It was a flawless morning, everything had gone perfectly according to plan and my daughter was in a fabulous mood – we dressed alike and enjoying our mother-daughter primping – then reality reached out through one call and gave me a tremendous slap to the face.
You see, I knew he would die one day and though I had wished for it, I never imagined it would be so quick or unexpected. Not that death is normally something we plan for but I admit I thought he’d slip away in old age and I’d be better prepared for the day – things just don’t always go our way.
I remember it like it was yesterday: I had one child, at the time and it was early in the morning, we were getting ready for a family photo shoot. Gram was in the states from England for the summer and wanted to do generation photos. My mom was doing the shoot, so we were waiting for her to pick us up when the phone rang – caller ID read Gram.
I answered with a happy hello, prepared to say we were getting ready to leave and we’d be out her way shortly. Instead her voice was drenched in dread, still to this day, I’m not sure how she got it out so clearly. “I have to cancel the shoot, you’re dads dead.” Dead. Dead. Dead? The word echoes in my head as I try to grasp the concept. Dead? Dead? Did I hear that right, I sort of chuckle inside because clearly that couldn’t be what she said.
“Your dads brain-dead, he was admitted back into the hospital last night with a headache and now they say he’s brain-dead. I’m getting ready to jump on the plane and head to the hospital. The other family members are driving out, I’ll let you know more later.”
I hang up the phone. What I can best describe as a huge gush of wind, rushes through my toes and escapes from my mouth, taking every bit of oxygen I have, with it. I drop to the floor and gasp as I try to pull myself together.
“What did she just say? He’s dead? Dead? Pull yourself together, your daughters watching.”
I reach deep for every bit of strength I have and grab my daughter. I carry her off to the room where her father lays sleeping and wake him. I lose it for a moment as I say the words for the first time “Dads dead, he’s brain-dead. I have to call mom.” I slip out the door and dial the numbers, as more tears wale up in my eyes and the shaking of my hands, combined with the blur, make it almost impossible to dial the numbers.
The phone begins to ring and mother answers “I’m on my way” – she’s habitually late. I wish that had been what I was calling for. Through the on-coming melt down I manage a mom and she instantly knows something’s wrong. “Mom, dad is dead” the phone breaks up “who is dead?” “Dad. Mom, dad died” I fight to get more out but the words won’t come as all the oxygen escapes me again and I gasp like a fish out of water. My chest hurts and I can hear her “it’s ok, I’m coming. I’m around the corner. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Mom shows up and this is where things get a bit hazy. I’m feeling detached, I’m feeling confused and the emotions have taken over any possibility of clear thought. I’m stuck on a level of “what just happened?” I managed to give my mother the details I have and she wonders if I should be there as well. I’m starting to feel hurt because no one thought to take me along or even offer a ride. In comparison to my father’s family, we are on the extremely poor side. My household had to always fight to get by, while they all lived on more of a “fuck it, I have money” kind of platform – but no one offered and no one thought to ask, I honestly expected no difference. Part of me feels selfish for even thinking they should have thought of me but I did.
Before I knew it, I was sitting in the park as I watched my daughter play and my mother make phone call after phone call for loans from her family – people who also qualify as being very poor. Poor or not, they were the family that had my mom’s back and by default, had mine. My mother let go of every penny she had to spare, she called people who she’d never wanted to ask a favor of in a million years and those people, they rallied. They gave all they could spare to see that I got there and for that, I am thankful.
Once there, a few of my father’s family members did feel the need to contribute to our trip and I am thankful for that as well because it made sure we got back home without my mother having to put herself into a bit of debt. I’m also thankful for my mother who did everything in her power to see that I got there.
By about seven that night, we were on the road from Florida to Arkansas. We drove through the night and by we, I mean my mother. My husband entertained our daughter in the back as I lost myself in a sea of jumbled thoughts. Not long into the morning hours, we had arrived and it was time to face reality. We walked into the hospital, where we were greeted by family, they take my daughter and point us in the right direction.
The closer we get, the harder it gets to breath. We reach ICU and they point out his room but I can’t make it past the large double doors. I slide slightly down the hall but dare not look in where he lays – I want to vomit. My husband and mother make it to the room and though I wanted nothing more than to blend into that very wall and sink away from it all – I was talked into walking in.
I hadn’t seen him in so long, he looked older and though he stood over 6ft and easily weighted in at over 300lb, he looked fragile, he looked soft – something I had never seen in my father. I wait for him to come to life, to tell me I’m wearing the wrong clothes or my nails aren’t properly cleaned but he just lays there’s with these tubes strapped to his face.
I’m in my 20’s but I feel like a little kid as I stand next to him. I can’t bare the site for long and burst from the room, I don’t know where I’m going but I know I need to run, I have to escape, I need the thoughts to stop. I breeze past my family in the waiting room and I can hear as they call after me but I can’t stop. My mother had followed me from his room but she stopped in the waiting area and like the all-knowing mother she is, she told the rest of them to let me go. She knew I needed to run, I needed to just be for a minute.
Of course, not everyone listens and out comes the devil herself, the one person I hate more than anyone in the world. The dreaded step-monster calls after me and with every ounce of southern grace I maintain, I turned to listen. She hugs me and my insides feels like stone as every muscle tightens in an attempt not to shove her away.
She spouts off some phrases straight out the AA handbook. “Higher power” “Things you can’t change” I can’t fully pay attention, every generic word that flies from her face makes me want to punch her, repeatedly. I fight madly not to unleash all of my pain – not for her sake; No, I simply didn’t want to go to jail so far away from home and that’s the truth – if I had begun to let go of that rage, I’m not sure I could have stopped: not in that moment, not on that day. She finished up and turned away, I went back on a mission to escape – twice as enraged.
I stood on the side-walk pissed, ranting about everything that popped in my head. I paced and walked in circles as I puffed away on the millionth cigarette since I arrived. My nerves are shoot and I’ve only just gotten here: I gather myself as well as I can and head back in.
I waited in the hall with family as each went in to say their good-bye. They said in most states I’d have a say but here the laws says they pull the plug and that’s what we’d have to do. The only choice I had to make was when and though it did not lay solely on my shoulders – I was the one everyone seemed to be waiting on.
I took my turn to enter the room once again and this time I sat alone as I stared at my father’s lifeless body. At first I felt so nervous, as if he’d just fly up from the bed at any minute and I didn’t want to speak but the silence quickly engulfed the emotions and the anger began to pour out.
“Wake up! Wake up! You’re just faking!” He doesn’t budge.
“You can’t do this, you don’t get to just walk away. You could have been better – wake up damn-it!” Silence
“I just wanted a good dad. Why couldn’t you give me that? I thought it was too late for me but honestly when I gave you a grand baby I thought it’d all change. I thought maybe, just maybe, you’d be a better man for her and you’d make up for all the wrong by pouring the love you couldn’t give me, into her. You didn’t get better, you didn’t change. I can only remember seeing you once after her birth and it was only because you were on a bender with friends, who happened to live directly across the lake from me.” I pause as I think back on the day.
“You admitted you could see the house and waited for lights to come on. I imagine you were coming down and feeling guilty about another lapse. You spent long enough at my home to bounce her on your knee and partake in a free breakfast. We heard from you a few days later, only you didn’t want anything to do with your grand-baby or me for that matter. No, instead you wanted my husband – who you shamelessly asked for his urine because you happened to have a drug test. Shamefully on my part, I allowed him to do you the favor and again I was just a part of another one of your cons, only this time – you had included my daughter’s emotions in the mix. I’m thankful she wasn’t old enough to truly know you; I’m thankful that she’ll never have to feel the pain of knowing that you only showed up to obtain something you needed to continue being the waste of space, you always claimed I was. I didn’t know then that the next time I’d see you, you would be dead.” I look to him for any sign of life, a flinch – anything. He lays stiff as his chest rises and falls to the beat of the machines.
“Dad. Dad! Just come back. You can’t do this to me, you can’t just leave. You have to come back, you have to be a better man for her…for me. DAD!” Nothing.
I go on – “We spoke two times after that day. You called once to tell me you were leaving Florida. You claimed this place wasn’t your home and no one here loved you. Your loves were living in Arkansas and there was nothing here for you. Do you remember it dad? I do, because it was just another stab in the heart of that little girl who just wanted a real father – a father who loved her. Why couldn’t you be that for me? Why’d you do this? I’m glad my daughter won’t know you, I’d hate for her to live through the pain of a Gran-daddy that doesn’t love her like he should – no, my pains bad enough in itself.” I sigh and grit my teeth in anger.
“Do you remember the second call? It was to tell me that you were going to marry the step-monster and how happy you were in Arkansas. I call bullshit but that’s whatever. You were rubbing salt in old wounds and I was far over it by this point. ‘Good for you dad. Yeah, we’re fine.’ It was short and the least painful call in all the calls we ever shared. I didn’t know I’d never hear from you again.”
I sit back thinking about the year and trying to form all the thoughts I could possibly want to let go of. I think about a week earlier when I sat in my Mamgu’s house (Welsh for Grandmother – in this case, my great) and Gram called dad, he was in the hospital for a little infection and was due to soon be released. She wanted to see how he was doing and have him talk to my daughter. I heard him on the other end and they all spoke for a good ten minutes, then he said he had to go and he had basically talked to everyone but me. I think about the stories the family were passing in the hall about him telling the nurses he knew he was going to die and how he kept repeating it during his stay. Only to be released with a bad head ache and have to go right back, just to arrive brain-dead. It all seemed too easy.
“Dad, if you knew you were dying, why didn’t you talk to me? Why wasn’t I good enough to get a few minutes of your time. Why didn’t you have anything to say to me? Dad, get up! Get up! You have to answer, I need to know. Why didn’t you love me? Why’d you make life so hard? Why couldn’t you just be a father?” I wait for answers; I wait for any sign of life but still he seemed so far away, though he sat only inches from my side.
The door to the room opens and my eyes lay sight on the step-monster. She insists I need to get up and move it along – I’m making the family wait and they want to go ahead and make the calls. They’re waiting on me to have the meeting and I can come back but the over-all gist is that I’m taking too long. I want to leap from the chair and rip her throat out as every word smacks me in the face but with southern grace, I find the strength to rise and follow her to the meeting room. My family sits waiting as I enter and I take a place next to my grand-mother as they begin making decisions about the funeral arrangements.
The step-monster says he wants to be cremated and a noise escapes my throat as I begin to lose that southern charm – who is she to have any say? I just want her to shut her face. I hope the sound would go unnoticed but it was as loud as I imagined and every face in the room turns to me. They ask if I have different ideas and though I wanted to throw a complete tantrum, I went with a simple no and allowed the meeting to continue – doesn’t feel like my place anyways. The talk went on for a handful of minutes – not worth the interruption in my opinion but I don’t imagine they stop much to consider each other’s feelings – especially mine – nonetheless, I was soon back at my dad’s side.
Now I fumed over being interrupted and I panic as I try to remember what I was saying and as I try to remember all the things I haven’t covered. They are waiting for me to be done so they can pull the plug – this was made very clear as I was asked how much longer I think I might take upon entering the room again – simply rude in my opinion but what do I know about manners anyhow? I end up going through a list of things I think might shock him back to life but it all seems pointless and I’m so frazzled, that I end up calling it good – even though I don’t feel done; I don’t feel finished; I don’t feel like I’ve said goodbye but I feel rushed and out of time.
Before I know it, the nurses are in and I stand at your side as they turn the life support off and unhook the tubes. It was if they were just waiting to pounce and though I know it’s their job, I hate them for being so quick to open a bed up. I watch as the heart rate falls and I look into your glossed over eyes, as your hand gently squeezes mine, as you further slip away into nothingness and the machine lines begin to lay flat. You’re dead. You’re dead.
We take a moment and then it’s time to leave the room. Just like that, he no longer existed. We went down to meet the family in the cafeteria and I watched as they sat around talking and laughing. I sat watching and stewing: the thought of him being gone, yet still laying in the hospital somewhere was all too bazaar. How could these people even eat? Through random moments in this trip, I had spent time imagining what each person must possibly be feeling. I thought about how I’d feel if I lost my child. I thought about what it’d be like to lose a sibling or uncle or cousin. I couldn’t understand how this family seemed to stand so hard – a part of me now understands some of the rants my father would go on, about his conflicts with the family: even if they were induced by whatever intoxicant he choose at that time. The families almost cheery demeanor is perplexing and far more than my brain could handle – sadness seemed required – eat the soup, I don’t care, at least shed a few tears in the process. I zone out into the distance.
My thoughts drifted to the recent loss of yet another baby and how I had just lost my dad – life seemed far more unfair than usual. I had lost all chances of ever having a real father. My daughter had lost the chance of ever having a real grandfather and she too, would never know what that ideal family felt like – that one thing I had always wished for. I didn’t need the Brady’s, I just wanted a whole family that would love her with every ounce of their being. I wanted the Gran-daddy who would take her fishing, who would teach her to shoot and who would pass on all their knowledge – it was really far too much to dream for: I should have never wasted the time in hoping he would – for myself, or my daughter. I thought about all the questions that would go unanswered. I sat pondering life and fighting every urge to rip the step-monsters stone cold heart out.
We were supposed to stay at her home but I would rather drive back to Florida than to stay anywhere near the women. A couple of family member slipped me a bit more money when they heard I was thinking of just heading home. I suppose they figured I wouldn’t have enough for a hotel and they may well have been right – no matter the reasons, I wanted to leave. We did end up staying at little no-where hotel on our drive back but just enough to sleep – I couldn’t stay around the area, I couldn’t stay around the step-monster. I wanted so badly to just be home and curled up in my bed, where the world would feel a bit less stabby. The next morning, we headed home even though the family was staying for a memorial service and to look through his things.
I couldn’t face it, I couldn’t face leavening any of him in Arkansas, I couldn’t imagine celebrating his life or going through it for that matter. I had to get away, far away. In the span of about three days, we had gone from Florida to Arkansas and from Arkansas back to Florida. In that time, I had lost my father and any hope of every fulfilling that little girls dreams. I would never know what it’s like to have a loving, caring father. I’d never know the good that everyone goes on about. I’d never fill the hole he left in my heart. I’d never know what’s it’s like to have a truly good father.
I wish I had a good ending for you but honestly, I got back home and remained in a state of anger/depression. Then shortly after my dog died and she was very important to me, as she was a present I received after we had lost our first baby – this only made the anger and depression worse. I wrote, I wrote a lot. My life was in a bit of chaos before his death and him dying only increased the problem, only increased the anger. I felt free and trapped all at once. In life, there are just some levels of emotion that cannot be fully expressed through words and instead takes living it, to know it. The best I can say is that not all the steps in the path to peace can be beautiful, some are cracked, some are missing – it’s all part of the journey.