It’s been a year.
A year since our world changed forever, a year since he left.
In so many ways it feels like it was just yesterday, so the fact that it’s been 365 days frequently boggles my mind.
It was the 18th day of his hospital stay, and I think we all figured he’d come home eventually. How couldn’t he? There was a recliner waiting for him, and his favorite coffee mug — a Thomas Kinkade mug I gave him for Christmas a few years prior — was ready to be used again. My mom and I drove in my car up to Kaiser Sunset early that morning and received word around noon that he wasn’t the candidate for the triple bypass that we all thought he’d be; the bypass that he was there for in the first place.
Instead, he needed a new heart.
That afternoon, I left Los Angeles and drove home to Corona. He had just been transferred to the critical care unit, out of the cardiac ICU he’d been in while he waited for the surgery that never came.
The hospital CPAP machine was loud, jarring, abrasive. How would he possibly get any sleep with the incessant beeping?
I told my mom I was going home to get his own machine which was far more quiet. Being transferred to the critical care unit wasn’t a good sign, but it was the place where he stood the best chance of getting better.
A funny word, better is. Better implies that there’s a positive direction one can take. But when the day comes when you’re hit with the reality that there is no better, only the end, a hollowness sets in. It’s a hollowness that’s been with me for the last year.
I returned home, found my dad’s CPAP machine, and packed my mom an overnight bag. She was planning on sleeping in my dad’s hospital room that night, even thought she hadn’t stayed up in Los Angeles with him until that evening.
The hospital stay was catching up with us all. I left Kaiser Sunset once again to head home for a night of maximum sleep. Before I knew it, 4 or 5am would roll around and I’d be getting ready to go back to Los Angeles. Somewhere around the 60 and the 71, I vividly remember thinking, “What is the next step? How much longer can this go on?”
He went into cardiac arrest before midnight on September 18th, 2014. Doctors worked on him for almost 30 minutes, according to my mom. She found a moment to call once he’d been stabilized; I still have her voicemail. Her voice calmly and factually explains he’s had a medical emergency, and she thinks another one is beginning. She’s right.
Code blue. 7-3-2-3.
The words are automated, cold, robotic…but they’re clear on the voicemail. Yes, he was going into cardiac arrest a second time.
The final time.
Around 2am, my bedroom light came on. I was in the middle of a deep sleep — miles away from the hospital, and my phone had been turned off so that I could get decent shut-eye…shut-eye that would allow me to be worth something that morning when I went back to the hospital.
My mom was in the room. How was she here? I had the car, and I had packed an overnight bag for her.
I must’ve forgotten to pack something, I thought. How stupid could I have been? She came home to get something, and my dad was there by himself.
This wasn’t the case at all.
“We lost dad,” she said.
In my younger years, we had numerous pets. Everything from fish to hamsters, cats, dogs, and birds.
I was dumbfounded. I was transported to seven years of age when my mom came into my bedroom in the middle of the night to tell me that Rocky, my hamster, had passed away. But, no, now I’m an adult. And now those words were being spoken once again — only now they’re about my dad.
My brother had made it to the hospital to pick her up after she called him. We sat around the kitchen table and cried. We tried to sleep, but I don’t think anybody could. Around 5:30, I went into the backyard and began watering the flowers my dad had planted a few years prior. The sky was getting lighter, and eventually the sun began to break through some early morning clouds.
“Thank you for all that you do,” I heard him say.
These were the words of gratitude he spoke to every hospital employee who came into his room for any reason. He said them to me the day before he passed, as I was leaning over to hug him goodbye until I saw him the next morning.
“Thank you for all that you do.”
I kept watering.
We planned his funeral in a daze, and in the following weeks went about life in the same stupor. We heard his voice, felt his presence, had long-forgotten memories return in the quietest of moments, and tried to process this newfound definition of “loss” as best we could. I think we still are.
I don’t think my coworker realized the compliment he paid me earlier today.
“Since you’ve come on board, there’s been an element of calm you’ve brought to the team.”
My dad was the picture of calm, so I clung desperately to those words the moment they reached my ears. I always knew we were wired similarly, but when someone who never knew him sees my father’s trademark calm in me, I’m once again reminded that even though he’s physically gone, he’s still with me every day.
When a friend or colleague experiences loss, I feel like I’ve lost my dad all over again. One corner of the scab is lifted up and the blood is fresh once more, but it’s both grounding and cathartic to revisit his passing when I hear of another’s.
“I’m sorry for your loss” has new meaning to me — or rather, it has meaning period. I didn’t know the true value of those words until I lost my dad, and the meaning they now hold for me is on par with the meaning in each word he spoke, every time he spoke.
One year is only the beginning of many where I’ll miss him every day. Love you, dad.