Monday, February 1, 2010

My Dad

I like to try to share good news -- or, at least put on a good show that things are looking positive. But a little over a week ago, I lost my dad. Within a matter of a few hours, my world hit a wall.

Saturday night, January 23rd, I went to bed, only to be woken up shortly after by a call from my mom saying dad had been taken to the hospital by ambulance because he was having trouble breathing -- they thought he was having a heart attack. She said not to come down, that she'd call only if something went wrong, and that I could plan on coming down in the morning. Troubled but tired, I went back to sleep. Not two hours later the charge nurse, Christine, was calling. She said my mom needed me and that I should get there as soon as possible. Twenty minutes later my mom looked up at me from the "Family Consult" room at Regions Hospital and simply said, "He didn't make it, Sara."

My mind immediately accepted it, I think, because I remember wondering why I was screaming and sobbing when something was so clearly stated and non-negotiable. But scream and sob, I did. And I fell to the floor, and snotted everywhere, and (yes, it's OK if you chuckle at this part) randomly decided that I needed to investigate, so I opened the door only to realize that there was nothing I could do, nobody I could talk to who could change it, and -- through tears streaming down my face -- I couldn't even navigate the maze-like hallways of the emergency wing.

So, we sat there. We sat and cried. We made the first necessary calls. I used the better part of a box of hospital-issue, sandpaper-like tissues. Eventually, I decided I should see my dad. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't like it. I don't mean to say it should have been a joyful or cathartic experience, but I genuinely did not want to be there the moment after we walked in the room. And all I could say was, "He built me a slide. My dad built me a slide." I hadn't thought about that in years, I don't know why that was both the first and only thing that came to mind. But it was. And I covered my eyes, and walked out, barely able to stand on my own. In fact, an hour or so later when we finally extracted ourselves from the shelter of the family room, it was me, not my mom, who had to be brought to the parking garage in a wheelchair.

In the days that followed, we had to meet with the funeral director, pick out a casket, decide on an outfit for Dad to be buried in (talk about bizarre), and select a grave. If you've never had to bury a loved one, let me tell you: the pricetag is nauseatingly high, as if to add insult to injury. I'm still honestly unsure how poor families without life insurance do it, since even basic cremation without any other funeral home offerings was a staggering $1,000+ outlay. Maybe there are state programs? Even then, you have to pay for death certificates, which was also unnervingly surprising. Sure, they take credit cards, but we couldn't even put it all on one -- and I bet most people couldn't either.

But I'm not trying to instigate funeral parlor reform. I'm just thinking out loud.

I must have made more than twenty calls to friends and family, but that was still a relatively short list. I couldn't come up with a good way to deliver the news. I suppose there really isn't a good way. "Hi, this is Sara, Bill's daughter. ...I've been better. My dad died Saturday night. ...No, we don't have details yet, but we'll put an obituary in the Pioneer Press when we do." Sigh.

My brother and his family came to stay with us. We feel very blessed to have the house we do, since it's (surprisingly) big enough for us and all eight of them without sitting on top of each other. One of these days, we'll be able to get together as a family for a joyous occasion, and not another funeral. I particularly appreciate the pact we made: no more funerals in January; if one of us DOES die in January, we're holding the funeral in the Bahamas. Two January funerals in two years is more than enough for one family, even forgetting about the cold. Regardless, it was comforting to have them all so close, and it was certainly a pleasant kind of distracting.

We were tired. We are tired. We moved slower and slower as the days passed, I think. I know I did. The impending reality of Dad's funeral inched closer -- and I mean inched. It felt like a year from Saturday night to Thursday evening. The kids were taking it well enough, but Paula, my sister-in-law, pointed out that none of them had seen Dad yet, so... it really didn't feel real. The silent (and not-so-silent) sobs of my nieces and nephews upon our arrival at the funeral home proved that she was right. And our hearts broke all over again.

Dad loved lots of things, but his family was the most important thing to him. His wife, his kids, and his grandkids. For some, that would be obvious, but it shouldn't go without saying. Every week that we went without seeing his grandkids made him sad and guilty, he missed them so much. Eric and I live in town, and if two weeks passed without getting together, we'd hear about it -- not in a chastising way, just in a gentle reminder that we were loved and wanted. Mom's a little nutty, but regardless of how frustrated he might have been with her in a given situation, he stood by mom's side and defended her. He protected her and loved her, always trying to make things easier. And now he's gone. Our comforter, our cheerleader, our confidant, our counselor our chauffeur (wow, there are a lot of "c" words for Dad...), our repairman. Gone. And I don't know how to move on.