An Anniversary of Sorts

Trigger Warning: death

As I post this, it will be 19 years almost to the minute of my father’s death.

I was by his side when he passed. He was having a massive heart attack, one that the doctors knew would kill him, and there was literally nothing they could do to prevent it. I was living in Tallahassee, Florida at the time and had raced up to Raleigh, North Carolina a week earlier for his first heart attack. We didn’t know at that time this would be the outcome, but we had our fears, and now they were coming true.

I was on his right side, and Mom was on his left, holding his hands when the heart monitor flatlined. He weakly lunged to the right, then to the left, when Mom leaned down and told him we would be find and to rest. That’s when he settled down, breathed one last breath, and went still.

It wasn’t until a good thirty seconds later that the nurses had the sense to turn off the alarm on the monitor so we weren’t left with that unending beep as a auditory memory of the moment. (It didn’t work. Every time I hear a heart monitor flatline on TV or in the movies, I’m transported back to that ICU.) It fell to me to close my dad’s eyes, and as they reopened reflexively I very calmly noted how Hollywood lies about how easy it is to close a person’s eyes after they die. The nurse had to come behind me and hold them shut.

My mother and I for years made it a point to be on the phone with one another at 3:30 pm Eastern time every November 14th. After 14 years, work had distracted me to the point that I forgot to be exactly on time to call, and I missed the 3:30 window by about ten minutes. I was so apologetic, so stressed about it, that my mother suggested that we just be sure we talk at some point during the day, and that’s been the ritual ever since.

Today marks 19 years, and I haven’t heard from my mother. I called her earlier and left a message, but the staff at her assisted living facility washed her brand-new cell phone and it’s either in a bag of rice trying to be saved or somewhere beyond the point of saving. I can only call and leave a message for her to call me back. Here’s hoping today doesn’t break the streak altogether.

For those who can see, the category I chose for this post is “Blackbird.” I chose it because it’s the song that I want sung at my memorial service, and have wanted so for going on ten years now. It’s poignantly timely on the heels of the father singing it to his dying son, but it’s merely coincidental. I associate this song with death passages and have for years.

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