On Tuesday it will be one year since my dad died. One year since I felt his strong, old heart beat one last time through my hand on his chest.
It was Monday, September 10th 2012. My third full day of the new school year. As I was packing up to leave for the day, my cell phone rang. 3:12 p.m. It was my mother and she was crying. "It's Dad." she said "It's bad." she said "You need to come......bleeding on the brain......life support.....hurry."
I rushed home, got Nick, got Charlie and set out for a drive from South Jersey to Scranton. During rush hour. Never knowing if my father was ok, if he would die before I got there, if I would arrive at the hospital and see him sitting up in bed with his ankles crossed. Chiding my mother for dragging me up to the mountains in a panic......again.
I got to the hospital and ran to the ICU. I arrived at the waiting room to see my mother through the narrow window. She was sitting alone, in a chair against the wall. Staring at the floor with her shoulders slumped. Tears fell into her lap and stained her jeans. Even though we wouldn't know for sure for some time, in that moment I just felt that he was gone. I could see it in her. Like her heart, her body knew that he was dead. It was 7 p.m. Big Bang Theory was playing on the waiting room TV.
Now, I'm no stranger to seeing my father in hospitals. When I was in first grade he had a massive heart attack and a triple bypass. Strokes, surgeries, another bypass. It was old hat for us. But I have never seen him with tubes down his throat. The mechanical click of his chest rising and falling as a machine breathed for him. I went to him and kissed his head. I bent down to whisper in his ear, telling him "Dad, it's Kathleen. I love you, Daddy. If you have to go, just go. We understand."
The doctor came in and told us what we had always, sort of, known. He was gone. No brain function. Stroke? Aneurysm? We're still not quite sure. We decided to donate his organs. While we didn't know for sure if that's what he would have wanted, we thought it sounded like him. There were a few hours waiting for those people, and even in the end, it didn't work out. (Please get your act together, Gift of Life) Then the tubes came out. The doctors have to prepare the family when the actual dying process begins. It's rather horrifying, really. They say that the person can writhe in pain, gasp for breath, shake and shudder. Luckily (ha!) for us, none of that happened to my darling dad. It was peaceful. Very much so. My mother sat by his head, stroking his hair, which still smelled like Head and Shoulders. She told him over and over again how much she loved him and that she thanked him for her wonderful life. My nephew, Luc was at his head on the other side. I sat with one of my hands in his and one hand on his chest. This is how we sat until he died. Sometime after that, a nurse came in and opened a window. She told us it was to help his transition. It was 10:42 p.m.
Here I am now. A year later. We're all doing ok. My mom I am most proud of. She's come a long way since those early days of crippling grief. Soon, she will be moving to New Jersey to be closer to all of us. Charlie is very excited to have his Mom-Mom close. They are buddies. My nephew Luc, after having spent over 10 years living with my parents, is back with his father. They are thriving. I cannot believe what a wonderful young man Luc is becoming. I am proud of him. My brother too. And me? Well I just keep on keeping on.
I still think about him every day. I still cry. I still think to call him a thousand times a day to ask him questions that only he knows the answer to. Like "Dad, what is that John Wayne movie you were in?" or "Dad, tell me about the time you and your dad stole a picnic table from Sears with the unwitting help of store security." "Dad, tell me about the time you ran across the country while being chased by military police, just so you could be at your mother's side as she died."
And boy oh boy, do I wish he would see his grandson. Charlie has that big ol' square head that only Macklins have. And just like me, and my dad, he likes to relax with his bare feet up and his ankles crossed.
I've never posted it before, and few people got to hear it because I was forbidden from reading it at the service, but here's the eulogy I wrote for my father.
I saw a blue jay this morning. I knew it was a blue jay because my dad taught me about birds. Birds, fishing, wildlife and Nature. He taught me About music, film, history, literature, travel, love, how to pick a good husband and how to be a parent to my son. Most importantly though, he taught me to squeeze the most joy I could from this one life i've been given. Many times, when people lose a loved one they often say "he or she lived a full life." without really being sure if they did. Well, I think we all know that in my dad's case, a "full life" is an understatement.