Twenty-six years ago today I was at home in my apartment in the Art Museum section of Philadelphia vacuuming when the phone rang. It was Carmella, the neighbor who lived four houses away from my parents telling me they had rushed my father to the emergency room.
“Get home quick. Your mother is going to need you.”
I wanted more information. I wanted to speak to my mother, but she wouldn’t get on the phone. I wanted some assurance. I wanted to know that this was just a blip on the road to recovery, a journey that had begun the previous October when my father had a stroke. But I was not getting any such thing.
I called my brother. It was his first Saturday working at the job he had started that Monday. I told him to meet me at the hospital. I told him I was scared. Really scared. I cried. In those days I didn’t cry as easily as I do now. Which must have scared him too. He told me it was going to be okay. He sounded so calm I almost believed him.
All these years later I still remember that ride up I-95 to Warminster General Hospital. It was a grey, overcast day just like it was this morning. I kept telling myself it was going to be okay. Whatever had happened they could fix. But as much as I tried to convince myself, always the optimist, I know when there is no space for that. I knew that my life was forever changed. I knew before I walked into the small private room where my mother and brother sat waiting for me to arrive. I knew before they could finish that horrible sentence no one ever wants to hear.
“We did everything we could. Your father was a very sick man….”
I screamed. Loudly. Me, the one who never screams. The one who everyone in the family counts on to stay calm in moments of real crisis. No one was more surprised than me.
The doctor suggested I calm down, that perhaps I might need something to help. I shouted that I didn’t need any medication.
“My father just died! Why shouldn’t I be screaming?”
I was the one who asked to see him. I wanted proof. My life had changed in the space of a moment. I needed that proof.
The memories of the rest of that day and the days that followed are not as clear. Except for that awareness that everything looked and felt different to me. His energy, his big, rousing and captivating energy had left this plane and moved on to another.
My mother was right when she told me that no matter how sad I felt then, how much one event had changed everything, life would go on and I with it.
That doesn’t mean there is a day that goes by when I have not thought about him at least once. Something happens and I am reminded of his smile, his laugh, his pervasive energy that lit up a room like few people I have ever met. And then of course those moments when I feel his presence next to me, protecting me, sometimes nudging me forward.
I hadn’t planned on writing this blog today, but it felt necessary. This anniversary I am missing him more than usual. For no logical reason. Except he was my father. And I was his little girl.
|The last full family photo, taken exactly one week before Dad passed at my cousin’s wedding.