My dad died 20 years ago today. July 1, 1993.
He had been at home on hospice care for a month or so by then. It was around 5:00 AM when my mom woke me to tell me there was an ambulance outside, waiting to take him back to the hospital. I got up only to give her the lucky stuffed parrot I always made sure was in his hospital room with him. Then I went back to sleep; I had pom pon practice at 7:00 AM up at school, and after that, driver’s ed class just down the hall.
About five hours later, they called me out of class over the PA; my mom was on the phone. She told me things were not going well at the hospital and they were coming to get me; it was important that I come see dad. I gathered my things quickly and waited outside with my friend, Carrie Dalziel. I vividly remember sitting on the low wall leading up to the office entrance, nervously wrapping and unwrapping my gym bag handle around my wrist over and over again.
It was a hot, sticky day, but I was too anxious to go back inside the air conditioned building. A bad feeling had been brewing since I left the house that morning. When I came downstairs, everything was so quiet, so still… The place where my father had been sleeping, on the living room couch (he was too weak to make it upstairs to bed), looked frighteningly bare. Instantly I realized I’d made a mistake, not waking up to say goodbye in person. Not giving him a kiss and telling him I loved him as I handed him the parrot myself…
Of course all my fears were justified when I saw it wasn’t my mother’s car, come to retrieve me. It was Chris Bohm’s: one of my father’s best buddies from the plant. He was driving, but he didn’t smile when he saw me. My Aunt Julie was in the front seat; she got out of the car and came toward me with her arms outstretched and I could see she was crying, but she said nothing. I remember standing there, clutching my gym bag and looking back and forth between her and Carrie, silent, close behind me. No one spoke the words, but I knew what had happened.
Turns out my mother was in the backseat of Chris’ car, waiting for me. She had the courage to tell me dad was gone; he had died of a blood clot in his lung (a final complication of an aggressive cancer he’d managed to battle back for years). They had done absolutely everything they could for him. I remember asking if I could see him, but it was too late, she told me – it had happened a few hours ago. I thought about my futile gesture of the stuffed parrot, probably in a ziploc in some sterile morgue drawer by then. And I leaned against my mother, and cried the only tears I think I cried that day as I asked, “Who’s going to take care of us now?”
I don’t remember what my mother answered. Truth is, over the past 20 years, there have been many answers to that question. And I’ve tried to remember a lot about that day, but I don’t remember everything. 20 years dulls a lot of pain, but it also fades a lot of memories. It’s hard to hold onto one without the other.
It used to be I wanted things to fade. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to feel sad. But then you look around, and 20 years have gone by, and you realize you need those memories. You actually need that pain or it will all slip away.
I’m fighting as hard as I can now to hold onto everything I have left about my dad. Even the tragic parts about how I lost him – I’m willing to cry to keep them.
So I cried a lot today, but it’s okay – really.
I’m just remembering. Something I always want to do.
Today my uncle died, but in my heart he will always be alive.
He was a very caring man. He could do a lot of things.
My uncle loved all of his family. He liked football, not as much as he loved us.
I wish that he was still alive, because I wanted to show him how I felt about him.
My aunt must be very sad now. I hope that she feels better.
I love Tim.
By Nick Spade
July 1, 1993