On Friday March 30th, 2018…Good Friday…everything changed.
And I was not prepared.
You’re not prepared when you get that call from your older sister and she has an unmistakable seriousness in her voice.
You’re not prepared when you turn the corner into your childhood neighborhood and you can’t get to your house because of all of the emergency vehicles in the cul de sac.
You’re not prepared when you reach your driveway and your younger sister, who arrived just before you, is awash in emotion and tears.
You’re not prepared when you enter your own childhood home and he’s on the kitchen floor with six to ten strangers are all working feverishly around him trying to get a heartbeat.
You’re not prepared when they load him into the ambulance and you can see through the front windshield the corner of the stretcher rise and fall to each compression of CPR.
You’re not prepared when the ambulance never leaves.
You’re not prepared when the lead paramedic gets out of the ambulance, looks at his watch, and starts walking up the driveway towards you.
You’re not prepared for the words.
And then comes the shit that you really had no clue how unprepared for you’d be.
You’re not prepared for the fact that ambulances transport to hospitals and don’t transport to medical examiners.
You’re not prepared to see his lifeless body brought back into your house and laid on the couch that sits in front of the framed picture of HIS mom and his step-dad.
You’re not prepared for the color of his face.
You’re not prepared to see the truest and deepest pain you’ve ever seen: when your mom kneels beside her partner of 40 years, and weeps uncontrollably. You’re not fucking prepared for that. THAT is pain.
You’re not prepared for death. I wasn’t.
On Friday night, as I stood frozen, compelled by a force inside me not to walk away, my stepfather, who gave me his name and raised me as his own, died inside that ambulance at the bottom of the driveway of my childhood home. He was only 68.
In hindsight, it was a blessing that the paramedics fought as long as they did to try to save him because all of four of us kids, and the three of his five grandkids that are old enough to understand what was happening were able to be there. We were all able to have a private moment to say something to him before the medical examiner came. I’m thankful for that.
I’m thankful that about two weeks ago it was his birthday, and the whole family was together and had a beautiful evening, and I gave him a really big hug as I left that night. That was the last time I saw him and spoke to him. My last moment with him was a hug. Internally, I pretty instantly had so many regrets about big chunks of my relationship with him over the years. But my last moment with him was that hug.
I’m thankful that my older sister is such a rock. Resilient and graceful.
I’m thankful that both of my brothers-in-law, and soon-to-be sister-in-law, are so compassionate and giving.
I’m thankful that friends of the family brought over an entire Easter dinner.
But there is sadness, too.
I’m sad, and regret, that I was always so difficult.
I’m sad that my younger sister’s kids are too young to have formed strong memories of their Boompa.
I’m sad that my oldest nephew was recently growing so close to his Boompa…he’d walk over from his house and together they’d watch random things no teenager would normally have interest in, like “The Waltons”…and I was sad at how much he was affected on Friday night.
I’m sad that my brother won’t have his dad at his wedding this summer.
But mostly I’m sad for all that my mom has lost in this one fell swoop. Like, you can sort of tell how parents change once all of the kids are grown up and out of the house, and that “empty-nest” feeling hits. But now compound that by a factor of thousands. Maybe it’s over 15,000…for every day they had been together.
15, 000 days is a lot. It’s a lot of habits. It’s a lot of co-dependence. It’s a lot of physical property. It’s a lot of memories.
With almost 30 years in that same house, the volume of physical stuff in there is incredible, but it’s nothing compared to the memories. After 30 years, every single nook and cranny of that house has a memory association to him.
I watched my mom trying to process it all, and already dealing with the memories. I watched her, as she listened to the fire department chaplain, silently notice dad’s slippers stowed under the chair she stood beside, and then step into them one at a time.
I watched her Sunday sit at his favorite spot on the couch.
I listen to her.
I listen as she says things like, “I don’t know how to be alone.” I listen to her literally account for the very few months across her entire life when she lived alone. I listen to her plainly asking that all us kids come, visit, stay.
I hear you.
In my mind I already know that I will start to go over there 2-3 nights a week for dinner. I know that we will need to help her move out of that five bedroom house. I know that we need to pivot to supporting one another, and especially her, going forward.
I wasn’t prepared for any of this, but I will learn and adapt quickly to help her. I wasn’t prepared for death, but I will try to be more prepared for life. I promise.
I promise I will try to be a better son, brother, uncle, friend, man. I’ve already gone to someone that means a whole lot to me to ask her forgiveness for how I had recently acted. I meant every word I said.
I promise I will always think of you every time the Bears lose, and every time Elvis comes on the radio, and every time I write my last name, and every time Kevin Costner says, “Wanna have a catch?”
I love you.