On May 9th 2000 my dad passed away. He had heart disease and it went undetected because he was otherwise quite healthy. I was a senior in high school, getting ready to graduate and go off to college. I went to an in-state school, about an hour from home, because dad promised he'd take me out to lunch when he was in town for work. I don't ever regret going (to University of Colorado, by the way), even though I never got to have lunch with dad.
I remember that day really clearly. I had a graduation event at the Denver Natural History Museum. The top graduates were invited to the museum for a special ceremony, including a short filming of us "throwing our caps". There were three people from my school, including myself. My mom was meeting dad and me at the museum since she was coming straight from work. She was running late and I had to run off with the other graduates. I told dad I loved him before I went. Ironically that's the last thing I said to him.
We did our photography session outside, and then filed back into the Museum for the rest of the ceremony. There was some delay in seating us, and we overheard that someone's grandfather had collapsed. I stood with my friend and her dad while I searched the room for my family. Her dad said to her, "see? aren't you glad your dad takes care of himself?" Seconds later, my name was called over the loudspeaker. My eyes bulged in disbelief. I immediately turned away from my friend and her dad and walked like a zombie until I found my mom. She was crying and shaking. I'd never seen anything like it. She said "daddy's sick." Hardly. Sick implies time...duration....hope. The trip to the hospital was a blur. Some lady from the museum volunteered to drive us there and she tried to comfort me along the way.
Once we got to the hospital, they led us to the room with soft chairs and tissue boxes. We sat and waited. I don't know how long. At some point the doctor walked in and gave us his best "...we did the best we could, but unfortunately..." speach. I stopped breathing and fell to my knees before I cried. The next few minutes were filled with hustle and bustle and phone calls. A really nice old nurse sat with me and rubbed my back. It helped...sorta. I remember nothing else. In fact the only thing I could think about for days...or maybe weeks...was what I remembered happening before we left the house.
Rewind to earlier that day. Dad and I were hanging out at home waiting until we had to leave for the Museum. He went to lay down for a bit; he had a bit of heartburn, he thought; heartburn was quite typical for dad. Whenever my parents were sick, I always wanted to take care of them. I brought dad a glass of water and a piece of toast. As I was preparing his get-well snack, I glanced at the bottle of Bayer...a little longer than normal. You always hear that if someone takes Bayer, it could save them from a heart attack. I had no reason, at the time, to think he needed Bayer. The thought quickly passed and I brought dad his snack; he didn't need Bayer for heartburn. But what if I thought for half a second more and actually brought him that Bayer? Would he still be here?
Anyways, after ten years, I consider my life to be mostly normal. But there will always be this giant chunk missing from my heart (metaphorically, of course). Dad never saw me graduate high school, or college, or grad school, or get my first job, or threaten my first boyfriend. I can't make funny faces at him across the dinner table anymore, or sneak out of the dining room early to snuggle on the couch and watch TV. I didn't have a dad to help me move my heavy stuff into my dorm, or teach me how to use my computer. I won't have a dad to walk me down the aisle whenever I get married. I hate museums now. All of them. I'll go in and look around if I have to, but it doesn't take long until I feel pressure from everywhere and want to start sprinting towards the exit.
So in honor of dad, I pay extra attention to my heart, especially during the month of May...
Love you, daddy!
(Dad served in the military for awhile when he was younger. They put a flag over his casket at his funeral. Ive kept his flag and some pictures of him on my bookshelf for the past 10 years.)