It’s been a long time since I posted here, but recent life events have made me want to start writing normally again about my life.
Sunday, February 12, one week before my 32nd birthday, I lost my father suddenly to a heart attack. He was 65. We hadn’t seen it coming.
I know he wasn’t in tip top shape – his doctor had been on him to reduce his sweets intake, which he had been doing for the most part – but we still never suspected something like this would claim his life. Mom pointed out that he’d been complaining of indigestion in the months leading up to it, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe it was something cardiovascular masquerading as stomach issues.
Going back to that day, my best friend and roommate, Lisa, and I had gone to eat lunch at a fast-casual Japanese place we’d never tried before en route to downtown St. Louis to catch a few more Porygon before the Valentine’s event ended. We had gone Pokemon hunting the day before with two of her coworkers and managed to catch quite a few, but wanting to make it to lunch in time with my parents had cut the day short and I found myself lacking about 16 candy that I wanted.
Though the restaurant was a little disappointing, we pulled out with our bellies full. My phone rang – it was my mom, and I answered with a cheerful hello. But there was panic in her voice.
“Katie, something happened to your dad. He collapsed in the garage… The paramedics have been working on him for a while but I don’t know..”
I immediately started to panic myself. Something twisted in the pit of my stomach. I asked her if I should come home, and she said yes, so, since I fortunately had not gotten back on the interstate yet, quickly changed lanes to head back home. It was about 15-20 from my location to my parents’ house, but that day the drive seemed to last hours.
The whole time, I was in tears, mumbling to myself. “Please be ok, please God be ok…” Beside me, Lisa reached over to pat my leg as I drove, trying to calm me so I wouldn’t drive erratically.
As I pulled onto their street, police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance lined the side. I parked behind them, two houses down, and ran to the house – I left my purse and jacket in the car. As I got there, I ran up to the garage, where mom had said he had been.
There I saw him, laying on the ground, a white sheet on his torso. A police woman quickly ushered me away to the front porch (the garage is on the side of the house, not the front, so I couldn’t see what was going on) and had a paramedic talk to me.
They had pronounced him.
It was as though the ground was ripped out from under my feet.
It hurt, so much. I immediately went to my mom and held her, both of us crying. Lisa hugged us as well and cried with us, since he was like a second father to her. We saw my parents almost every day, from running errands with them to eating dinner to going to sporting events with my dad.
The rest of the day is a messy blur of tears. My brother and half-sister showed up, just as shocked as us. The funeral home came and took him away. They set up a meeting for the following day. I got the story from mom of what happened…
They had just returned home from eating lunch. Dad hadn’t even gone inside; he wanted to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to cut down some branches from the pine tree in front that were damaged in an ice storm the month before. Mom had gone inside and was laying down. After a bit, her phone rang. It was my dad, and she could tell something was wrong. “I need you…” he said. She asked where he was. In the garage. So she ran out, phone in hand, and found him laying on the ground. He reached up for her, she took his hand, and he passed out.
She fumbled with her phone to call 911 and tried her best to do CPR while waiting on the ambulance. She said it took about 5 minutes for them to arrive, but it felt like ages. I know she blames herself for not calling fast enough, for not doing CPR right, but honestly, from what she said, it was likely too late already.
The firemen cut down the branch for us before departing.
The last week and a half have felt like an eternity. We had the stress of planning a funeral with no idea what to do, of figuring out where we go from here. Mom hasn’t been working; dad was providing and wanted to work a few more years before retirement so he could “pay off his toys”. We’re trying to figure out how soon she can get payouts, if she’ll be able to keep the house, and whether or not she’ll be forced to go back to work. This is all outside our comfort zones, and we feel like fish out of water – never mind not even having the time to properly grieve my father’s loss.
In addition to gathering photos for the visitation and writing my dad’s eulogy, my mom’s brother, whom I hadn’t seen in years, flew in for the funeral and stayed at my house. Even though I took a week off school and work, I barely had any rest. I had to wake early on my birthday to take my uncle to the airport, and the day passed with a whimper – not even a cake (which I did get, though a few days late).
Even returning to school and work has been hard. I missed a math test that I had to make up. I had to cram two weeks of homework into just a few days. At work, once again, my coworkers neglected my birthday (it’s custom to pass around a birthday card for all to sign, but not once since I began working here have I received one). I did receive two sympathy cards, though, and just reading them made me start to tear up again.
Despite the stress, my dad has been laid to rest in a national cemetery. He was a 20 year Army retiree and veteran, so he received a spot to rest, overlooking the Mississippi river, along with military honors – Army pallbearers, presentation of the flag to my mother, a rifle volley, and the playing of taps. All in all, it was lovely, but it still doesn’t feel right.
My dad was one of my best friends.
We shared many hobbies. Photography, astronomy, hockey, technology, just to name a few. We spent lots of time together. I ate with my parents nearly daily, and I was always happy to run them around or just provide company if they needed me. My dad would always message me on Google talk first thing in the morning – usually to report on that morning’s cat antics.
He was a smart man, a silently caring man, one who was always there to bail me out of trouble if I needed him. He never forgot a birthday or anniversary. He loved to learn, and loved to share his knowledge. He was opinionated, but wouldn’t force his opinions on others. He was kind. He was funny. He was the best dad I could ask for, and I miss him more than I could ever put into words.
I want to try to document my fondest memories with him before they start to fade. Like going to the Winter Classic in January, the first one ever in St. Louis. Of going to many hockey games, particularly this year, when we bought a 12-game pack to see the Blues play. Of going to take photos together. Of going to look at the stars together.
It hurts, and it probably will for a long time. I still expect him to message me any minute. I even had a moment of wanting to tell him about NASA’s planetary discovery yesterday, only to despair when I remembered that he’s not there.
I’m terrible with grief. I’ve really only lost my grandparents – my mom’s parents were gone before I was even born, and though I have lost both of my dad’s parents, they lived out in Arizona for most of my life, so I never was super close to them. I cried a little when they died, but it didn’t feel like a knife to the chest or a kick in the gut the way this does. I don’t really know how to process a loss this close to home.
To my friends – please forgive me if I’m not quite right for a while.
I miss you, daddy. You were awesome.