Regrets, I’ve Had A Few   Leave a comment

On October 19, a dear friend’s 84-year-old mother passed away.  My friend lives in San Diego.  Her mother lived in East Northport on the northern edge of Long Island, New York.  Two people couldn’t get any further apart geographically and remain in the same continental country.  However, my friend boarded a plane when she knew her mother was entering her last hours and made it to Long Island to hold her mother in her arms while she died.  My heart ached, but I was so glad that my friend had made it to New York in time to be there for her mother as she drew her final breaths.

It reminded me of my own regrets.  Today would be my father’s 94th birthday if he were still alive.  He died on July 7, 1979 at the young age of 62.  He died at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. after suffering a major heart attack four weeks earlier at  his rural home in West Virginia.

His heart had stopped following his MI, and he had been resuscitated at the nearest hospital in Parkersburg.  Cardiogenic shock had ensued, meaning that circulation had stopped to his major vital organs.  At that time, a patient was optimistically given a 20% probability of surviving those events. He was transferred to the VA Hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia.   Heart arrhythmias began about 10 days after his MI, which is a predictable time frame for cardiac tissue necrosis (death) following a myocardial infarction and the ensuing nerve conductivity problems.  The Clarksburg staff couldn’t stabilize him and transferred him by helicopter to the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.   They were talking about a pacemaker to control the  fibrillations caused by such massive damage to his heart muscle and the area of nerve conduction that regulates the heartbeat.  They talked — and he died.

My half-brother, Ashley, my father’s second oldest son who lived a two hour drive away from Washington, D.C., was there at the hospital with my father when he died. Ashley’s wife was there.  His son, Ashley Jr., then 21-years-old, and his wife may have been there.  I don’t remember that detail.  What I do remember is that I was not there.

When my father had had his heart attack in June, I went to West Virginia from my home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  We drove the 20 hours to get to West Virginia. The cost of plane fare in those days was prohibitive.  (I remember buying a plane ticket to immediately fly out to York, Pennsylvania to attend my grandmother’s funeral in 1985.  I spent months paying off that credit card bill at a rate we could afford.)  I stayed for a week in West Virginia and then returned home to begin my first session of college courses and get back to work at my part-time job.  He seemed stable when I left.   The heart arrhythmias began after I left.  I chose to stay in Minneapolis and continued going to class and to my job.

My regrets?  That I considered it more important to go to school and to work than to stay with my gravely ill father.  However, my husband would have had to return home to the Twin Cities to return to work.  There was no question about that.  I would have been alone in my father’s hillside house in Pullman, West Virginia (population 100), driving to and from Clarksburg 45 miles away.  Later, I would have had to stay somewhere near the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.   The length of time that this would go on was uncertain; no one knew what was going to happen.  I certainly would have had to withdraw from school for that summer session and maybe the next.  My job may have still been there when I returned, but then again, maybe not.

But it should have been a clear case of Whatever.  If I had had to withdraw from school that summer and begin anew in the fall, it would have had no lasting impact on my life.  If I had lost that part-time job clerking at Fairview-Southdale Hospital, there would have been another part-time job to take its place.

In retrospect, my place was at my father’s side, not in school, not worrying about my unimportant part-time job.  I wish I had been there to spend those final weeks with him.

All I can say on my own behalf is that I was 23-years-old at the time.  I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought of losing my father, and I knew that this was a strong likelihood.    I took a measure of comfort at being in my own home with my husband and my routine, having both school and work to keep me grounded at a very difficult time.  During the week I had been in West Virginia, I spent countless hours crying, and I don’t know if I could have continued to do that for several more weeks, alone in his little house in Pullman or in a hotel room in Washington, D.C.  You know, I think my dad understood that and cut me some slack for not being there in the thick of things during his remaining days.

Still, if I had it to do over, my priorities would be different.  They’ve certainly changed over the years.  My coping skills have changed.  My financial situation has improved so that now I would have some options for travel and lodging as well.  I guess that’s what growing up does for you.

And on this, my father’s 94th birthday, I would like to say that he has physically been gone from this Earth since 1979, but he has never been gone from my heart.  Not for a day.  Some things never die.  He’s still by my side in spirit.


Posted November 8, 2010 by StPaulieGrrl in Family of Origin, Relationships

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