My dad died nine days ago after having suffered a massive stroke two days prior. He died in a hospital in southeastern Indiana while my connecting flight was sitting on the tarmac in Salt Lake City, getting ready to take off for Indianapolis.
I didn’t get to say goodbye.
I finally made it to my parents’ house about six hours after he died. I’d struggled through a three hour flight where all I did was cry, having gotten the text from my brother that Dad was gone just seconds before I had to put the phone in airplane mode. I cried all the way from Indianapolis to their home seventy miles southeast, in the middle of a heavy Indiana thunderstorm (which usually I would relish) that pelted the hood of my rented Nissan Sentra.
When I got to their little single-wide modular home deep in the Indiana countryside, surrounded by cornfields, I was greeted by my mom and my brother – puffy-eyed, exhausted, but relieved I’d made the nearly 2,000 mile journey safely. I took a few seconds to listen to the sounds of summer – cicadas and crickets – that we don’t hear here before walking into their arms and crying some more. Once I finally entered their house, none of us could sleep. We sat up for a few more hours, either out of exhaustion or misery or just a fear of closing our eyes that night.
My parents settled in their current home a little over a year ago, so it was not the home I grew up in. That made Dad’s absence a little bit easier, I suppose, since things were foreign and I couldn’t really “picture” him there. Still, his absence was painful. I sat in his seat the dinner table every day, which is where he had his stroke before Mom rushed him to the hospital that Wednesday night. I wandered through their house, looking at all the things he left behind. His glasses, his magazines, his hairbrush. Small, tangible artifacts of his 72 years of living.
I don’t remember much about the time between Saturday and his memorial service on Wednesday afternoon. We met with the funeral director and planned Dad’s simple ceremony, edited and approved the obituary, and ordered a wreath to surround his urn. And then we waited for the day of the service. I felt like I was living inside a spinning top – being thrown from grief to numbness and back again, over and over. But then the service arrived and it was short and proper for my dad. His best friend gave the eulogy, telling stories about their time together working in law enforcement, and he made everyone laugh. It lightened the misery, and I smiled for a few minutes, remembering my dad as younger, vibrant, and in the glory days of a career that he loved. Then we hugged our family and everyone who came to the service, cried some more, and took Dad’s urn back to their home, where it will stay until my mom passes and his urn is placed inside her casket for burial.
I left Indiana to return to Washington on late Thursday afternoon and now, on Sunday evening, I’m preparing to go back to work. I’m trying to figure out how to be “normal” again. How, though, can I feel normal when nothing is normal? My dad is gone and my heart is broken. I feel like I’m trapped in the worst kind of fog. I’m not sure I’ll ever be free of it again. I don’t want to do anything or eat anything or watch anything or listen to anything. I just want to sleep. And cry. And sleep again.
The morning before his stroke, my dad walked the half-mile down to the creek that runs near their house. He wasn’t in any kind of shape for it, and it might be what triggered the stroke eight hours later, but he did it because he had a doctor’s appointment coming up and he wanted to assure his doctor that he’d been exercising. He made it to that old blue bridge and sat down to rest before walking back to the house. On my last day in Indiana, as I drove away from their home, I made a last-second decision and pulled into a parking spot by that old bridge. Getting out, I stared at the gurgling water, thinking of Dad. I said a silent prayer, spoke my love for my Dad out loud so that it went out into the void, and grabbed a small, granite rock near the bridge before I climbed into my rental car and left. Maybe it’s stupid, but that rock came home with me and it’s in my pocket now. It’s a tangible link to the last place my dad went before the hospital, and right now anyway, it’s comforting. I need all the comfort I can get.