It took me a long time to decide whether or not to post this entry. I wrote it in 2009 on Valentine's Day in response to a friend's livejournal request for a "nice" Valentine's day story. I never posted it because it felt too personal.
Although it may seem like it in the beginning, this is not a sad story. As requested, it is a nice one.
February 12, 2003 my mother called me at school.
"Your uncle is going to come get you, you shouldn't drive. It's dangerous to drive when you're upset."
It didn't make any sense. I wasn't upset. I was hanging out with my roommates. Slowly I got a story out of her, my father who had been ill recently, was in a coma. I still had no idea what was going on. Blame it all on the Irish in my family, I had been told Dad was sick but "getting better." I was under the impression that it was a touch of pneumonia. I had no idea how sick sick was until now. I tried to remember how Dad had sounded last time I talked to him on the phone.
In the ICU, Dad was in rough shape. Family had gathered. My brother was there but soon another family member took him home. Then the doctor spoke to my mother in whispered tones about "a 24 hour plan." I knew what it meant, but didn't at the same time. Things became very clear when we were led into a "family conference room", and the doctor told me and my mother that he didn't expect my father to last the night.
Looking back, I recognize that this was the moment I became an adult in my family. They may have taken my brother away from the scene, but I was going to be burdened with both knowledge and choices. There was no ceremony for this rite of passage, no cards with money, or a cake - I was just a grown up now and needed to act like one.
Because he wasn't involved, it felt like we were conspiring against my father, and I remember hating the doctor. It was the worst hate I've ever felt, and certainly the worst I've admitted to. I couldn't speak. I let my mother do the talking, feeling like a snake for leaving her to the work. I had been an adult for two minutes and was failing miserably. I sat and began to count the brochures that lined the walls "How to Care for YOUR diabetes" and "Living with a Pacemaker." If I could have torn up every single copy of "When a Loved One Dies," I would have. We went home and awaited a phone call.
On Valentine's Day in the morning we stopped at CVS where discreetly I picked up a card for my father. Mom caught me and in a terrifying voice that was unspeakably wise and weary at the same time said, "He's not going to see the card." Each word individually held the weight of the entire situation, and made a sound like stone hitting stone. I shrugged, embarrassed and feeling stupid but stubborn. "So?" I said, and that was all.
When we arrived at the ICU the nurses greeted us brightly. "Go on in," they chimed, yes, practically winked. And there he was: my hero, my father - sitting up in bed and eating an orange Popsicle of all things.
He greeted us warmly and we three swarmed him , demanding if he remembered anything from the coma (he did not), asking what he thought when he woke up (he wanted to see us), and how he felt (just fine).
The doctor came in, saying that my father had beaten the odds.
"It's a miracle. It's God's work," I said. The doctor told me he didn't know if he'd say that exactly, and my nineteen year old self exasperatedly told him, "well I would." I like to think my Dad laughed at that but I don't remember. I gave him his Valentine's Day card.
My father only lived one more month. However I had that whole month to spend with him and to begin to properly say goodbye. Which is what we did, even though I had no idea that's what I was doing. Until the very end, no one did. For the rest of my life that Valentine's Day will trump every other year because my Dad, who was the first man to teach me what love really is, made it through the night.