The story I never wrote down.


On March 20th of last year, I wrote this –

So – this weekend, Pops has been adjusting to the trach and slowly coming off the sedation. The respiratory therapists have been lowering the assistance he gets with the ventilator. . . . He’s still pretty out of it, but you would be too if you had been on drugs for the last three weeks – He got a new bed today so he will be able to sit up more. The rehab placement that he will use to be able to relearn how to use his left side or compensate without it, may still be a couple of weeks out — but we are getting there . . . He is still kicking around some sort of infection, but all-in-all, things are better than they were a week ago. I’m hoping to get to sit with him and watch UConn beat Duke on the way to the FinalFour- and maybe even hear him swear about the weirdness that is the officiating once Duke is on the floor.
Lynn, Corey, and I want to continue to thank everyone for their love and prayers – for your visits in the waiting room, for your meals at the house, for your cards and notes and messages.  This is the hardest thing we’ve ever gone through, and we are so grateful to have all your support.
much love and hope,

But I wrote that with trepidation…

I had waited for my dad to come out of it the days after his trach surgery – to be more aware – to see me – and when on Saturday he didn’t – when he didn’t respond when I brought the seed catalogs into his room to read – to talk about spring- to talk about rebirth – to make gestures of life – when he didnt’ open his eyes by the time I left that saturday – I was worried.

Three weeks in the bed, no sign of life from his left side, systems that would fail, get better, for only another system to fail again. And, as pessimistic as I had been deep in my heart, I tried, so hard, to have hope — “Where’s there’s breath there’s hope”, a minister would say to me nine days later –

“Corey”, the text read, “did Pop wake up when you were there last”.

“No, but, it was late.”

“Right and you would be out of it too, if you’d been high for three weeks.”

“Hahahaha, Right.”

We tried to find space to laugh in between.

By Monday, March 21st, I had worn myself out – I sent texts out that morning, that I was sick – mildly feverish – and I wasn’t going to bring that down to Pops when he needed to get better.  On Tuesday or Wednesday there was a threat of snow, and I made another excuse – I had, I thought been going down without fail every other day – I could pause for a few – there would be time.

Wednesday Lynn and I talked about her appointment the next day with the neurologist – we had been looking at rehab catalogs that past Saturday –  and now they would be talking next steps.  Wednesday night  I still wasn’t feeling better, and called out to work – In all of that month – since I’d been back after day one of the stroke – I hadn’t taken another day off– there were parts of days – covered by one sweet substitute teacher or another – but I had managed to get into work every day – if only because it was the last thing in the world I had any control over.

There I was- a sick day, delightfully bundled up – with Callie as my only companion, the day’s sun warming me, spring officially showing up- I was thinking, “alright – things are going to get better”.

And then, the phone rang.

Isn’t that the way – that since its invention -so much bad news has been delivered over wires. In movies there is that solitary ring  – then the soundtrack goes quiet, and you know, bad things are happening.  For me it was the timing.  Lynn was supposed to be meeting with the docs at one – and well in ICU time, nothing happens when they say it will – so that the phone was ringing so soon after one, with her number on the caller id, something was wrong.

“Are you telling me, something was on time in the ICU?”

“Ha, well yes. a bit, but Tara, he’s not there.”


“Tara, Papa’s not there.”

I’m not sure all the other things she said next. I just know, that like it reads in books, and like you see in movies, everything got eerily still. The entirety of the world disappeared, and the only thing left was this feeling of cold steel filling my belly.  And I’ve told you that I already knew all this, but it doesn’t make a difference till someone else says it out-loud.   “He’s not there, we need to make a decision – can you get your brother?”

When I hung up the phone, I didn’t know where to start. I had to get to CT, I had to get the boys, I had to get Russ home, I had to . . .
Call Corey. I called his girlfriend first. I didn’t want him to be alone like I had when I had to tell him.  So I told her first, told her to get to him, have him call me. And when he called, I had to say all these things  to say that had just been said.

It was just as bad to say it, as to have it said to you.

I called my best friend, told her I needed to be there, needed her to take care of my kiddos so we could be at the hospital.  She didn’t even pause. “Of course, bring them here.”

“And forgive your dad now I said.”  Which is a miserable thing to say to someone – in the middle of all that. But then, I didn’t want anyone to ever have to feel like I was feeling at that moment.

The other phone calls, to my mother, to my boss – the hug my dog walker gave me, picking up the boys from daycare, packing my bags, they all just cling to the sharper memories of that day – swirl in a gray miasma, become clearer some days, fade away others.

What isn’t grayed out is what happened when I finally got back to that ICU room after having not been there for five days. I have for a year, tried to figure out who was in that room with me when this happened. At first I thought it was Russ, and then Corey, and then my step-mom, and three other people, but every time I get the courage to ask someone if they were there, they would just shake their heads no. It was so rare that there wasn’t anyone else in that room, it seems odd I can’t see the other face. Sometimes I wonder if I made it all up, but I remember every detail of those minutes.  The nurse who was waiting for me to stop, the cloth I had just wiped off his forehead with, the smell of the new trach.

See the thing is, I came into his room, and cried first. And then, well I figured, I had a few more things to say.

“Old Man.  Do you hear me old man.  Old man – wake up.  Seriously. You have been fighting with me my whole life Old Man. One more fight, Pops? One more? Listen, I don’t know what to do here.  I mean I know there is a piece of paper, it is supposed to tell me what to do.  But what if you meant it different, what if it wasn’t for this time?  Old Man – wake up – listen! Fight with me dammit. Fight. Tell me what to do. I don’t know what to do.”

And the whole while, I was standing on his left hand side, the one without any feeling left. And yelling. In the hallway, where all the machines hummed and peeped quietly in the background, and everyone whispered, I was yelling.  And while I was yelling, I was slamming my fists down on his bed.  Over and over.  As if, by shaking the words loose from myself, I could get them into him.

“Old Man! Pops! Wake-up. Tell me what to do!”

We headed back to Ky’s later, got the boys to fall asleep, drank beers, watched the sweet 16, UConn game, tried to pretend like my dad wasn’t ever going to wake up.

I barely slept, two ativan stuck under my tongue even, but sleep just visited in short bursts, and then ran away, chased by the anxiety of the decision that had to be made.

After coffee the next morning, after having told my step-mother to get some sleep, that I would go early to the hospital,  that today was going to be a long day – I noticed I had a voicemail.  The voicemail is a year old. I can’t delete it. I replay it every once and while, feel the hope I had – and then try to delete it, but have no will to.

“Tara, your father would like to speak to you.”

Oh how many times I had I heard that – how many times had I been in trouble in my teen years, that I head that line from my step-mom – but this time.

“He wants to speak to me”, I mumbled out loud.

“He wants to what?” Russ asked.

Kyle put down her cup. I was half way up the stairs to get dressed.

“He wants to speak to me”, I shouted down the stairs.

“Does this mean,”  Russ and Kyle followed me up – “What does this mean?”

I turned back to both of them.

“I have no idea.”

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