On this 15th day of February, fifteen years since my dad's passing, here is Chapter 15:
The Day After Valentine's Day
Shortly after Thanksgiving, many of Marc’s shirts and ties started living in one of my two bedroom closets after he admitted that my condo offered us more space for living together. Of course, we needed a certain someone’s approval before we really took the plunge so Marc and I decided to take Sophia, the queen cat, on a field trip to my condo. After she surveyed every room on both floors, she finally made herself comfortable on the wicker chair in the sunny alcove overlooking the water. With no fanfare or formal announcement, Marc and I—and Sophia—just sort of moved in together.
In February, my sister had a break before beginning her next round of chemotherapy, so she and John visited Dad and they all watched the Patriots win the Super Bowl. Dad only watched two sports on TV—golf and boxing—but he made an exception because Lori loved Tom Brady.
Lori returned home and confirmed Dad looked as good as he had in November. A week later, he sounded like his normal self on the phone when he ranted to me about the best round of golf he had ever played the day before. When I mentioned that Marc and I wanted to buy a boat, he insisted, “Whatever you do, Linda, don’t give up the golf membership. Even if you become a social member. Don’t stop golfing.”
The next day, my father’s best friend, Bob, called Frankie. Dad had been admitted to a hospital in Florida. When my father never showed up for golf, Bob went to check on him and found him sweating and barely conscious in his recliner.
Frankie and his family were already headed to Florida for the kids’ school vacation. When they landed in Fort Lauderdale, Bob picked them up, dropped off Deb and the kids at Dad’s condo, and drove Frankie to the hospital.
Lori and I felt better having Frankie in Florida, but the doctors gave him little to no information. The next day, right before I left for work, I answered the phone in my kitchen and heard Frankie’s voice. “Lin, he’s worse. They put him on a respirator.”
“What? What happened?” I felt nauseous.
I had assumed this hospital visit would be just like all the other times Lori and I had brought Dad to the hospital in Rhode Island. The doctors would load him up with fluids and antibiotics and release him within two or three days. My father had never needed life support.
“Arthur’s on his way here from a business trip in Arkansas. I think you and Lori should come, too.”
“I can’t believe this. I need to call Lori at work. I’ll call you back.”
Lori had just started another new series of aggressive chemotherapy treatments the day before.
“Hi, it’s me. Frankie just called me. Dad’s on a respirator,” I blurted out without asking how she felt.
“What? What the fuck.” I expected to hear those exact words, but louder. She probably had clients waiting to meet with John.
Lori had left her role as controller at the family jewelry business sometime after her first breast cancer diagnosis and she now worked part-time with John at his financial planning firm.
“John’s with clients. Can you meet us here so we can figure out what to do?”
Instead of heading to work, I drove to Lori’s office. I called Marc and left a message on his voice mail. Lori called Frankie, who told her more about what had happened to Dad. My sister tried to reach Dad’s primary doctor in Florida, but had no luck. When she asked his Rhode Island doctors to get involved they used some excuse about cross-state medical boundaries and other sickening red tape that prevented them from helping us.
Lori looked pale and tired when I arrived at her office. I followed her into a conference room where John already sat at a small round table near the window. Lori looked at me. “Linda, one of us needs to be there.” She turned to John and then back to me. “And I just don’t feel well enough to travel right now.”
“I don’t want her to travel again right now,” John added.
“Can you go? I mean, I think this could be serious,” her voice cracked.
I drove to my office and explained to my manager what had happened to my father. He and my whole team pitched in to help me. A coworker called his wife, who called her travel agent and six hundred bucks later I had myself a flight to Florida that night. I reassigned my work and started to pack up my briefcase when my office phone rang. The security guard told me I had a delivery. A friend offered to get the delivery and returned with a large vase of flowers.
“Wow, are we sure these are for me?” I asked.
“Your name’s on the card.”
I opened the card and read a simple message: “I love you, Marc.” I had never received flowers at work. I hadn’t connected with Marc after my first message so I called again and thanked him before I gave him the update on my father and my flight. He told me he’d meet me at home to help me pack.
When I arrived at home, Marc and Sophia were waiting for me in our bedroom. He had grabbed my suitcase from the garage and placed it on the bed for me. I sat on the bed, staring at the empty suitcase with no idea what to pack, or for how long, or for which activities. This was sort of how I felt when Dean asked for a divorce and I packed to go to Lori’s, but different. I grabbed underwear, a bra, T-shirts, jeans, and whatever else made sense—although nothing made sense at that moment. Sophia thought taking her along made sense so she jumped into a corner of the suitcase on top of my underwear and pajamas. I wished I could take her to keep me calm with her soothing purr that sounded like the constant hum of a motor running.
Marc insisted on taking me to the airport. He walked me into the terminal and, because we had some time before I could check in, we decided to wait in the bar. Shocked, I saw a friend from work sitting on a stool drinking a beer. Beth had heard about my dad, asked one of our coworkers for my flight details, and drove to meet me before I left for Florida. We had known each other for ten years and socialized outside of work once in a while, but I still would not have expected her to go out of her way to meet me at the airport. I know for certain now that the saying is true: only when we go through rough times in our lives do we find out who our real friends are.
Beth and Marc walked me as far as they were allowed. And then I walked alone. Alone to see my dad, breathing only with the help of a machine, in a far-away hospital surrounded by unfamiliar doctors and nurses.
While I waited to board the plane, and then throughout the entire flight, I wrestled with so many questions. Had Dad missed a symptom before a fever got out of control? Maybe he just needed more antibiotics than usual? Why weren't the doctors giving us any information? Why hadn’t I tried to discourage him from going to Florida for such a long time?
Bob and Frankie picked me up at the airport, and Bob drove directly to the hospital. He asked me how I had been—before this happened, of course—and he specifically asked about Marc and me. I told Bob that Marc and I were doing well and that we had moved into together. He wasn’t surprised and confessed that he actually had known. I never officially told my Dad that Marc had moved into my condo, but I had wondered if my father suspected we were living together when we hosted Thanksgiving dinner. Bob told me my father liked Marc very much and he felt relieved that I was happy again.
We arrived at the hospital, and when Frankie pointed in the direction of the intensive care unit, I looked at him and then at Bob. “Really? Intensive care?” Standing outside my father’s room, Arthur looked exhausted with his arms crossed against his chest and his head hanging. I pushed past him to see my dad. Arthur grabbed my arm to stop me. “It’s bad, Lin.”
I entered the room and gasped at the sight of big machines surrounding my dad's bed and the sound of air being pumped through the tube stuck down his throat. I wondered how long he would need to get better this time—so he wouldn’t need those machines to help him breathe. I approached his bed and his eyes were slightly opened, glossy, or maybe teary, and the tube prevented him from talking.
I stared at him with one of those smiles that meant this sucks, I’m sorry you’re in this scary hospital, daddy. I thought about the last day we had golfed together, with Lori and John; it was the same day I had met Marc. Even after forty-eight years of golfing, a single-digit handicap, a Senior Club Championship, and a hole in one, my father always had the patience to teach me about the game he loved.
Dad and I had shared a golf cart that day and he drove to the first tee. After he picked his club, he helped me choose mine. I had trouble hitting the ball with my driver and grabbed my three wood, but he encouraged me to try the driver again. He wanted to analyze my swing and determine what I needed to change. I pulled the driver out of my bag, removed the cover, and grabbed a ball with a pink ribbon on it. I watched my dad hit, and his ball soared off the tee into the blue sky over the green trees, straight down the fairway. After John hit, the guys moved the carts to the women’s tee as Lori and I walked up to take our shots. Lori hit first and, as usual, her ball traveled straight, not too far, and landed in the center of the fairway. As I approached the tee, my father stepped out of the golf cart and stood behind me. He could stand right beside me before any of my shots and never make me nervous. As I set up my shot, he adjusted my grip and stance and firmly whispered, “Keep your head down.” Everyone remained quiet as I hit my ball and then, all at the same time, their heads followed the ball as their hands sheltered their eyes from the sun. My dad clapped, put his arm around my shoulder, and pointed to where the ball had landed. “Perfect.”
And that described the rest of the day, too. I had more bad shots than good ones, but as always, my father only required I have one good shot to remind me “that’s the shot that makes you come back!” I couldn’t wait to get back on a golf course with my dad again.
I continued to stare at his lifeless body in the hospital bed and, although it reminded me of his condition after his stroke five years ago, something seemed different. His determination and perseverance were missing in action. He looked at me as I held his hand in mine. He looked behind me and I knew he wanted to see Lori. I explained that she had not felt well enough to travel and squeezed his hand. “I love you, Daddy.”
He closed his crystal blue eyes.
My brothers came back into the hospital room and we stood and stared at our father and at each other for what felt like hours. I wanted my older brothers to tell me what to do next. A little after midnight, we decided to get some rest and headed to Dad’s condo. I tossed and turned on the sleeper sofa in the living room on the first floor. Around five in the morning, I heard the phone ring and someone upstairs answered it. I sat up in the bed, pulled the covers up to my chin, and wondered if anyone ever received good news on the phone at that hour. Within minutes, Arthur walked down the stairs and into the living room. Frankie and his wife stood behind him.
“Dad died, Linda. He's gone.” Never before had I wished for one of my brother’s practical jokes. I stared at Arthur, hoping to hear him say “just kidding,” but those words never came.
I looked at Frankie and then Deb. “Why didn’t they call us before he died? He was alone?”
I wanted to scream. I would have never left my father alone if I thought for one second he could die. No one—not the doctors, not my brothers—told me he could die. I never thought my father could die. Sure, his determination and perseverance weren’t in that hospital with him, but I assumed they were on a short vacation and would show up again when my father’s strength returned. Lori and I never left our mother’s side in the days before she died, but her doctors had the kindness and respect to tell us that her death was imminent.
I grabbed the phone beside the sofa, but I couldn’t bear to tell my sister the worst had happened. Maybe Dad would still be alive if she had come to Florida with me. I sobbed into the phone, “I never even thought he could die.” I sniffled. “I’m so sorry I left him alone.” I bit at my thumb nail. “Why the hell did we let him come to Florida? This would have never happened at home.”
I still don’t remember Lori’s exact words, but her encouragement stopped me from blaming myself. I’ll never forget Marc’s reaction when I gave him the sad news. “Crap. I got robbed.” He had hoped to spend much more time with my father.
The next few days in Florida were a blur except for the time I spent swimming in the pool with my brothers, sister-in-law, and nephews while we all shared our favorite memories of my father. I just wanted to cherish all the good memories we were fortunate to have and not focus on the fact that my father had died the day after Valentine’s Day.
I had thought nothing in my life would hurt me as much as losing my mother. I was wrong. Losing my father hurt me just as much. Having my father alive eased the pain of losing my mother—the woman who had given me life, nurtured and guided me, and loved me unconditionally. And having my sister alive eased the pain of losing my father—the man who I had counted on to give me a red, foil-covered, heart-shaped box of Russell Stover candy every year for Valentine’s Day—the man who never stopped showing me life’s blessings and teaching me life’s lessons—the man I had sometimes called a royal pain in the ass and now hoped he knew he had always been the smartest pain in the ass a daughter could ever ask for.
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