What a very strange and surreal week it has been. My phone rang at 6:00pm last Tuesday. It was my brother, James, telling me my dad had collapsed at the retirement community where he lived. I was trying hard to absorb the information but mostly I had the feeling of "Something happened but it will be ok."
Still, I was nervous and waited for the update call I was promised.
I didn't have to wait long. Fifteen minutes later he called back. "The paramedics were unsuccessful in their efforts."
"What? I don't understand."
He repeated the information - a task I'm sure wasn't easy the first time and probably not the third time either.
He would call later with more information. I hung up on the phone, turned and looked, stunned, at Stephanie who noticed I had gone pale and had come up behind me and put her arms around me. There were no words. There were no tears. I just stood there.
Stephanie held me and asked what I needed. *blink blink* I had no idea what I needed. I just stood there and started to shake. Tears began to fall as the words James said swam around and around in my head.
I waited 15 more minutes and then called Lannon to see if she had information. Confirmation, I suppose, on what I had heard. She told me everything she knew. She was sitting at Washington Oaks, the retirement community, waiting. She knew he had had a great day - his favorite performer had been there and lots of fun was had. Later, he must have gone for a walk. Someone reported seeing blood at an entrance to the building. The staff quickly followed the trail and it lead to my dad's apartment. Getting no answer, they used their key and went inside. He was laying on the floor, unresponsive.
The staff did all they could. The paramedics did all they could. All to no avail. My dad had died.
Years ago, after he had been hit by a car crossing the street, we learned he had an aortic aneurysm and, because of the severity of his stroke from years before, there was nothing they could do. They specialist explained to James and Lannon (and they to me) what would eventually happen. And, happen it did.
The blessing to be found in the tragedy is that it was quick and he didn't have to suffer through a long, drawn out process before dying. I'm glad for that but the swiftness of it is stunning and heartbreaking.
My brother and sister made arrangements the next day and I did what I could from here to help (sadly - very little. I made a few phone calls, sent a few emails and handled finding pall bearers). I tried to make sense of things. Stephanie listened to me for hours on end as I relived the past, questioned the future and grieved the present. She was my lifeline and I am so grateful for her love and support.
I decided the kids would stay here and continue with their weekend plans with Dakota and Stephanie and I would drive up to Seattle. We left immediately after the kids left for school on Friday and drove straight through, making good time. We met James, Cara, Lannon, Arne and my other brother, Will, at the funeral home for the family viewing/visitation. I'd never really understood the whole viewing thing but because his was a very sudden death, it turned out to be a vital part of the process for me. I had to see with my own eyes before it started making sense in my head. It was painful and heart shattering but I'm glad I had the opportunity to say good-bye and see him one last time. Stephanie was with me every step of the way - I really don't know what I would have done without her.
We all left there and headed to my dad's apartment. Lannon, Arne , Cara and James had done the lions share of the work when it came to cleaning out the apartment. They had spent the entire day before sorting through things, making piles, making dump and Good Will runs. There was precious little to help do but I did all I could to help. We loaded cars with the few items people chose and boxed and bagged up the rest to dispose of. It struck me how we work hard our entire lives for "stuff" and in the end, most of it ends up being donated or tossed. Some goes into storage for a while and some goes into the hands of family. It really brings into sharp focus how "stuff" doesn't really mean all that much. To a large degree, I already knew this and try to live my life accordingly but this really brought it home. It's the time we spend with each other that counts. The memories we leave behind. The stories that make us laugh. That make us cry. Those are the "things" that matter.
Before long, Stephanie and I were on our way to James' house for the night. The next morning, early, we headed back to Seattle for the service. It had it's moments of being difficult but with baby Madeleine to entertain us, and friends and family we hadn't seen in ages to catch up with, it moved along well.
At the end of the reception, everyone said their goodbyes, the six of us (plus baby Madeleine) loaded up cars with left over food, plants and flowers and headed to Lannon and Arne's house to hang out together. Stories were swapped and partners probably learned more about our growing up years then they had to date. At least, this was true for Stephanie. In the end, she said that for as sad as it all was, she was glad for the chance to learn so much about me and my growing up years. I guess that's the one part of the funeral day I do like - the bonding and talking that takes place. The affirmation of life.
James, Cara and the baby headed back to their house while Stephanie and I hung back and stayed for a couple more hours. We headed back to James and Cara's at dinner time and the 4.5 of us went out to eat.
It was late when we got back so the baby went to bed and the grown ups talked a bit longer. Then it was off to bed where I struggled to find sleep. I talked Stephanie's ear off until the wee hours but finally we both fell asleep. Yesterday, after breakfast, we said our goodbyes and climbed back into the car for the 4 hour drive home. Only - we decided to make it a 7.5 hour drive. I took a trip down memory lane and had us drive by the house I lived in before moving to Vancouver. It looks basically the same. Then we made a Starbuck's stop, a stop at a casino to play the slots in honor of my dad (who loved going to the casino with his retirement community. He never won so he would be happy to know that neither did we. We lost $80 in about 15 minutes and then walked out the door. :)) and finally, a stop at the outlet mall just to wander around. Stops I always think about making but never do because a 4 hour drive with kids is about 4 hours too long. A 7.5 hour drive with Stephanie? Not even close to enough time to just be together. I circled between talking Stephanie's ear off and being very, very quiet - lost in reliving events. I would laugh at times and cry at others. I felt very bi-polar but Stephanie kept assuring me it was perfectly normal. I've never experienced a death that was so sudden before - usually, they have been long goodbyes and I do a lot of my back and forth stuff before the person dies. This grieving process in completely foreign to me - and a bit crazy making.
We drove to Stephanie's house and dropped off the items I brought back from my dad's and the plants from the funeral (no sense moving them again in a few months and Kaylen will love having the plants to plant in the garden there) and then came back to my house to wait for the kids to return from their weekend. We were here for just a few minutes before they pulled into the driveway.
The kids, Stephanie and I talked and caught up with each other and then it was off to bed - for all of us. Bed. Where I again talked Stephanie's ear off and where she was, again and still, incredibly supportive. It's crazy and surreal that my dad is gone. It's crazy and surreal that both my parents are gone. I'm 47 years old and I swear to you, I feel waaaaaaaaaay too young to not have parents around. It's just not right. It will take more time to come to terms with it, I'm sure.
For as big as my grief is, I know my sister and brother will have an even bigger hole. It is the two of them that took care of Dad for all these years. Helping him to be able to stay in a retirement community instead of an assisted living place. It is they who picked him up and took him places, bought the things he needed, ran errands, oversaw his financials, made sure his bills were paid, kept tabs on him to make sure he was taken care of and happy, etc. Lannon gave up Saturdays to go over and take care of things that needed tending to. The two of them gave up a lot to take care of our dad. I can't begin to compare the way the loss will hit all of us - so completely different. But I guess that's how loss is. No one experiences it the same.
While we all heal emotionally.......I only know this to be true: onward we go. The sun is still rising in the mornings and the children still need to be cared for. Life has a funny way of continually moving us forward.