In August 2000, I went back to school on August 4th. It was a Thursday and my dad had been in the hospital for almost 10 months straight. At this point, he had suffered from two heart attacks and multiple organs had started to fail. My mom and I were guessing his time left on earth with us was short and we were soaking in every moment we had as a family of three that we could. The following Monday, I knew my mom was volunteering that morning as she did most first weeks of school…and every other week following that. Kindergarten had never let her “graduate” from being their volunteer because she loved having the little five year-olds read to her. That morning I found myself in the main hall of the school, for what reason I don’t remember. But I distinctly remember seeing my mom running out of the main office of the school and out the main door. I thought to myself, “uh oh.” I knew then something was wrong. This lady didn’t just run out of the school for no reason.
I tried to go about the rest of my morning knowing in the back of my mind something was happening, and in my family that was never good. A little before lunch, I got a note to gather up my stuff and go to the office. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself again. There I found one of our neighbors and she hustled me out the door. On our way out of the building, we were stopped by another friend’s mom. She asked how my dad was doing and the neighbor picking me up just looked at her and said, “We have to go.” I thought once again, “uh oh.” We got to the car and we rushed to the hospital. We didn’t go to the small acute care hospital my dad had been in for most of the last 10 months, we headed to the big hospital across the street. “Uh oh.” Last time I was pulled out of school to come to this hospital my dad was in the ICU after his second heart attack around Christmas time. She and I walked with haste to the ER and they took us back where I found my mom in the hallway. She was drenched in tears and looked at me and said, “Bryna, this is it.” What? This is it? What does that mean? Then I looked in the room and found my dad hooked up to more tubes and machines than I had ever seen in this long stay.
Throughout the rest of the day, I spent time in the ER and then the ICU waiting room, going back in forth between my mom and Grammy who had been picked up and brought to the hospital from our house. She was always my safety base when bad things were happening. She just had this aura of calm and sweetness even in the worst of times. My mom eventually pulled me aside and said that the next day, she was going to have to make the decision to turn off the machines. This would mean that the next day, he would die. I had to go home and leave my mom at the hospital because she had a tendency not to leave my dad’s side while he was over at the big hospital. The next day, on August 8, 2000, surrounded by family and our minister of music from our church, my dad peacefully died.
19 years later, I remember the details of this day distinctly. I remember sneaking in and out of the ICU room when I needed a break. I remember what we said to Dad in those moments. I remember the empty feeling I had when I went home. I remember anticipating my cousin’s arrival because I knew then things would be better. 19 years later the pain of this day continues, although it looks different. I see his death now through the eyes of a 28 year old instead of the eyes of a 9 year old. I understand things that were said and done a little differently each time I learn and reprocess new information. Grief is not something that goes away. It is a journey that takes us on many paths. Some of those paths are smooth for a bit and sometimes they get rocky. The goal is to take the good days when they come and respect the bad days when they arise. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the details of these two days in August 19 years ago. They will stick with me forever.
Today, I will stop at the cemetery on my way to work and lay flowers at his grave like I have done on this day for the last 19 years. I will treat myself to Starbucks and I will probably indulge in some sort of ice cream or Tootsie Roll situation. I will take care and listen to my body’s needs. I will go to work followed by a work event out in the community. Then I will help my husband to prepare for his precious Kindergarteners that arrive in his classroom next Monday. Days like today require some sort of self care along with our routines. Today I thank you for giving me your love of sports, always pushing me in my swing, and for all of your bedtime songs. Until we meet again, Daddy, I miss you and I love you always.