Twenty-one years ago today, you died.
Twenty-one years and one day ago, you went to the hospital for a routine heart catherization.
Twenty-one years and two days ago, you called me, scared about the procedure. You were worried that something bad was going to happen and that you wouldn’t make it to Georgia to help celebrate my 26th birthday, nine days later. I scoffed and told you, “Oh, Dad, if you had died all the times you said you were going to die, I’d have a grave dug to China by now.” After all, you were only 66 years old. It was 1998. Unless you had cancer, you weren’t going to just up and die at 66.
I was wrong.
Twenty-one years and one day ago, you checked into the hospital and had the catherization. During the procedure, you had a massive heart attack. The doctors gave you blood thinners and scheduled an angioplasty for the next day.
Twenty-one years ago today, you woke up with one side of your body paralyzed and your temperature dangerously low. Through slurred speech, you acquiesced to a CT scan, during which the doctors found a previously-unknown brain tumor that had started to bleed. All because of those pesky blood thinners. It was decided that before the angioplasty could happen, the tumor had to be removed. Underneath piles of blankets, through garbled speech, you reminded Mom to take care of the mail, to pick up the newspaper, and to change the furnace filter.
You didn’t make it. Your heart wasn’t strong enough to survive general anesthesia and you died in the St. Mary’s OR. They revived you once, but your heart stopped a second time. Clearly, you were done. They tried to revive you a second time, but you weren’t having it.
You were gone.
I was in a rental car, thirty minutes away from the hospital when you died. Nothing was moving fast enough. Security at the airport was too slow. The plane flew at a snail’s pace. The luggage took forever to show up on the carousel. The rental desk took their sweet time giving us the car keys. The interstate roads to Huntington stretched out longer and longer. When I arrived at the hospital, I should have known something was wrong when I saw our family friend, Sarah, in the doorway of the waiting room. Vicky was there, too. And there was a nun. And then Mom told me you were gone.
Twenty-one years ago.
We entered, single-file, into the OR. You were on the bed, blanket pulled up to your shoulders, very pale, but still somewhat warm. There was a tiny bit of dried blood that had leaked out of your right nostril. And your chest wasn’t moving. While the nun and everyone else prayed, I stared at you. There was no life. The essence of you was gone.
When we returned home to 5312 Kentucky Street, your smell lingered, your clothes were waiting for you in your closet, and the newspaper was on the end table. I sat at the kitchen table and stared at the food in front of me. Kelley had blown in like an ocean wind, fluttering around, pushing us to eat and move. As the days progressed and we made your funeral arrangements, ate the “death buffet,” and greeted friends and family at the funeral home, we discovered a cache of letters you had written to special friends and family. Here is the letter you wrote to me:
Writing this letter to you is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Cause you know that I love you more than anything in this world. I’m writing your letter last – I have kept putting it off.
My hope for you Heather is that you will find true happiness and live a full and clean life and if there is a Heaven that we will meet again.
Heather please remember me every now and then – I would never like for you to not think about me now and then.
It seems only yesterday that Mom and Dad brought you home from the hospital. It was snowing and you rode home on Granny Smith’s lap.
The years sure flew by and I always wanted to be near you and hear about what you did – sometimes I know I bugged you a lot. I remember all the good times at Montrose – the Halloween parades when I would dress up in the rabbit outfit. Then to junior high and the band – all the good times we had. I always remember you bringing the band onto Oaks Field – you made Dad so proud. Then on to high school and the old band podium I had to drag around and nobody would help me and when you kicked butts in your last year.
I remember the first junior high band festival at Wayne County when you won first place. I can still see you hollering “WE’RE NUMBER 1!” and that you were.
Heather I can’t write of all the good times we had. Maybe from time to time you can remember them. Space Camp, trip with the Spirit of America band and me crying. All the Rainbow Girls trips we made. The trips to Lewisburg – I never did take a short cut home. When I had the back trouble and you were in the floor with me. We really had some times, that’s for sure.
And all the trips I made to Georgia.
What I’m trying to say Heather is that you have been one heck of a daughter and I wouldn’t trade you for a sack of boys – you were always strong and willing to run with the big dogs.
Heather as you go through life there will be a lot of bad times. Just try and do your best – I always tried to treat everyone like I wanted to be treated. Of course, you will run into some assholes – the best thing to do is just get away from them and do what you think best and always keep the ones you love the most around you. I love you, Dad
PS See you upstairs.
I read that letter every January 30th. Every time I read it, I sob out loud just like I did the first time I found it, in 1998. I think that if I live to be 100, I’ll still cry over this letter.
What I’ve discovered on this 21-year journey without you is that I will ALWAYS miss you. I will ALWAYS cry when I think of you. I will ALWAYS grieve your absence. And I will NEVER stop loving you. I see you every day in the mirror and in the faces of your grandchildren. And I wish so very much that you were here.
I love you and I wouldn’t trade you for a sack of perfect fathers.
Love, your Ferntuck