Fair warning: if you’re grieving the loss of someone, you may or may not want to read this post.
I was 18 when I got the call. This is the kind of call everyone thinks won’t happen to them. I was working at the Marriott in my valet parking booth when my mom on the other end, my-ever-the-unimposing-mama, says, “Joy, your dad has been taken to the hospital. There’s really nothing you can do, so you don’t need to come home.”
Obviously, I couldn’t work after a phone call like that. My boss told me to leave and go to him. These were the days before cell phones and texting, so communication was a lot more challenging. I raced home in my tan Chevy Nova and no one was home. I felt so small and frightened in that moment. I had no idea where they had taken my dad and lacked the where-with-all to think in that moment.
Time stops in these kinds of situations. Time becomes irrelevant. I can still remember the feeling of moving 360 in the house and feeling totally and utterly lost. Shortly after, my cousin, Kirk, ran into the house. I embraced him the strongest hold I’ve ever given someone. I needed support like a newly planted tree braving the strong winds. I don’t know what possessed him to come to my house at that particular moment, but it was exactly what I needed. Losing all sense of rational thought, I said, “I don’t want him to die!” The fear was raw and real. Kirk held me up and said, “Let’s go to the hospital.”
Family members in and out of the hospital.
Many prayers happened.
Shock. Hours later, “Beth, he’s brain-dead. You’re going to have to make a decision about when to take him off life support.”
It was December 11, 1990. Michael, my brother, was 15, Debbie was 10, and Shauna was 3. My mom was widowed at 44.
Standing in the bathroom staring at myself in the hospital mirror, as I held an energy drink in my hands, I clenched it and cried into the mirror and practically screamed. I blamed his death on his eating habits and lack of self-care.
I revisited the last words he’d said to me, “Joy, I’ll go down to the junk yard and get another window to replace that one.” He was going to replace my window…
He was going to replace my window…
He was going to replace my window…
That little pop out triangle window was missing on the front driver’s side of my Nova.
Since then, I’ve had many dreams where I try to find him. I have dreams where he’s a divorced dad estranged from the family and I’m trying to get acquainted again. (This didn’t happen in real life.) I guess this was my way, in my dreams, of hoping that he’s still alive, somewhere, anywhere.
My dad was 50 years old. 50, that’s it!
Uncontrolled high blood pressure, stress, and lack of medication contributed to the brain aneurysm that fateful day.
One of my main motivators, to have gastric bypass at the age of 43, was that mirror motivational speech I’d had with myself in the bathroom at the hospital 26 years ago. Blaming my dad’s early death on his self-care, motivated me, as I’m 7 years away from 50, to make a life change.
During those 26 years, I’ve learned many things about taking care of myself. It isn’t as easy as I naively believed back during my hospital mirror motivational speech. Self-care at 18 was a lot different, than self-care at 43. When I as 18 I didn’t have anyone else to look after. It was just me. So I could take a much different perspective and felt more free to judge my dad for his lack of self-care.
Because of his struggles with weight and life choices, I feel I was given a gift. At this point in history, 2016, gastric bypass has been an option for me. Not so for my dad in 1990, with lack of affordable healthcare and lack of resources in the underpaid jobs he worked supporting our family.
I sang Roll Away the Stone, at the funeral. My dad loved it when I sang that song. I have no idea how I made it through it, on that awful day. Numbness. Necessity. Tribute. Here it is:
Lyric to the 2nd verse:
I wonder will it take a miracle, or if I only need a little time. You see my life is like an open book, that you’re going to have to read between the lines. Cause there’s a wall built around me. It’s keepin’ out strangers and love that might find me. I really wanna change the way I am inside, but Lord, I’ve tried and it’s more than I can do, so won’t you…Roll Away the Stone.
When you experience loss at a young age, you are forced to ask questions like, “What’s important? What do I do now? How do I help my mom and siblings? What’s next?”
When you lose something, you want to find it. When you lose a person, it’s no different. All those chances, those times I wished I could ask him questions, were lost. He had been taken. The opposite of take is give. My way of loving my dad’s memory is through giving. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but as I write, I’m beginning to see the connection and it brings me to tears.
Why do I give? To help me focus less on myself, and more on (heh, moron) those around me. Life is short. I learned this at the ripe old age of 18. There’s no time, like the present, to let the people around you know that you care. You might not get another chance. I give gifts that I know people will adore because we all want to be noticed. We want someone to really see us. Giving is a way that I see people. Growing up I didn’t have much. So giving is a way I can reach back to my roots and remember what it was like to be without. I give to show friends, family, and students and they are important to me.
Let all pause to look at the people around us and see them. You don’t have to give things, it can just be FaceTime, like, real Face Time, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart.
My dad didn’t have much in terms of what the world tends to value—worldly possessions, status, power, but he had a heart as vast as the ocean. I knew he loved me. He was going to fix my window for goodness sakes. When I’m driving my Chevy Nova in heaven, my window will be fixed. Thanks Dad. I miss you. Happy Father’s Day 2016. (I know I’m a week early. It’s to remind you all that Father’s Day is a-comin’.)
Until next Friday…Love you loves.
Gastric Bypass update:
Many people are starting to notice that I’ve lost a lot of weight, no matter where I go. It’s a little uncomfortable for me, but I’m learning to accept well-intentioned compliments.
I attended the support group in Arcadia again this week. It’s so encouraging to see other people who are in various stages of the gastric bypass journey. We ask questions and encourage each other.
One of my major fears: Gaining the weight back.
Eventually, I will feel hunger again. Other members of the group who are years down the road experience hunger similar to how they felt pre-surgery. This scares me. I’m going to try to enjoy the feeling of not being hungry for a change.