On that last day of summer in 1989, I woke up in the dark and went to work at my job at Blue Cross Blue Shield. At noon I called my house and reached Aunt Lu. “How’s he doing?” I asked. “He’s resting,” she said, “Everything’s fine.”
I finished work and headed home at about 4 PM. When I parked in my driveway, my aunt appeared in the doorway and met me on the sidewalk. She told me I needed to go pick up my sister, that my dad was going to die very soon.
I drove a mile toward town, picked up my sister from her part-time job at KFC and returned home. I headed straight to the back bedroom–my old bedroom with its lavender walls–and found him having a seizure. I backed out of the room, pulling my 16-year old sister with me, back to the living room to wait. I didn’t want her to see.
Only minutes later, he died. He was forty-seven.
Melanoma killed him. That last day of summer–his last day of life–was twenty-three years ago. I was twenty-four that year.
On February 17, 2012, I went to Disneyland with my daughter, son and husband. We went to celebrate our son’s fourteenth birthday. He was born on February 26, but was due on February 17, so we were celebrating on his due date rather than his actual birthday.
But February 17 meant more to me than that.
You see, on February 17, 2012, I turned 47 years and 20 days old. I don’t normally measure my lifespan in days, but my dad had died when he was 47 years and 20 days old, so it had been on my mind, reaching the same age as my dad. I couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking, “My dad died when he was my age.”
Disneyland is an odd place to contemplate your mortality and the sheer wonder of being alive. At least it was for me.
After February 17, I thought I might remember each moment that I am living longer than my dad got to live. I thought I’d be grateful and exuberant and I’d accomplish something miraculous with these bonus days, these extra days my dad never had.
But no. Life plods along, routine as always. On a good day, laughter fills the house and we photograph the sun setting pink over the ocean. On a bad day, we’re all crabby and I forget to cook dinner. My husband and I usually hang out at the end of the day, as comfortable with each other as cotton pajamas. Chores stack up, bills arrive regularly, obligations crowd the calendar squares. I forget. All these extra days are miracles, 24-hour wonders.
I take them for granted.
I think about Dad. I wonder. What if tomorrow I weren’t here, if death snuffed my life without warning? Unfathomable, unimaginable. I’m right in the middle, cresting life and paddling madly to keep from going under. He just slipped under the surface and disappeared from everything, from everyone, from me.
On this last day of summer, I”ll wake up to bright sun and wander downstairs to work. I’ll scan my world and see that everything is fine.
I will think back twenty-three years ago when my dad’s life stuttered to an abrupt, unfinished, unfair end.
In the shadow of that loss, my extra days line up, waiting to be lived.