I never know where to start when writing some of these more personal posts. The tears, the happy thoughts, the memory of seeing my dad for the last time. For anyone who has ever suffered a loss, you know the feeling never escapes you. Never.
My dad passed away Tuesday, July 14, 2015 from a heart attack. I remember everything about that day vividly. The call I got from my sister; the way my boss looked at me when I said I had to go, that my dad wasn’t breathing; the lump in my throat I felt while driving that excruciatingly long drive from Lincoln Park to Beverly. I wasn’t sure what was going on. We received a call from our neighbor who said the paramedics needed to access to the house, that dad had called 911. I honestly thought he passed out.
The shock of losing a parent so unexpectedly will never wear off. I hear an ambulance and I pray they get wherever they’re going fast enough to save that person’s life. I wonder if they had gotten in my parent’s house fast enough, would my dad still be alive. I realize it does me no good to think like that, but some days I can’t help it. I just want him back. I want him to see how utterly amazing his grandchildren are. I want to hear him laugh at the funny things they say and do. I desperately want to hear that laugh again. I want to see that smile again.
Fortunately (if there is such a thing in these circumstances), I have a glorious final memory of my family together. That Sunday, Jon and I rented a sailboat. My mom, dad, sister and 6 month old Livvy spent hours on Lake Michigan, watching the sunset, feeling the warm breeze on our skin and enjoying each other’s company. It was honestly perfect. Even the next day as just Jon and Jayme set sail (I was beyond seasick, so Livvy and I hung out around the DuSable harbor and Millennium Park), I remember having a warm conversation with my dad about the day. And his final text to me Tuesday morning was a video he took while riding his bike with Maddie (their black lab) jogging behind. Nothing about these final few days said “goodbye.” Nothing felt out of the ordinary. One day he was here and the next, he wasn’t.
And oh lord, the funeral arrangements, paperwork and logistics really can keep your mind busy! We stayed at my mom’s house for 2 weeks afterwards, friends coming and going. Perfecting the art of making the best Old Fashions to help numb the pain. The wake was a blur – he was cremated but we did an open casket to say goodbye; it’s weird, but we all needed one last time with my dad to say goodbye. So many people, such a long line to say the same thing to everyone, to hear the same things “i’m sorry for your loss” “it was too soon” – all the right things by the way, just an out of body experience to live.
On what would have been his 65th birthday, the family drove down to Carbondale, where he and my mom met in college. We hiked to Lookout Point to spread his ashes. Ashes are not a powdery dust like in the movies! There is bone. I was not prepared for that. My sister and mom created a great playlist and we hung out on this cliff for a while, just listening to nature and some of my dad’s favorite tunes. (which I have come to appreciate now as they are Jon’s favorite as well!).
I’ve realized something throughout all of this, something I knew, but feel my dad really making me practice now: laughter is the best medicine. Even in times of despair, be goofy, giggle, have a tickle attack. It can take you out of your funk, even if just for a few minutes. I remember my dad tickling me a lot when I was little; cheering and coaching my soccer games; working on rehabing the houses while Jayme and I would play hide and seek or with legos; building us the most incredible swing set and playhouse (it legit had skylights and electricity – it was a mini replica of our house!); catching lightning bugs; building us a balance beam so we could practice our routines in the front yard; helping with math homework; making his open faced turkey sandwiches for dinner; the way he would adoringly look at my mom; coming in after working in the shop and kick his feet up, which I would sometimes rub to ease the pain; waiting up for me when I would get home in high school and ask to smell my breath to see if I had been drinking (definitely got grounded a few times, but I also think he let me slide more often than I knew at the time!).
I wish I talked to my dad more about his time in Vietnam, how he was raised, what it was like to lose 2 brothers, the feelings he had when he asked my mom to marry him. It’s hard to get out of your daily grind to just chit chat with people, really connect. Especially with young kids, shuffling around, sticking to a routine, playing referee. One thing I would like to focus on this year is be more purposeful in my conversations, hopefully the other side feels I really care about what they’re saying.
Every year my mom, sister and I celebrate my dad’s life on this day and we do something adventurous. In 2016 “we” were supposed to do a flying trapeze; I was 8 weeks pregnant sadly couldn’t partake in this – ha! In 2017 we wanted to do stand up paddle boarding on the lake, only the day was way too windy! So we ended up renting jet skis and my mom was scared shitless. This year, we’re off to do a helicopter ride over the city! (my sister wanted to go skydiving, which this mamabear was NOT doing again).
I love you dad and know that you are my guiding light.
PS Here is a great article written by the Beverly Review about my dads life and legacy.