He just kept saying, “I just really need you home. I don’t want to tell you over the phone. Do you want me to come there?” Eventually, after a pause and my brain catching up it clicked that something was very wrong. I asked, “What’s wrong?” After a long pause, I asked, “Did someone die?” My first thought was of my mom’s brother, Phil – the amazing uncle that the boys call “Uncle Phuzzy.” He’s had all sorts of medical stuff going on and hasn’t been doing great.
"Yes,” Mike said.
I kind of gasped and said, “Who??” I could tell that Mike didn’t want to tell me. There was another very long pause and then he quietly said, “Your dad.”
I can’t really describe the feeling that I had. I kind of let out one of those guttural throat-sobs that just escapes without your meaning it to. I didn’t care. I didn’t know. I couldn’t really process. I sat back in the car and said some stuff like, “What? What? Wait, my dad? Did you say my dad? Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.”
Mike went on to say that dad had a heart attack. The priest had called Mike; he was with my mom at the hospital. Mike asked if I wanted him (Mike) to come get me. I said yes. Then no. There was no way I could just sit in the car and wait. I had to get home as soon as possible so that I could get to the hospital as soon as possible.
I did my best to be conscious of safe-driving. I was sobbing and gasping, but I kept forcing myself to take deep breaths and to try to not lose it too much so that I could see and drive and somehow survive this. I called Rebecca so that I could talk to someone while driving. So, yeah, sobbing and on the cellphone and in shock…probably not the smartest, but I couldn’t really do much else.
Kayli and I got home – after what felt like an eternity (really a 10 minute drive). Mike was pacing in the driveway. We hugged, I sobbed, and then I came in to call my mom. I just needed to get there. She sounded calm-ish on the phone. She told me to come to the ER and tell them dad’s name and they’d take me back.
Since I’d gone to the gym, I was sweaty and gross and super hungry. You’d think these things wouldn’t matter, but I did have the forethought that it would be a long day and if I didn’t at least change I’d be freezing. I changed, threw on a hat and grabbed a granola bar and two small oranges and ate them while I drove. I tried not to lose it. I just needed to get there. I was shaking the whole time.
I arrived at the ER and didn’t manage to hold it together at the check-in desk. I didn’t care. I was so confused and knew I needed a parking pass or my car would be towed – the stupid, mundane things that you still worry about. The girls at the desk were great – they’re used to this – got my car model, color and said they’d take care of it. I was sent back through an automatic door and eventually found the room with my mom…and my dad.
Mom and Dad had attended daily Mass at 8am Tuesday morning just like they always do. Afterwards, Dad stayed to volunteer with a group of men that do yardwork around the church. They were going to be working on the priest’s yard at his house across the street. Dad had told the guys that he was feeling light-headed and thought he might go home. He took a few steps down the driveway and fell to his knees, basically right in front of the statue of Mary. I didn’t find out until later that the priest – Father F – was the one who performed CPR on my dad. Dad was basically gone right away though. There’s nothing they could’ve done. What a way to go! Having just received Communion and then dying doing the Lord’s work. We take comfort in that. As I’ve been saying, “Well, great. It’s awesome for him…just sucks for the rest of us!”
My mom – thankfully!!!!!! – was with one of her very best friends and just a 10 minute drive away. They received a call from the church secretary saying, “Therese, Bob collapsed. Father F is here with him and the aid cars are here.” Kathy was able to drive my mom, be with my mom; my mom was never alone. Kathy stayed with us at the hospital all day, making calls to family, arranging friends to meet us with dinner. Kathy picked up my brother Chris for us. We are so, unbelievably grateful that she was there.
Really, there are so many things we are thankful for in how this all happened. My dad’s been spending a lot of time at the Port Ludlow beach house. He’d go for a few days during the week to get work done. If it’d happened there, who knows how long it would’ve been until we’d found out, gotten to him, etc. Of course, friends and family have all been unbelievably amazing, and I certainly haven’t forgotten that we’re all going through this together. My parents have been blessed with a huge group of friends from church, from Port Ludlow, from all over the place. Everyone else is just as shocked as we are. Dad was seriously the healthiest person I’ve ever known. He did everything right. No one – NO ONE – would’ve put him down as the first to go (of all their siblings/my aunts and uncles, their friends, etc.), that’s for sure.
We spent the whole day at the hospital. They moved us – and dad – to a private room. The hospital staff was phenomenal. One amazing thing: my dad is an organ donor (just as I want to be and have down on my driver’s license). Mom spent about 25 minutes talking to someone – who was amazing and kind and patient – about the donor business. We found out that dad’s corneas will help two different blind people and up to 40 people will benefit from tissue and bone. He’s the gift that keeps on giving. As my brother Timothy (the ‘green,’ pro-Earth architect said), “Well, it looks like I had an effect on his recycling habits.”
This is another thing about us – humor. We’re blessed with the stupid ability to never, ever run out of tears. There’s an endless reservoir. Just when my eyeballs start to dry out, they must panic and go, “Oh, we haven’t been washed for a few minutes…let’s turn the water back on.” But we’ve also laughed. We’ve needed the comedic relief and it’s also how dad would’ve been.
Timothy and his wife Rebecca were able to drive up and arrive within three hours (record time considering the potential pre-Thanksgiving traffic). We let my brother Chris, finish out his work day and then Tim went with mom’s friend Kathy to pick him up. We had no idea how my sweet, gentle (and Special Needs) brother would handle this. We still don’t really know. He was great at the hospital –even making some jokes. The next morning, we went to Mass together and met with the priest afterwards. We all cried and I saw Chris shed some tears too…that’s a good sign. I think he does understand what’s going on.
Mike, in the meantime, has been amazing – of course. He’s been on nonstop kid duty so that I can be with mom and my brothers. He was the one to tell the boys in the evening what had happened. I arrived home a little while later. Matthew, of course, our sensitive one, has cried a lot. Zachary, of course, our more wild-animal/resilient one has been tough. That night, like most nights, we read a saint story with them. Matthew said, “Well, someday there will be a story of Saint D-dad.” (That’s how he could say “Grandad” when he was little and the name stuck ever since.)
On Thanksgiving morning, we went to Mass with the family. Kayliana turned around to the lady behind us and said, “D-dad is gone…in heaven. With Jesus. He’s very fragile.” I don’t get the fragile part so much, but if anyone should talk about being fragile, it’s Kayli.
After a quite nice Thanksgiving – with laughter and tears – we got home late and went to bed. At 3am Kayli woke up crying. Mike went in and saw that she had her left arm pinned underneath her. He thought it must’ve fallen asleep and was tingly-hurting. He gently pulled it out from under her and she freaked out, crying in pain. A year ago, August, we’d gone through the nursemaid/dislocated elbow thing with her, but that was her right arm, and she was bending her left elbow so we knew it wasn’t that. She was pointing to her wrist. After not long though she fell asleep and we figured it must’ve just been tingling or something. However, she woke up screaming yesterday morning and wouldn’t move her arm. I ended up taking her to the doctor where they did XRays. The doctor – despite not really seeing anything too clear on the film – is convinced that she likely has a fractured elbow. She’s now in a splint and sling I take her Monday morning to see the Children’s Hospital Orthopedic people for more Xrays and possibly a cast. ‘Cuz, you know, we don’t have anything else going on. L Poor thing.
All, I’ve been able to say about all of this is, “Surreal.” At least ten times a day, I think or say, “It’s just so surreal.” It’s a weird bad dream from which I’ve yet to awaken. Through all of it, though, I take so much comfort in our Catholic faith. Catholics ROCK death. We have so many beliefs and traditions that help the living cope with the dead and I don’t know what I’d do without them. The funeral will be Wed. Dec. 11th, so we’re busy getting ready for that. All the while, shaking our heads and thinking, “This is just surreal.”
I put this picture up on my facebook page. It’s one of my favorites. When I took dad camping with me and the kids this August (a trip, I’m extra thankful for now), he helped the boys construct this ridiculous ‘rope swing’ (in the hopes that they would stop bickering and driving us bonkers. It sorta worked). But really, the best thing I got out of it was this photo. A couple of weeks later, I gave dad this picture in a frame with the caption, “CAMPING: it makes you feel like a kid again!” The picture is still on his desk.