Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day Memories

Dad and JoLee 1983
Fathers Day is bittersweet for me. It was 11 years ago on Father's Day that I got the news that would change our lives forever. My sister called to say that Dad, at the age of 59 had had a heart attack. In our family, when crisis strikes, we generally don't fall apart, we kick into action. "Is he at the hospital?" I asked, "I'll be there in a few hours." "No" my sister said. "Did they fly him to Bend?" "No" she said. "Where is he then?" I demanded. In a voice choked with grief and despair, she told me he was gone.

I have to say, I've never in my life felt anything like that. Like all the air had gone out of the room. My legs suddenly wouldn't hold me. I remember telling my sister thatI loved her and I would get in the car and be there in 6 hours. At that moment, 6 hours seemed like a lifetime. I remember my husband taking me in his arms and telling me to breathe. There are snippets of memory with him telling me to pack while he went to fill my car with gas, me driving out of the drive alone and then bits and pieces of a trip that I know I made, but really have no idea how I did it.

Nothing in the world prepares you for the death of a loved one.  We all gathered at my Mom's house in John Day in shock and disbelief. I expected to bury my parents when they were in their late 90's after a long and full life not at an age that's only a little older than I am now. Our family came together and came through it, but the memory of that day, of that phone call, will never go away. 

But here's the thing; even though that was probably one of the hardest events I've faced in my adult life, as the years have gone by, there were several details about that day that, when  you look at them a little differently, turn out to be blessings.

When I got up on that fateful Father's Day, my husband asked me if I had called my Dads yet. "I'll do it in a bit." I said. I can't even tell you what was so important at that moment that I couldn't stop and just call my Fathers to tell them I loved them. Ken bugged me about it all morning until I finally picked up the phone and called.

I had a great conversation with Dad about the card I had sent and he said I just caught him. He was heading out the door to go hiking Dixie Mountain with my sister. He was happy, full of life, and I was able to wish him a happy Father's Day and tell him I loved him. Our relationship hadn't always been easy, but the month before, he and Mom had come to share in our wedding day and I had enjoyed him throughly. I'm so glad we had that time together with happy photos to boot. Had I waited to call, that conversation never would have happened.

A few short hours later, as he hiked the mountain laughing and joking and teasing my sister as he out-hiked her, he was hit with a massive heart attack and died instantly. My sweet baby sister and her husband were there and flew into action. I know that they did everything they could to try to save his life and it breaks my heart to think that she thinks she could have done more. She couldn't have. It was his time to go and these are the blessings that I've found in that: he left this world doing something he loved in a beautiful place with a daughter he loved by his side, and he did it without suffering. My mom and sisters and I went out to the spot where he passed a few years later. It's a breathtaking area with views that stretch for miles and the perfect place to walk from this life into the next. 

This Father's Day, instead of focusing on the sad events of a Father's Day 11 years ago, I've decided to think of all the good things. All the camping trips, Duck, Duck Goose in the snow, epic games of Aggravation and playing with his electric train to name a few. He was a proud Marine who taught us as children that if we wanted to go with him we better kick it into high gear and keep up. He was the local butcher who didn't know a stranger and was loved by many in the community. He was a grandfather that took great pride in his grandchildren and loved each and everyone as they came along. He was also a good Dad and I for one know that his four children are better people because of the lessons he taught us. We all miss him, not just on Father's Day, but every day. 

This Father's Day, I honor both my Fathers and the love that they have shown their children. I feel blessed to be a child with two fathers in my life who love me. If there was a lesson to be learned on that sad day, it was this: nothing is more important than telling those you love that you love them. Take that opportunity as often as you can and never assume you can just do it "later".

Enjoying happy memories on this beautiful Father's Day,

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