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.
5 thoughts on “The last day and extra days”
I never realized before that your dad and my mom died in the same year. She died April 28th. I don’t know how, but this year it slipped past me without me even realizing it. I attribute it to the busyness of life overwhelming me at times. I was 35, she was 61. Colon cancer. I’m sure when that day comes the year I’m 61 it will haunt me, too.
I often think of the scripture that says: “It is appointed unto man once to die…” I guess because I have lost several dear family members, I remember those moments when they left, and wonder about my own end.
Recently when I was preparing to have surgery, I remembered past surgeries I had had – and remembered times when Mother – or a brother – were there to pray with me just before I was wheeled through the double door that said: “Surgery – stay out.” That was as far as my family members could go with me. But their prayers went with me. (I remember Mother told me one time that when she had to leave me at that door, she turned and found the chapel where she sat and continued in prayer. Mother knew what was important in such situations.)
Just a few weeks ago, when they came to the waiting room to take me to surgery, my family members asked if they could go with me, but were told “no – this is as far as you can go.” I panicked, because suddenly, in the midst of our small talk and jokes, we were out of time, and no one would hold my hand and pray for me.
So I did the next best thing. I prayed for myself. I asked the Lord to be with the surgeon’s hands and mind; to guide him, and to be with me and touch my body. Then, remembering the scripture I already referred to, I thanked the Lord that I was ready “…and if I should die…I pray the Lord my soul to take”. Then I continued, “but if my life here isn’t complete or if my children or grand-children still need me, help me not to die.
Several hours later, I remember opening my eyes and talking. I knew nothing of the previous few hours, except for one brief moment when the mask giving me anesthesia had slipped, and I awoke to see a person close beside me, then closed my eyes in sleep again as she moved the mask and told me it was okay. It was then that I realized my appointment with death hadn’t happened yet.
One of these days, it WILL be time. Each day I pray that I will be watching and ready to go. That is a good way to live – ready to die.
You are a very good writer. The piece today takes the prize. I’m fortunate enough to be related.
I have been thinking so much about my own (and really everyone’s) mortality lately, more than I ever have. And also, I am so glad that you are here writing.
So beautiful Mel.