77 days. That’s how long it’s been since my dad died.
Losing a parent is hard. Really hard. This is why I’m surprised at how difficult the past couple of months have been for me. You see, my dad and I weren’t close. You could say we were “estranged,” but not by choice.
After my parents divorced in late 1996, when I was 16 years old, he lost his way. Well, he had lost his way way before that, hence their divorce. In and out of rehab in the months and years that followed, due to drug abuse, alcoholism and mental health issues, we lost touch. I graduated from high school and moved to the East Coast soon after, eager to leave a lot of that behind.
If my memory serves me right, I can probably count on one hand how many times I saw him in the 20 years since my parents’ divorce.
- At the Salvation Army rehabilitation center in Austin, where I was able to visit with him for 30 minutes on Thanksgiving Day in 1999, and he met my now-husband for the first time.
- At Maura’s baptism in 2007.
- At my grandfather’s funeral in 2010.
- Crossing the street in downtown Austin in the summer of 2011, when my sister and I stopped him to say hello.
- At my sister’s wedding in 2014.
Every time I saw him I’d write down my address and phone number on a piece of paper, and place it in his hand. Each and every time. He never wrote, and called maybe once or twice, thanks to my aunt encouraging him. He never showed up unannounced at my door, which is what I secretly hoped for – that he would one day get his act together and come visit me, like a normal dad. We’d go sightseeing around Washington, DC, a city he loved so much, and he’d play with his granddaughters. This never happened.
My father suffered a heart attack on Sunday, May 1st. It happened at around 3:15 that afternoon, in someone’s backyard in East Austin. We don’t know any more than that because the person that called 911 declined to be identified. According to EMS, his heart stopped beating for several minutes but he was able to be revived on-site with a portable defibrillator.
My initial reaction was of great sympathy for my dad, but also indifference, if that even makes sense. I felt terrible, but wanted nothing to do with the situation. My sister and I asked my uncle (my dad’s younger brother) to be the surrogate decision-maker when it came to his medical care. Not only was I 1500 miles away, but I also felt that I didn’t know him.
When I was notified of what happened, he was already in the ICU, in an induced coma and undergoing therapeutic hypothermia, a procedure where his body was cooled in order to reduce further damage to his brain and organs. His body was flushed with cold fluids and covered with ice packs. It would be a couple more days before he was re-warmed and we would know the extent of the damage. If it had been my mom in this situation, I would have been on the first plane to Texas. Thinking about this made me feel incredibly guilty, so I took back the decision-making responsibilities and made travel arrangements. He was my dad, after all, and the little girl in me still loved him.
After a few days of “wait and see,” my sister and I flew to Austin that Friday morning. I missed my connecting flight by a couple of minutes (don’t even get me started on that, American Airlines!) so I didn’t arrive until that evening. I was at my dad’s bedside by 7:30pm and not prepared for what I saw… [Read more…] about Losing a father who wasn’t there