A year ago today, I lost a father. Not my biological father, though in the past year he’s had his own issues, but still, a father.
There’s something to be said for the family that chooses you. You don’t have a choice, the parents you are born to, the siblings that are born before or after you, the extended family you end up with – but to choose someone, to think of them as family… That’s something else entirely.
Thinking back on the circumstances surrounding my move to California recently, I realized that Tom Stein chose me before I chose him. He was the one who told Lona to come get me. He went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable and felt safe in my new home – and in that way, he became a symbol of my safety in this new place, with all these new life experiences that I’d never had before.
We started to really bond, though, and I started seeing him as “dad” rather than just “man who makes things safe,” around the time that he took a day off of work specifically to make sure I got to go to the La Brea Tar Pits and the Los Angeles County Museum Of Natural History for the first time. It was ambitious to think we could do them both in one day… but we pulled it off. And he literally, for the rest of his life, never stopped bragging to people he met about “his daughter” who essentially gave a lecture to a museum employee because one of the bones in the neck of a particular dinosaur specimen was in the wrong place.
The museum’s dinosaur halls closed down for renovation less than a month later. They’re reopening next month, and part of me is honestly wondering if *I* had something to do with it. A little narsissistic, yes, but the truth is that it COULD have been just the push they needed to do the renovation. Or maybe it’s just that dad was so proud of me, that has me thinking that way. It wasn’t a big deal to me, but it was something amazing to him.
I couldn’t think clearly yesterday. Ironically, I seem to be thinking clearer today. I crashed out around ten thirty last night, and woke up at 4 am. I puttered around the house, I started a patch downloading for World Of Warcraft, I read some stories and looked at some pictures… But my mind was a year in the past.
I still remember the hospital rooms, the smells, the sounds… Antiseptic, blood… My nose hasn’t been the same since spending so much time in hospitals while dad was in them. But I was focusing on that night, a year ago last night, when we all sat in the ER, around dad. I remember listening to him breathing, watching his hands and foot twitch. I remember Nyx realizing he was playing the piano in his sleep, which made us all feel a little better. I remember the heavy, cold weight of Death itself in the room. I remember having to run out.
I remember them moving him to a CD Unit, even though there was no critical decision to be made… he was dying. He wasn’t registering on the heart monitors at all, but he was still breathing. He was still breathing for over six hours. They had to turn the monitors off because all it would show was flatline, and send all of us into a panic.
The family came in and said their goodbyes, only those of us who lived with dad stayed with him. Exhausted, mom and Lona insisted that Kata, Nyx, and I go home and try to get a couple of hours sleep, and feed the cats breakfast. It was around 8 in the morning when we laid down.
I knew when we left the hospital that we wouldn’t see dad again. I said goodbye when we left. I said I loved him, and I did. I still do. I’m trying not to cry right now, writing this, but I need to write it. I have to get it out. Because otherwise it’s just going to be bottled up inside me and hurt more.
Looking back on it, I realize that I felt when Death left, and when dad went… It was several hours before he stopped breathing. Around the time that I was suddenly able to fall asleep. I couldn’t sleep with that presence in the room, no matter how tired I was. Moe the ghost cat, who had been with dad from the very beginning in every hospital stay, also disappeared around that time. I realized later that he’d gone with dad. He’d come as a kind of escort, I suppose.
Around ten thirty, we were woken up by the phone call telling us dad was gone. We piled into the car and headed back to the hospital, though none of us knew what we could do – we wound up turning around before we got there because Kata (who’d headed back right when we got the phone call, while Nyx and I had to get dressed first) had already gotten there, and picked up mom and Lona, and was bringing them home. So… we went home.
I don’t remember much of the rest of that day. I… did a lot of spastic cleaning. I looked up mortuary numbers, and somehow helped mom keep it together while we made phone calls and worked on what had to be done now. Lona crashed in bed, which I can’t blame her for… and eventually I know I slept again too. I just don’t remember when it was.
The next few days were incredibly strange. We all felt like we were waiting for dad to call from the hospital, or from the end of a night gig. Every time the phone would ring, I expected it to be him saying he wanted to come home now. I didn’t know what else to expect. I… well, I’ve lost people before in my life, but never a person with whom I’d had such a direct connection.
The closest thing to this was in 2006, when my aunt killed herself. And I was separated from that, as it happened in Texas and I made the decision (with my mom’s urging) not to miss finals week in English class just to fly out there for a memorial service. There wasn’t anything I could do, anyway. I had the same feeling of thinking I should call her and then everything would be OK… It was my first experience with losing a loved one I’d actually known, and because of the distance involved, it wasn’t… Well, there was nothing to prepare me for what it felt like to lose someone who lived in your own house.
I still miss dad, every day. Some days are harder than others. There’s an undeniable hole in this house that can’t be filled… And this is coming from the spiritually sensitive person who has the strongest connection to the dead of anyone in this house. Dad has since passed several messages along through me, from beyond the grave… One of which was a personal apology, as he’d doubted me when I claimed to see and commune with ghost cats in the house. I suppose being on the other side can make you see certain things a little clearer.
Dad doesn’t haunt our house… what he does isn’t haunting. Lona’s seen him several times, and I know the cats see him – he never shows himself to me. I think he knows seeing him would freak me out. I prefer to hear humans and see animal spirits. That makes it a bit easier for me to deal with – I’ve been seeing animal spirits my whole life, but a human is a whole other thing, and a person I KNEW… I don’t think I could handle that, and dad seems to respect that. In a strange way… dad is still my safety. Because I feel him. I know he’s still here. He’s become a guardian angel of sorts over the house and everyone in it. He’s still loud, he still yells when he’s angry or when someone’s doing something he doesn’t agree with (and I’m not the only one who hears him when he does).
Moe the cat ghost came back with him, about a month after he died. I see Moe around the house again, regularly, and that’s a bit of a comfort as well.
Time marches on, but you never forget those who you loved and who loved you. And sometimes, the most important thing to remember is that they never forget you, either.
I love you, dad. And I will always miss you.