Life is short. You should love yourself and surround yourself with a life that you love. My father did those things. He was far from perfect and he often acted in a way that others didn’t like. However, he lived his life the way he wanted to live it and though his time on earth came to an early end, I can guarantee he loved the time he was given and never regretted any of it.
This is not a post for you. This is a post for me. It is simply the story of what happened on the worst day of my life and how it felt to be me. Someday if I can no longer tell it, I want my kids and grandkids to know…
Seven years ago today at this time we were landing in Chicago, met at the airport by one of Dad’s closest friends and my brother’s best friend who had been sent to pick us up, along with my brother and sister-in-law who flew in just a short time later from Vegas. There are few aspects of that morning that are perfectly clear in my mind, but I vividly remember the looks on the face of Jim and Brent – a mixture of shock and sadness – there were no words. None of us had words.
3:30 a.m. in New Hampshire: the phone rang. It was the ringtone assigned to Mom and Dad’s house “There’s No Place Like Home”. Shawn picked up the phone and handed it to me. I answered and Mom asked to talk to Shawn, so I handed the phone back to him. (Colton was 3 months old at the time, so there was sleep deprivation already in place.)
Shawn said “Hello?” There was a short pause, then he sat straight up in bed and said “WHAT?!? Oh my god, what happened?” I laid there waiting for him to hang up thinking something had happened to one of my brother’s wives who were both pregnant at the time. It seemed like hours before he hung up but it must have been just minutes.
I sat up and he looked me in the eye. “I have no idea how to say this,” he began. “Your Dad died. There was an accident. Your Dad is gone.” (There are few times in life I can remember exact words in a conversation…those I will never forget.)
“No, no NOOOO!!” I screamed and jumped out of bed, pacing around the room, screaming, shaking and waving my arms like a mad woman. Shawn tried to control me, hug me, calm me down, but I shoved him away. I grabbed the phone and tried to call Mom but she didn’t answer. I immediately called my brother Mike. He told me that Mom had called Jake, Dad’s best friend first and then she had called 911. Jake had gotten to the house before the ambulance. After 911, she called her brother Ken who was on his way down from Pontiac. Mike had called our cousins in Kenney and also Dad’s other closest friend Jim and Mike himself was on his way to her house.
Knowing that Mom was taken care of, I raced downstairs to the computer in the playroom and immediately logged onto Southwest’s website to find tickets. I could never find adequate words to describe the flood of emotions in that short period of time and to this day I have never asked Shawn about it from his point of view. I vaguely remember thinking “this can’t be happening” and “I have to get home.”
The next hour is a blur. I ended up on the phone with Southwest and got tickets booked for 10:30 a.m. into Chicago. There were phone calls to Shawn’s family, other relatives and a mad dash to pack. I think at one point I woke the kids up with my hysterics, either that or Colton needed a boob and Zachary just woke up at his usual 4:30-5:00 a.m.
In another moment of absolute clarity, I remember trying 4 or 5 times to reach my cousin Jodi. Finally she called and was yelling that “someone kept calling their house at a ridiculous hour from this number”. When she finally stopped yelling, I told her…
I have no clue how we got packed nor how we got to the airport. I remember sitting leaning against the wall waiting to board the plane and calling Baker, my best friend from college, to tell him the news.
Then we landed in Chicago…
When we pulled into Mom’s driveway a few hours later, the garage door was up and the bed of his truck was filled with boxes of soda, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, solo cups, etc. Shawn asked if Mom and Dad were planning to have a party? Someone chuckled and told him that no, this is simply what people do when someone dies. (Mom still had toilet paper from Dad’s death over a year later because that’s how many friends they have.)
After those first few minutes, most of the day was a blur. I don’t remember meeting Matt and Diana at the airport. I have to assume that I fed Colton since he was breast feeding though I honestly do not remembering interacting with my children at all that day. I also don’t remember Shawn being there or helping.
I do recall another moment of clarity, Sarah Coatney walking into the house and hugging me telling me she was sorry for my loss. Then she told me that as she was driving to the house, a big buck walked across the road in front of her. It stopped when it got to the middle of the road and just turned and stared. She shared that she could feel it was my Dad….gone but still checking in.
Later that night when everyone was gone, Shawn, Mom and myself were sitting in the living room watching T.V. Mom asked if I wanted to know what happened and I freaked out. She told me that in time when I was ready, she would tell me. The last thing I remember from the worst day of my life is thinking that I would never want to know…
A few days later after the funeral was over and every else was returning to their normal lives, I was coming out of The Pharmacy. One of boys had pink eye and I was picking up the prescription. I ran into Joe Victor, the coroner. He told me how sorry he was and that Dad was the first of three tragic death calls that day. He then said “I want you to know that he didn’t suffer.” I remember thinking how could it be that he didn’t suffer? All that I knew was Mom found him dead in his shop where he had been working on her dryer.
…so I finally had to ask and Mom told me the story.
My Dad had a harness that he used to give himself chiropractic care. He had been working on the addition to the chinese restaurant in town and had fallen off the scaffolding a few times causing some back pain. Rather than make an appointment with the chiropractor, Dad decided to give himself a treatment at home. Since his retirement in March, he had lost about 15-20 pounds. When he put on the harness, he did not adjust the straps correctly to account for the weight loss. He connected the harness to the pulleys in his shop and pushed the button to lift himself off the ground so he could flip over and crack his spine. Because the harness was too loose, the straps lifted up and compressed his carotid artery (think choke hold in the movies – the person passes out but isn’t dead). Dad passed out, but since there was no way for the straps to “let go”, he never woke up. When Mom found him at 2 a.m., she walked over and felt his hand which was cold and she knew he was gone.
He was 57.
Dad always said, “When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. There’s nothing you can do about it.” He also used to say that he never minded getting older because there was only one alternative.
There is a lesson in his words as well as a lesson in his death.
Life is short, for some shorter than others.
You can spend it afraid of what might happen, never taking risks or trying new things because you might get hurt or even worse.
Or you can choose to seize the moment, embrace aging and loving life.
Choose to be like my Dad, unafraid of dying and happy for every year he was given. Choose to live!
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!