In the early morning hours on Wed, October 24th, 2012 I was recovering patients from surgery at work. It was a little after 1am EST. My phone rings. It’s playing the theme from the Wild Wild West the series. That means someone in my family is calling. Since it’s only my Dad or my brother, I swear silently to myself and answer because it’s Rick.
“Hey, It’s Rick. I have some bad news…..”
shit…. oh god…….
“Dad died about 2 hours ago.”
There are tears in his eyes, I can hear them in his voice. My brother really doesn’t cry. He’s not an emotional sort really. At least not that I have ever seen much. This time I didn’t tell him it wasn’t funny. The nagging feeling I had been experiencing since Summer was gone and I knew it was this which had hovered on the horizon. Fuck I hate being right. I thought is was my Aunt’s death that had been that other shoe. Then Mark Metz died in a hunting accident. In fact that afternoon, I had been to Mark’s funeral. Tears rolled silently down my face as I listened to Rick recount what he knew, what he didn’t know and what the hell were we going to do now? Two orphans with no clue and our parents snatched from us in an instant it seemed.
Brittany comes in and sees me on the phone, tears streaming down my face and asks what happened.
“My Dad just died” I tell her.
“you need to go home. Right now. I’ll stay, don’t worry about it, just go home. Let me know you got home safe and we’ll talk to Dr. Chevalier in the morning.”
Brittany is a good kid. I don’t have the words to thank her properly for her compassion and will to help in a situation no one should have to go through. She didn’t argue, she just pointed. I left for home. On the way I called Matt. We cried together over the phone. I cried all the way home.
When I was 18 I left for college in Iowa. I was drugged and raped my first week there. I lost half a year or better of my memory and still don’t remember the actual event well. What I do remember is enough. I’m not sure I want to remember more. I quit school, went home in shame and lived there until sometime in August when I went back to face demons. I never really returned home. I had become the black sheep of the family. I went for my 10 year HS reunion, the occasional family holiday but that’s all. I didn’t see my parents for 10 years or more. Mom got esophageal cancer and Dad felt that as aggressive as those cancers can be, we’d best have a family vacation and NOW. So he paid for the four of us to go to Spain for 14 days. It was amazing. Once again, I was the black sheep. My perforated and painted body was something Mother didn’t approve of. While Dad might not have approved, at least he like the artwork I chose to display, if not the medium in which I did it. Another strike against me. I had already married and divorced my first husband who beat me. I was on my second husband whom I didn’t love, but offered financial security for a time. That ended not long after the trip to Spain. I moved to West Virginia. I had friends, a good job and my hobby. I met my current husband. I was truly happy for the first time ever. I had the first and only grandchild. Mom and Dad came out for the birth of my first born. It was traumatic and wonderful all at once. Mom seemed to forgive me some. We talked for the first time in over 15 years. Dad and I got closer. I still didn’t go home. My home was here now, with the family I had helped create. I was loved.
Mom got cancer again. Years of smoking finally reared up in her lungs. Found after a fall which broke her hip and cracked her pelvis, she underwent radiation therapy once more. Handling it much better than the same regemen for her throat 8 years prior. But the radiation had left her bones brittle and she’d fallen again. Surgery and more tests, a live in rehab center for athletes and convalescents, and mom recovered from the lung cancer. But the tests had revealed cancer of her liver this time. in 3 weeks or less Mom went from recovering to a back injury due to brittle bones. Then one night, she broke her back, threw a clot and it was over.
Somewhere in the middle of this my father had a stroke. For 10 days I didn’t even KNOW about it. No one called me. NO ONE. I was hurt, livid, angry, crushed. In many ways I still am. I wasn’t there for him and was refused the right to come out to help when I offered to quit my job, take a leave of absence or whatever was needed and do just that. I was the daughter that no one wanted.
My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary 2 years ago this last August. I flew my entire family out, including a grand son neither of them had ever met as a surprise. It was the only time I had seen my father cry. Mom never really said anything. I’m not even sure she was happy to see me. The boys I know she wanted to see, but me…. I’ll never really know. A year and a half later,on January 22, 2012, Mom died. We flew out to her celebration of life. Her urn was placed on the mantle. The ground was frozen so we couldn’t bury her. We opted to do so in the summer when the ground was more forgiving. 6 months later, my boys, my husband, my brother, Dad and a few very close friends shoveled dirt over mom’s urn in a simple grave in a graveyard which houses bones as old as the gold rush and before. In my head, I buried my mom twice.
That week we went with Dad to some silly things like burrow races in Fairplay, dinner with friends, sight seeing and just quality time with my Dad. It was nice. Matt and I decided we’d take the family out again very soon because the boys needed to know their Grand Pere and he needed to know them.
In September my Aunt died. Rick and I went to her funeral and were reunited with mom’s brother and our cousins. We, the kids, had formulated a secret plan to get a family which had drifted apart over 30 years back together.
October… and here we are. Rick and I split phone calls to people we know from our old home town. We hack into Dad’s email to send a blanket email about his death to people we didn’t have phone numbers for since Dad’s phone had gone missing the night he died. Rick and I posted both our phone numbers on the email to contact. Of the HUNDREDS of people on the lists…. one called me. ONE. And that was because he couldn’t get in touch with Rick fast enough. I am still…. the daughter that wasn’t. Rick, Matt and myself shoveled dirt over Dad’s urn in a grave right next to Mom’s. It was a beautiful day.
The amount of guilt I carry now is staggering. I wasn’t there for Mom’s Illnesses, nor Dad’s stoke and recovery. Rick carried it all and became the local hero in the eyes of all the people my parents knew and loved at home. I was simply some girl they claimed as a daughter that they never saw and didn’t really care to see. It hurts. More than I have words for, it hurts every damn day. I hurt for Rick who hasn’t had a life for 20 years, I hurt for the loss of my mom who never really wanted me around, and for my Dad who didn’t really accept me for who I am, but did try. I hurt for the loss of a grandfather my boys will never really know. He was amazing.
I cry every day. I try not to, but I do. There is so much I wanted to say and do with Dad still. So much about him I wanted my boys to know. So now I have to settle for stories and pictures and his photographic art to tell the story of a man who for as long as I can remember represented my whole world.
People who know me well try to understand and express their sympathy. But they don’t know, they can’t see. I died that day too in some ways. I’m not good company, I’m needy and insecure. I both need to be alone and want to be with people so I don’t have to think. I am a mess. I want to crawl under a rock and stay there.
Rick can finally have a life. But I know he’s a little lost right now. He’s spent so much time over the years looking after our parents that now…….. And I feel guilty over that. I wish so much were different.
Spend time with people you love. Tell them you love them, show them at every opportunity. Tomorrow might not come.