A year ago today I was at the hospital with my family while my dad lay in the critical care unit, non-responsive with a ventilator doing his breathing for him. In a rush, we were kicked out of his room and sent to the waiting room as they called a code blue. His heart had stopped. I don't remember how long we sat there waiting, in tears, trying to hold ourselves together and tell ourselves that somehow this would all work out. When the doctor finally came to speak with us, he told us that my dad had coded twice and we needed to decide if we were going to resuscitate if his heart stopped again. I remember crying, asking if we needed to let him go. Miraculously, or at least it seemed that way at the time, his heart kept beating. Three days later they confirmed that he was brain-dead and would not be waking up. The ventilator was taken out and we said our goodbyes.
It's been a year now, without my dad. Officially I guess I have to wait three more days to say that. Today, the slightest movement sets me off, and I flash back to that day. My eyes well up, but I'm broken and I can't cry. I can't find release. I think my dad would want me to go for a long drive with the music turned up loud and just scream, let it out and just drive. This was a tradition for us. Not so much the screaming, but since the time I was very young my dad and I would go on what we called “cruises.” Just get in the car, explore the back roads, turn the radio up loud, or we would sit and talk. For hours.
I would give anything to have this tradition back in my life. To be able to talk to him, to sort out the crazy thoughts that are constantly going on inside. If I could have given anything to my father to make him come back, to make him stay in my life, to make him fight harder, I would have done it. “How hard do you want to struggle?” My mother says this was one of his favorite questions. I've watched what happens when the answer to that questions is “I don't.” He didn't want to struggle anymore. After fighting diabetes for a decade of his life, after struggling against alcoholism for over half his life, he gave up.
Now, yes, you could say that this was a freak occurrence, that he didn't know how sick he was. That he didn't know when you're sick your blood sugar sky rockets, that he didn't know his kidneys were shutting down, that he had pneumonia. You could say that you're not allowed to be mad at a person for this. You could say that. How could any of us have known? And yet here I am, I am mad. I am devastated. I am fucking inconsolable. And I'm allowed to say fucking. I am allowed to be mad.
My chest tightens when I think about those few days spent in the hospital wanting there to be something I could do, wanting to be able to wish it all away and make everything just rewind itself, back to a time when my dad was there when I called, when he was smiling and telling me that I need to just “Get 'er done.” This is the motto my dad leaves me with, to just jump in and get it done, to not get so caught up inside my head. And I am. Mostly. My heart aches, but every day I put one foot in front of the other and I move forward.
Yet here I am and I can't cry. I'm here wondering what it means to let go, what it means to say goodbye. It's not that I haven't come to terms with the fact that he's gone. He's dead. I know this. But how does one say goodbye to someone who isn't there anymore? How does one let go of all the hurt and pain without denying all the good? And maybe that's the point. You can't. The hurt makes you appreciate the joy. It reminds you how precious the goodness in our lives is: love, kindness, forgiveness; long talks with good friends, flowers for no good reason, board games at my sisters house...
Life can be short. It can be brutal. But it can also be amazing. I have an amazing family and amazing friends who are there for me when I need them, and I hope I am able to be the shoulder they need to cry on, the friend they need to talk to, the person who reminds them how truly amazing they are. That's the friend my dad was to me, and if I'm able to be that kind of friend, then I think, somehow, I'll be alright.