Although July 5th was the day we took my dad off of life support, June 30th was the last day of normalcy. There is a photo hanging in Larkyn's room, right next to a photo of my parents. It was a random Instax photo taken by someone else at a food truck festival the night of June 30th. The last night anything would be the same, and a different part of our life.
I can divide my life into two parts: Before his death and After his death. Still navigating.
On June 30th, we all met for lunch after my parents watched the kids while I got a cavity filled. I thought that was important to note, because had I not had the cavity, we wouldn't have been together on June 30th. We went to the teeniest little place to end my Clintonville Neighborhood Guide, and I remember dad really liked his lunch there. He paid me for half of it, which still bothers me. I took a few photos of the kids, but he wasn't in any (because who thought that would be our last lunch?), which still bothers me. Oh, these things we hold onto.
Anyway. Every person handles grief in a different way. Of course, OF COURSE I miss him. Yes. But what pops up in my mind probably once an hour isn't always "my dad is gone and I wish he was here". When a person dies under the most traumatic circumstances that make you think "I did something in life to deserve this and this is truly living hell", there are other things that come up.
Driving through the intersection of Cemetery and Norwich, for one. Seeing an ambulance. Seeing a wreck. Seeing flags, fireworks, anything veteran related. His empty chair and desk. Yes I miss him, but more often, it brings me back to that hospital hallway.
I remember every second of our July 1st, from what was on our dining room table (hot dogs and applesauce) that would stay there uneaten as I received the phone call from Riverside hospital. Dropping the kids off as fast as I could to a friend and being in that hospital hallway. The one where my mom was on one end and my dad on the other. Where the Chief of Trauma told me that he wouldn't be going home to see fireworks, that the chances of him surviving surgery were minimal. But he had to have the surgery immediately, or he wouldn't survive. Do you agree to this surgery?
The hallway that led me to my mom in one room, where she was talking, joking, wincing, and totally unaware of my dad's condition. And my dad's enormous room with a team of 12, showing me his chest tubes and having me sign papers. Where he asked me to find his glasses and said "I hope I need them." Where there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted surgery, but that is what changed everything. Up until the surgery, he was talking to me, he was holding my hand. It makes my eyes burn to think how different it might have been without the surgery. Of course, we never would have let that happen, but I didn't realize that the surgery would be the end of everything. He was fully coherent, telling me "I don't wanna complain, but this right here (pointing to his chest, which sustained the most injury), it hurts."
The hallway where I was waiting for Matt to arrive when I overheard and couldn't stop listening to the nurses talk about my dad, not knowing I was there. "He won't pull through, and even if he does, he will never go home. And did you see his legs where he hit the dashboard? I just feel so bad. His wife is here too. This is so sad." Where I called and texted and cried so hard that I begged for Ibuprofen because I have never experienced anything like it. By the way, they don't do that.
I think my biggest heartache over the entire process was the misunderstanding. The major, painful misunderstanding that when my dad made it through surgery, that things would just get better from there. We would have a long road of recovery ahead of us. I didn't understand how the body reacts to surgery. That every day gets worse until it looks deceivingly better because the machines take over. That feeling of being duped, having false hope, and then doing the "loving thing" by removing life support 4 days later. Kind night nurses deserve a special place in heaven, because the one who finally explained to me that "He's not going to go home" was exceptional.
Fourth of July. We watched the fireworks from the family room in the trauma unit.
Some nights were dramatic. Like sights and sounds I will never forget. Nights where we watched them transfuse 41 units of blood. But most hours went by with him quietly laying there. Friends came to talk to him, while he opened his eyes for some but was so heavily sedated for pain that his eyes were closed for most. We had time to share old family stories, to connect with family members we rarely see...the uncles who are like shadows of my dad. We had time. We were lucky to have those four days that most accident victims don't have together. But a few days later, when his team arrived together in his room, we knew. There wouldn't BE an "event" that would cause them to put the DNR to use. Over the 4 days, his fighting eyes that blinked with acknowledgement right after surgery, had been closed for a while. The machines had taken over. And that was it. I remember being confused because there really isn't a "flatline" or "beeeeeeeep" sound like on TV. The monitor goes from monitoring stats to a vacant-looking home screen. Like restarting a computer. It went fast, according to the respiratory therapist who removed the vent. It went fast.
I don't remember anything about home life that week. But having children at home during the grieving process is challenging. As in...you don't have the time or place for any of that. It's OK.
Our memory stone in the backyard. How color-coordinated of her.
So, a lot of people have a lot of advice to hand out. And I know it comes from a good place. "Think of the good times", "don't dwell on the negative". Sorry. I'm not dwelling on anything on purpose, but you can't unhear and unsee what I saw and heard over the July 4th weekend. Yeah, we are "making new memories" and I push these thoughts to the side 99% of the day. But flashbacks are real and no amount friendly advice fixes that. I don't walk around thinking about it all day, but I hope that my acknowledgment of it doesn't fall into the category of "dwelling".
I hope I am a better person for it. I am working harder than ever (dad's most famous quality) and hope I have more empathy toward others. I never knew how to deal with people who have lost loved ones, and I think I have a better grip on it now. The worst thing you can do? Not say anything.
I hope my heart is softer, but it might not be. A lot of anger towards the criminal (that's what he is, for real) who caused the accident. But at the hearing, my heart hurt for his family too. My heart hurts for my mom, but she has a huge support system who loves her and keeps her so busy. But I know there's that 1% of the day, that 1% that I've described before as a huge hole in my chest. Or an elephant sitting on it. Whatever it is, if I am feeling it, she is too.
For the rest of my life, the 4th of July weekend will be different. Not "bad", but it will have two meanings for me. Being my dad's favorite holiday made it even more significant. And maybe we will come up with a new tradition (to skip town?) each year so I am not floundering, wondering "What should we do?" "How do we mark a one year anniversary of a death?" Every year, we will get stronger, and I would have to think this will be the hardest year.
The Fourth of July weekend 2016. Our new normal.
Enjoying the wagon from Pawpaw,