I remember February 14, 2001 like it was yesterday. Herr and I were having a lovely dinner at a restaurant outside of Pittsburgh. I had been edgy all night, worried about my parents. You see, my father was nearing the end of his life. He had been dying a slow and agonizing death, but in the weeks after Christmas 2000, he had started to rapidly deteriorate. His heart transplant surgeon and nurses drove to my parents' home two hours away to say their good-byes to him after it was determined that there would be no more trips to the hospital. They had known him for 10 years. I supppose the end has to be near if that happens.
I had been spending a lot of time in Indiana helping my mother care for him. I had been there the previous weekend and planned to go home in a day or two, but I told Herr that I had a feeling that I should go home that very minute. My husband, being the voice of reason, reminded me that it was a six hour drive home and I couldn't see at night when I drive. He told me to pack a bag when I got home, go into the office in the morning and leave for Indiana after I had time to talk to my boss.
The next morning, I got to my office before 7:00 so that I could check some emails and leave some voicemails before I left. My phone rang at 7:10. When I picked it up, it was my mom, telling me that Dad had just died. Even though I knew that this news was coming, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and couldn't breathe.
I don't beat myself up much anymore for not going with my gut and driving home that night. Except on February 15. I would have given anything to have been there so that my mother wouldn't have had to go through the torture of watching the bumbling EMTs try to figure out how to get him out of their bedroom. The angle of the room and the narrow width and zig-zag of the hallway made it impossible for the overweight EMTs to take him down the hallway and out of the house. Instead, they took him out through a fucking window like he was a piece of furniture.
I would have given anything to be there to hold his hand because he was so very afraid to die. While he would never admit it to my mother, he had some concerns about the afterlife. No more Packers and Cubs games, no more breakfasts at Louie's Cafe, no more books to read, no more money-making schemes to plan, no more time with his family. He was worried about Mom and what was going to happen to her after he was gone. A week before he died he made me promise that I would always take care of Mom and my sister. Time was running out and he was terrified. He did not go peacefully. He fought tooth and nail. It wasn't until the hospice worker told him to just close his eyes and let go that he finally did.
Most of the time, it seems like Dad died a lifetime ago. In some ways he did. My life is so much different now with two children, changed jobs and having lived in 5 different places since 2001. But every February 15, the pain and the tears return. Every year I am surprised that the rawness of my feelings and the pain in my stomach is just as strong as they were the day he died.