It was Thursday, May 26, 2011. I was in sixth grade, had just gotten out of school for the day when my dad took me to piano lessons. He always picked me up right as my lesson ended, so I was confused when he wasn't outside waiting for me when I was finished. I asked my teacher if I could borrow her phone to call him. The phone rang and rang, but no answer. I called him 19 times, but he never picked up.
My parents divorced when I was little, so I grew up spending Wednesday nights and every other weekend with dad, and the rest of the time with my mom. He would've taken me to mom's house after he picked me up from piano. So, I called my mom to come pick me up instead. When we got to my dad's house, she told me to stay in the car while she went inside to get my overnight bag and talk to my dad.
I sat and waited for what seemed like an eternity before getting out of the car and going to the back door of the house. I tried but couldn't open the door because my mom was holding it shut. I could hear her inside something along the lines of "please hurry, we need help."
Because of the close proximity of the fire station, I kid you not, within seconds I heard sirens wailing. I collapsed onto my knees in tears - so scared and confused - not knowing what was happening.
The first fire engine turned onto the street, and stopped. Right in front of his house. Paramedics went inside, but didn't seem to be in much of a hurry - he was already gone by the time my mom had gotten there, I just didn't know it yet. At some point my mom came outside, just as two police cars and an ambulance showed up. A neighbor from across the street came over and asked if I wanted to go to her house for a snack. My mom gave the a-okay and I remember feeling so comforted and went with her without hesitation. Looking back, I'm sure this woman knew I needed to be out of the way (for lack of better words) so my mom could talk to police and paramedics.
She held my hand as we went in her house. She sat me down at the bartop in her kitchen and just asked about my day. I was still crying hysterically and couldn't answer at first. Eventually, she talked me down enough to drink some water and eat something. She was a blessing to me and my family that day.
After a little while my mom's friend took me to her house. I still had no idea what was going on. Her daughter, who I had grown up with, asked me if I wanted to jump on the trampoline. It was simplest thing, but so effective in taking my mind off everything for a little while. We watched a movie once we got tired of jumping. It was at this point I kinda just started going numb. It had been a few hours since I heard those sirens, but it's a sound and a feeling that will be seared into my memory for the rest of my life.
Finally, my mom came to take me home. I remember getting in car and asking if we were going to see dad in the hospital. When my mom told me that we would talk when we got home, I just knew.
I laid down in my bed, and my mom sat next to me and told me what was going on.
I couldn't move or think or hardly breathe. The frustration and pain and agony I felt in that moment is something I hope I never have to experience ever again.
My dad died of an unexpected heart attack. He was 51-years-old and one of my best friends.
He played basketball and rode bulls growing up. He loved purple and all things Kansas State. He was the best veterinarian the world had ever seen and cared for so many animals ranging from horses to cats to dogs. My parents met when he was treating my mom's cat. He went golfing whenever he could. He always had the TV on, tuned to ESPN. We watched a lot of football and basketball and bull riding together.
Within days, all my dad's family was in Salt Lake City. They helped my mom take care of me and plan the funeral. Lasagnas were arriving at our house daily. Our house smelled phenomenal thanks to all the bouquets that were sent to us. I didn't go to school for a few weeks, so I spent a lot of time coloring and sleeping. I don't think I quite understood what was happening. I was too young to fully comprehend how losing my dad would affect the rest of my life.
People left the kindest cards and notes in the guest book. So many of his clients sent condolence cards to my family. One of my favorites came from a woman who said she knew all the animals he treated were waiting for him "on the rainbow" when he died.
We decided to have my dad buried in Dodge City, Kansas where he spent many of his summers growing up. We held a second funeral in Dodge before the internment at the cemetery. One upside of funerals is being able to see all your family again. I am so grateful for the time I was able to have with mine while we were in Kansas.
Sometimes, though, I wish he weren't so far away.
I came back to Salt Lake and went to the last few days of school - which were just pool parties and an elementary school 'graduation' ceremony lol. It was nice to be around friends again, but weird at the same time because nobody talked about it. It was just such a stark difference from being around family and funeral and sad all the time, to having absolutely no mention of it.
Since then, and I've been through more than I thought I could handle.
Once I started to understand the permanence that is death, I spiraled into a really bad depressive state that lasted at least one year of high school. That became a lot to bear on my own. So thank the heavens that I found a great therapist (hey Jim). He made me a hell of a lot more confident in myself and my ability to work through trauma and grief and depression.
Every time I go to the doctor, I have to have blood work done to check my cholesterol levels because I have a FaMiLY HiStORy oF HeArT diSeAse (which is true, my dad just was never diagnosed while he was alive).
I have my own little traditions or sentiments I keep to remember him. I have a necklace with his fingerprint on it that I wear a lot. Thank goodness my mom spent so much time scrapbooking all the pictures our family has together, because I love being able to look through them.
If you know me though, you know my favorite sentimental thing that I have of my dad is my tattoo.
I saved all the cards my dad gave me. Each of them has a handwritten note in them, which is something I cherish. But one birthday card in particular always stuck out to me.
Two years ago, on the seventh anniversary, I took the card into a tattoo shop in Salt Lake and had the note tattooed on my left shoulder blade, right by my heart, just behind me, where he always is.
I'll write a separate post all about the day I got it, because that was a really good day.
Today, it's been nine years since I lost my dad.
It'll be rough to not have him there cheering me on as I walk across the stage next year at my college graduation. It'll suck to wake up when I'm 25 and realize that I've lived longer without my dad around than I did with him. I'm going to have to invest in a bomb waterproof mascara on my wedding day, because although that day will be really really happy, it will have the sting of "I-really-miss you-today-and-wish-you-could-be-here-for-this."
But, at least I'll have someone to name my son after. At least I got twelve years with my dad. And while some of my memories with him are getting foggier as the years go on, I'll still look back at them when I miss him and feel comforted.
I (somehow) survived the hardest day of my life. I've survived a lot of really sucky days after that. But there's also been times when I've been able to think about him and say to myself: "that song reminded me of you" or "hey dad, I passed all my classes this semester" or "guess what dad, I think I found the love of my life [more about that soon, hehe stay tuned]."
So to anyone who asks today, I'm okay. I'm sad, but I'm hanging in there.
(One of my favorite songs - The Other Side by Lauren Alaina - shares some advice:)
For now, I'll be taking my time and 'writing a story that I can't wait to tell him on the other side.'