My dad died a year ago today from complications of a heart attack he’d suffered as a result of his obesity. Like so many things over the last sixteen months, COVID played its part. Dad’s death wasn’t COVID-related, but it was COVID-adjacent. If everything had been open as usual, maybe he would have received different care. Maybe we would have insisted he get to a doctor sooner. Maybe his treatment would have changed. Maybe. But maybe not.
Dad’s death didn’t happen because of something the doctors did or didn’t do, but because he was on a first-name basis with every cookie maker and donut baker in the Detroit Metro area. That’s who Dad was: friendly, welcoming, a great father, and fond of an almond tea ring.
I think it’s a natural response to be mad at medical personnel when someone dies, especially unexpectedly. We knew Dad wasn’t in great health, but we expected him to come home. The night before, the doctors sounded optimistic, and on the phone, Dad sounded tired but not worried. When the phone rang early the next morning, it was a surprise. I was the one who answered.
No one calls before 7 AM with good news. The doctor on the phone said things were turning. Mom needed to get to the hospital right away. In the background, I could hear the tremendous human, physical effort they were attempting as they tried to keep Dad alive long enough for Mom to get there in time to say goodbye.
For months afterward, I flinched every time the phone rang. The ring the phone makes when someone is calling to tell you your father is in cardiac arrest is the same ring it makes when your daughter calls to request a ride to tennis practice after school. Maybe after-dark rings should be more gentle. At least, maybe they should be different.
COVID affected Dad’s memorial, too, in that we didn’t get to have one. We had a small service at the cemetery, and that was all the big man with a bigger heart has gotten. I don’t know if we have the energy to bring everyone together, so we remember him in different ways.
Dad stocked batteries. Every time we need one around the house, it’s there. So many batteries. If we lose power, the flashlights are set.
“Thanks, Dad,” I say, every time I stumble across a reminder that he did his best to take care of us.
I’m wearing my Detroit Tigers shirt today (nice win last night, guys), and we’ll head to his grave and lay some flowers and think about how quiet the house is now, sometimes, and how sometimes, too, the phone rings with good news, and how happy Dad can be when it is.
Miss you, Dad.