My father died three years ago this week.
I still find myself struggling with the concept of his simply not being here anymore. I see something and think that I must ring dad and tell him about it and I have the phone in my hand before I remember that he's not around to talk to any more. I usually hang up because I can't handle telling mum what I was thinking.
The silliest thought I have is that perhaps if I was there I could have saved him. He was in the coronary care unit of the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford; one of the best teaching hospitals in England. He had great doctors treating him, but still the thought that if I had been there; if it had been MY hands on his chest, pumping his heart...that perhaps his body would have sensed the familiarity, that he would have known it was me, his child, trying to save his life. That the love I had for him would have somehow seeped into his cardiac muscle and restarted it....that my love would be enough to bring him back to life.
It's utter craziness, I know. I can step back from that thought process and see the sheer insanity of it; I know how impractical it is. I mean, he had some stellar cardiologists treating him and working his final arrest. I couldn't have made any difference to the outcome. Yet still that thought remains. I can't completely shake it.
The fact is that he was lucky to live as long as he did. He had his first MI when I was 15; I witnessed my own father dying in his bed. At first I thought he and my mother were in the throes of passion because he was groaning, but when I heard mum go downstairs and dad continued to groan I knew things were not right. I went into his room and saw him flat on his back on the bed, his skin a horrible clay color, drenched in sweat. I called out to mum to ring 999, NOW. She said he was ringing the doctor. I said bugger the doctor, ring the bloody ambulance - it was the first time I swore at mother and to the best of my recollection it was the last. She insisted on ringing the doctor. I swooped dad up in my arms and propped him up on all the pillows I could find and then sat with him, telling him just to concentrate on breathing in and out, in and out, that help was on the way and that it was going to be fine. Pleasedon'tdiepleasedon'tdiepleasedon'tdie was what was running through my head, but I didn't say that to him.
The doctor finally arrived, wearing pajama pants and shirt under his sports jacket. He took one look at dad and told mum to ring 999, then he pulled a portable EKG out of his bag o'tricks and stuck the leads on dad's chest. All these years later, I remember what that strip looked like. It wasn't until I became an EMT that I truly understood what those spikes and curved bits meant: tombstones. Occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery. He was throwing a widowmaker.
I lost count of the number of MI's he had over the years. I know that he had triple bypass surgery twice and was hospitalized five or six times after the final surgery. He was on so much Coumadin towards the end of his life that he stopped shaving every day because if he nicked himself he bled for three days. He was frail...my dad, the man who created shapes from stone with his chisel and trowel, the man who carried hods up and down ladder his whole life...my dad couldn't walk from the bathroom to the living room without getting out of breath and having angina at the end. He had strokes. He couldn't talk properly. He got a motorized scooter and went to town on it, but one day he got lost and was out for 8 hours before he came to, realized where he was and went home.
He was old, and he was done living. His heart was tired, and so was he. I believe he decided that he was done, and I know in my heart of hearts that nothing I could have done would have persuaded him to live. He was tired of existing.
I miss him. I still talk to him like he's here sometimes. It helps.
I love you, dad. I'm not mad or angry at you for going, I don't blame you. You fought for a long time, and you fought well. I just miss you like crazy and I don't think that will ever go away.
I think as long as I miss him I'll still wonder if I could have made a difference.