday after work. I cried for his 7 grandchildren who would never get to spend another holiday with him. I cried for his 6 siblings, who lost the leader of their pack, the oldest and they had just lost another brother and a son/nephew the year before. I cried for the countless numbers of family members and friends who would never see or speak to him again.
I finally got the story of what happened that afternoon:
On Friday afternoon around, 12:45 p.m. my Mom told my Dad she was going to take a shower, he said okay and he was sitting in his chair with his headphones on for the television. She came out of the bathroom around 1 p.m. and my Dad had the remote in his hand and he looked like he was sleeping in his chair so she let him sleep. My sister came home around 1:15 p.m. and said, "Hey Mom why doesn't Dad have his leg elevated?" My Mom said, "he is sleeping, he is fine" my sister said, "no, his leg needs to be up." So my sister went over to our Dad and said "Hey Dad we need to lift up your leg, come on Dad help me get your leg up on the chair." She quickly realized that he wasn't moving or responding. She checked his heart and called 911 right away. She jumped on top of him with another relative and they started chest compression. The EMT workers got the house right away and my sister called my niece to tell her what happened. My niece walked in the door while the EMT workers were trying to revive her Grandfather. It was very traumatic for everyone and I am sure no one will ever forget that moment in time.
My Mom didn't want to have an autopsy so we will never know exactly what killed him. Diabetes was listed on the death certificate. After speaking with many medical professionals, they all think that he had a blood clot that traveled to his heart. He was probably throwing small blood clots throughout his two week "cold". My mother and sister said he still had the remote in his hand, so whatever took his life, took it fast and hopefully pain free. Everyone has said that if you have to die, a blood clot is the way to go, it's quick and painless. I am sure it is an easier way to go but I am not so sure that quick is the easiest way to lose someone you love. I know there is no easy way but there was no time to say so many things. That is why it is so important to say the things you need to say today!
My father was a stubborn man and no one could have made him go to the hospital if he didn't want to go. I don't blame anyone for his death and no one should blame themselves. I did a lot of what ifs after my Dad's death; what if he went to the hospital, what if his heart appointment wasn't pushed off, what if he didn't fall ... It doesn't help anything or anyone to second guess. When God wants you and your time is up, it's up. If my Dad was throwing blood clots that damaged his heart, he would have been in a rehab and possible a nursing home for the rest of his life and he would have hated that. He died, peacefully in his chair at home.
We had a celebration of his life and we tried to figure out where to have it; a funeral home, a cemetery, a chapel and in the end my mother said, "lets have it at home, that's what he would've wanted" and she was right. My cousin came to our house and helped us get through all the details. We could not have gotten through that week without her help and love. Three of my aunts and one of my uncles drove from upstate New York to Florida to be with all of us. We posted an obituary in the newspaper, I made a memorial program and printed out a beautiful picture of my parents to give all of his siblings and family members, we order trays of food, tables and chairs and hired a pastor to say a few words. It was a beautiful service and it was healing to be surrounded by so much love. I think my father would have been touched and honored that so many people came to pay their respects and to share their fond memories.
We picked up my father's ashes the following week. My mother, sister, brother, niece, nephew, brother in law and sister in law all went together to scatter his ashes. It was a beautiful, sad and a life changing moment. It was nice to be surrounded by loved ones at his celebration of life but it was so special to just have the immediate family together to scatter his ashes to the wind and afterwards, my mother, brother, sister and I shared a family group hug. It was very special and I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.
Our whole family was changed by my father's death. We feel extremely protective over our mother and worried about her all the time. She is having a very hard time, which is to be expected, we keep reminding her that she has so many thing to look forward to this year: a trip she is taking in August, her granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah this November, and countless other family moments.
For me personally, some days are better than others. Some days I am fine and then there are the moments that it just hits me and I start crying. Night time is the hardest, you can hear your thoughts the loudest when it's quiet.
Give your loved ones a phone call or a visit and tell them you care. Don't wait, do it right now.
I will end this post by sharing the speech I gave at my father's celebration of life and a video.
My speech today for my Dad's Celebration of Life Service:
When you hear that a parent has died. The earth starts spinning around and when the spinning stops the earth has permanently changed. The sky is not the same shade of blue, the grass is a duller shade of green, the ocean feels colder, the night feels darker and the house feels empty and quiet even with a million people inside.
People say that funerals are for the living and that the dead are at peace. No one can know what happens after death but I hope that my Dad has found peace and he is with his family in heaven. I hope Grandpa Earl is waiting with open arms to wrap around his first born, Grandma Elsie has a pizza pie waiting for him, his brother Donald and his nephew George are waiting to have drink with him, my Grandma Elaine, Grandpa Leo and Uncle Fred are waiting for him to play a game of cards, and my Aunt Cheryl is saying "Hey Butchie, I am glad to see you brother."
The earth will never be the same but my family and I know that if we need to feel close to our Dad, we just need to wrap our arms around our Mother and he will be there. She carries his heart, she carries it in her heart.