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I do not think I properly grieved the death of my dad. I still ache and tears come easily when I think of him and what his life should have been, what my life should have been.
My dad was 41 years old when he died. I was 15.
It was an afternoon in the summer of 1984. My dad had begun a health kick. Exercising, eating better. He had adult onset diabetes and heart trouble that he didn’t know about. He asked me to go jogging, but I didn’t want to. I was watching a show, but when I saw him head out by himself he seemed lonely, so I jumped up and ran to catch up with him. He gave me a big smile and we headed off to the track.
We always had good times together. He was an excellent dad, very comfortable to be around, easy and laid back. We chatted in the car and he probably let me drive. He was teaching me a stick shift, but we took the automatic. Weird, the things I remember.
We got to the track, stretched a little and started off. We did a few laps, and sang together while we ran. We didn’t go long before we decided to sit down. There was a log or an old telephone pole that we sat on. We were talking about something funny and then he just slumped over.
I thought he was joking. I nudged him, told him to cut it out, then saw that his forehead was all skinned up and he was bleeding and throwing up. I started screaming and waved some people over who started CPR right away. These people told me later that they had just taken a CPR class the week before. While they pumped and breathed, I ran across the street to call 911.
Ambulances came and took him away. I don’t remember much about him being loaded up, but I remember watching the man who gave my dad CPR lean over and spit out my dad’s vomit. That man put me in his car and followed the ambulance because they wouldn’t let me ride with them.
I called Michael (who would be my husband someday) to go get my mom. Telling him not to let her drive, but to go get her and bring her to the hospital, but not really knowing what hospital I was in. I sat in a plastic chair waiting for someone to tell me what was happening.
My family arrived and we were ushered into a small room where we were told in harsh and brusque terms that my dad didn’t make it. That, in fact, he was dead before he was even loaded up in the ambulance. I watched him die and didn’t know it.
It was terrible, and it is still terrible. I cannot make meaning of it, and cannot think of one good thing that came of it. Maybe God can, but I can’t.
So, that is the bad stuff. Now, let me tell you some good stuff.
My dad was a TV and video game lover. Our evenings would revolve around the A-team and trips to the arcade. I never saw anyone who could beat him at pac-man. He had all the ghost routes memorized and I’m sure that had he been born a generation later, he would have been an amazing computer software designer.
He was balding, but never did the comb over. He was strictly a ‘slick-back’ kind of guy. He had a unique way of nudging his glasses up on his nose. He never did the finger on the bridge push, but grasped the whole outside lens with forefinger and thumb, little pinky extended. It doesn’t matter what a man looks like, but if he uses that mannerism, he always looks like my dad to me.
My earliest recollection of my dad is him combing tangles out of my hair. When he hit a snag, he would pull a mickey mouse out of his pocket and tell me it was a rat he got out of my hair.
My dad was the most artistic and creative person I have ever met. He always had a hobby going. When macrame was big, he created doll house sized plant hangers that looked just like the real thing. He painted with oils, did jig saw work on wood, baked striped Christmas cookies and thumbprints with jam. The supplies in our garage could have kept us busy for years.
He built a hot dog stand. He wanted to quit his job and sell hot dogs for a living, but when he saw the panic in my mom’s eyes, kept his job as an accountant. He was a good husband. A good example of what I should look for in my own man, when the time came.
He thought it was fun to load the family up and take us somewhere on the spur of the moment. Sometimes it would be a drive and an ice cream cone, or a visit to a new restaurant. Other times, it was to sit in line at the gas tanks so we could have the extra family time while we waited out the gas crunch in the 70’s.
Dad loved God and was faithful in our church. He had a meaningful spiritual life that was a evident to people who watched him. He didn’t just say that he loved God, it was obvious in the way that he lived his life that it was real for him.
My dad was generous, often giving people money in such creative ways that they didn’t feel bad about accepting it. One time, he put five dollar bills in balloons and filled them with helium. When someone was in need, he noticed and did what he could.
I am convinced that he would have been the best grandfather to ever live.
I miss him and I miss what life would have been with him. I feel like our family would have skipped over some of the troubles we’ve had if we would have had his insight and wisdom on matters. He was a discerning, practical man with good common sense, while still being whimsical, fun and spontaneous.
Even though I feel it would have been better to have him here with us longer, I do see God’s provision in his death. There were family and friends and church people who rallied around us. There were people who knew what to do and how to administer CPR at the time of dad’s death. My dad didn't die alone because I wanted to watch TV. I don't think I could have handled that.
I met the man I would marry at a young age. Michael got to know and love my dad, and my dad knew and loved Michael. He even gave his blessing on our marriage before I even had a clue that Michael had his eye on me. Which is a story for another day.
Even so, I still think it would have been better had he lived. Maybe not... who really knows. There are always what ifs, and could have beens. But it is still so raw for me. There is still healing that needs to be done in my heart and I’m not quite sure how that is supposed to happen. I believe that there is a purpose to everything that happens in our lives. And really, even though I feel a tad cheated, my life has been blessed. God has always taken care of me and I know that the things that happen, even the bad stuff, will be good stuff in the end.
I think telling the story of my dad‘s death is a good jumping off point for the work that needs to be done in my heart. I think just getting the facts out, even though it doesn’t read like the poignant story of healing I someday wish it will be, is good.
Well, if you made it to the end, thanks for sticking around. I know this was long and I thank you for reading my story.