I grew up terrified of death. My father was in his 60's when I was born and had a heart attack when I was just over two years old. Always afraid I would lose him, I had recurring nightmares of him leaving me as a child, oftentimes saving him in my dreams. Suffice it to say, my childhood wasn't normal at all. But then again, I wouldn't trade my old dad for any young middle aged guy out there.
For anyone that knows me well, the past two months have been an extremely challenging time. All of my childhood nightmares started creeping into my life as my dad suffered a stroke while simultaneously battling pneumonia.
It was surreal the morning my mom ran out of the house at 4AM when my dad could no longer breathe on his own. Before she left, all I knew was that they put my dad on a breathing ventilator, and suddenly I was left alone in the house with my thoughts. I decided not to go back to sleep. Trying to avoid panic and a pessimistic attitude, I instead did my 6 hours of work for the day and watched the sun rise in my backyard until I heard from my mom and could go to the hospital. He was in the clear, so to speak. Everything was "okay".
My dad was an avid runner and exercise machine. In our town, he became known as "The Runner". I loved watching my dad beam in public when he was recognized. "Oh, you're that guy that I always see running." Yeah, he loved it. He set running records in our town for running 6 minute miles at over 60 years old. Remarkable. Most people my age can't even do that. But then again, my dad proves everyone wrong. He's a stubborn man, and that's why he's still here.
I haven't heard my dad speak in over a month now. The only (food) he's received is brown looking sludge through a tube into his stomach. The first week in ICU was terrifying. I held his hand every day, begging him to squeeze me back. The first time he did, I knew he was with me. We listened to music together on my iPod - classical, Beethoven, everything he taught me to play on the piano. I joked around with him about various things. His eyebrows reacted. He has extremely expressive eyebrows.
Last week, a nurse swabbed his mouth with apple juice, and he immediately perked up. We exchanged silly faces for about 30 minutes. I would make a ridiculous face, and he would follow suit. Hilariously enough, this was a norm in our house in CT. My dad can never keep a straight face. His first full day with a trache in his throat to aid his breathing, my dad made silly faces and laughed (without producing sound) for 30 minutes with me. I will never forget this. We said so much to each other without saying anything aloud.
Despite my lack of sleep, stress and sadness with everything happening, I left the hospital that day inspired and shocked. I rode the train back to the city determined to keep the same attitude as my dad - to fight when people tell you it's over and you have no chance, and to make goofy faces whenever you damn well please. I look forward to sharing a huge ice cream sundae with him or his favorite, eggplant parm back home while crossing our eyes and making silly faces. Without my family, without these little moments, I don't know who I'd be.