Due to this weekend’s activities, I’ll actually start this four and a half years ago on Christmas morning when my parents looked at me and said “your present hasn’t come yet” only to find that dad drove over a “brand new” 2003 Nissan Sentra in his matching Christmas pajamas. Of course, I had to drive him home and he told me about his whole process- The price he wanted to spend, realizing he’d have to spend more, finding the car, having Lisa drive him to get it, programming all of my favorite radio stations in, and moving it around the parking lot for a month so that I wouldn’t get suspicious of the neon blue car that never moved. Within the past two years Mom told me how excited he was to get it. It’s lasted four years, and is going on two weeks without it’s exhaust pipe and muffler (yes, you cannot imagine the amount of noise that comes out of it now). But that little blue car that took a key, a prayer, and a little bit of pixie dust has my dad wrapped into it. Today, “the day before”, I got to drive Elsa- my 2018 Hyundai Tucson, my new “whip”, and my car will real, working speakers, to the gym, and work. And I sit at work remember my day two years ago…
Now, the day before “the day before” my dad said he wanted to move into a hospice. He was ready.
I couldn’t visit him before this transition for there were paperwork and business to be sorted. But I knew that I’d get to see him the next day, wide awake, and gift him with the “BATDAD” t-shirt I had ordered to surprise him with after he loved the logo I drew on that year’s fathers day card.
The day before “the day before” I found the place they were taking him online. 40 minutes away in Abington which before I only thought of as the home to the Penn State satellite school. As I looked through the pictures of the place, I realized that I was looking at the hallways, the rooms, and the kitchen in the place I was told my dad would die less than 4 months later.
I woke up, BATDAD t-shirt in hand to visit him in the place I would have to for the remaining months. Doctors said it would be anywhere from 1-4 months, but he, and therefore I, kept assuming he’d walk out of hospice in time for the Fourth of July parade at Ocean Grove. “The day before” was July 1st.
I took a shower and wore an awful outfit. A squared off t-shirt with my sorority on it and some very green shorts. On my way over, the windows to the jeep were down as Vicki does not ever turn on the air conditioning or heat in her car to save gas and her battery. My hair was a knot. And we walked in, with the BATDAD shirt, to the back of a box of a building to a facility with wooden floors, flowers, and tissue boxes on every. single. table. Like all of them.
The room was crowded with Lisa, Aunt Beth, and my mom and sister who were crying and beyond confused. His eyes were closed.
I had assumed I’d listen to him talk through his kazoo- sounding tracheostomy and he’d see me with the one eye that hadn’t been swollen shut by his tumor.
We were told he’d be here to watch movies, drink his last coffee, eat his last steak, and talk to us during his final months. Instead, he needed so much medication to be comfortable that he was in a coma. On the day before, we thought he’d be awake.
Throughout the day I had no idea those months he had been promised would be hours, instead.
We sat around and I held his hand. Vicki and Steph went to work, Mom went home, but I stayed. I counted the seconds between his breaths and was shocked that the guy who got winded going up the stairs to his apartment could breathe out for a total of 22 seconds, followed by 15, and never under 12.
After 2 hours, I was told to leave the room because they had to readjust him. His muscles were stiff and BATDAD could not move any part of his body.
In the hallway, I asked when he would wake up. I think about it now and see a four-year-old in a movie asking the same thing. I was 20 and could not wrap my head around the fact that the guy who had lifted me over waves in the ocean, took me to my first concert, and moved me into college would be leaving.
The nurse said my sisters and I should tell him that we’ll be okay and that we love him. I was supposed to spend my day reminding him of that. But I didn’t because I still didn’t realize I’d wake up the next day and he’d be gone.
I watched people be called. Pa was told to come with a suitcase and I watched him hold my dad’s other hand and count rosary beads. I saw 50 year- old men cry. I saw people I’d never met but told me they loved my dad and that he loved me.
At the end of the night, the last person I saw came to visit with his wife, part of the Fordham crew. It was during a thunderstorm at about 6 pm. I’d been there for 7 hours. 7 hours with the sun in the windows and no indoor lights on. The only thing that lit up the room during the thunderstorm was the salt lamp I had gotten him two weeks before for his very last fathers day. And that I never turned off in my dorm room when I moved into school a month and a half later.
I was picked up at 7 by mom who had decided I’d been in hospice long enough. She was probably right. So I said goodnight, kissed his forehead, and told him I’d see him tomorrow. The exact same routine as home.
The BATDAD t-shirt and goodbye letter from mom stayed on the table to be shown/ read to him if he opened his eyes the next day.
Instead, I woke up at 8 am and was told he had passed six hours earlier. He was gone. Five days later, I snuggled the t-shirt between his leg and his casket.
It’s been a long two years and yet the shortest ever. I graduated from West Chester University where he kind-of told me I’d be transferring to. And Mom and I found ourselves back in West Chester, five minutes from campus to get this perfect car. Two years later, BATDAD reminds me he’s watching over my mom, my sisters, and I with a beer in his hand laughing at us all.