For a while now, Valentine’s Day has had a bittersweet meaning for me. In the beginning, it was the day of love – of showing your significant other (or someone you wished were your significant other) that you not only paid attention when they talked, but that you remembered – their favorite candy, their favorite flowers, or that one gift, large or small, that showed you cared. It also reminds me of my Dad’s passing.
Dad had a heart attack in early January (he had a history of heart problems – both valves). In retrospect, it was the one that was supposed to take him. But circumstances weren’t going to let that happen so quickly. My niece, who lived nearby, was visiting my Mom at the time, and with a quick call to 911, the rescue team was there within 5 minutes (they were only down the road) – if the rescue team had been 10 minutes later, he’d have died (said the ER doctor). However, after many hours in Emergency, they finally deemed him stable enough to move.
For the next month, he moved across different parts of the hospital. He didn’t know what had happened, or how he got there. And while he recognized us, his mind was back 20 years earlier, when he worked for the phone company. When we told him he’d had a heart attack, he believed that it was the phone company that was taking such good care of him, making sure he stayed alive and on the track to recovery in their “special hospital”. It’s funny how the mind works, and how it changes after trauma.
I’d seen this with Dad before, when he’d had a stroke. At that time he got names all confused, got angry easily (with himself) and seemed to be on a 20 minute “loop” during conversations. After 20 minutes, he’d start in where he’d begun earlier. But he moved past that and while he wasn’t as sharp as he’d been before the stroke, he still had most of his faculties.
Luckily for my Mom, he was at the hospital in town – a 10 minute drive for her. When he’d had his open-heart surgery, it had been at Mass General Hospital in Boston, an hour’s commute each way. And poor Mom, who hated to drive in traffic, would drive in and out every day for over a month. I’d drive her in and out on weekends, but during the week it was all her. And once again, here she was, spending her days at the hospital.
I tried to get as much time off as I could, but once again, it all fell on Mom. After a little over three weeks went by, as we watched Dad slowly decline, the doctor came to her in need of an answer. His options were simple – they could operate on Dad’s heart (which at this point was his strongest organ) and try to fix him, or they could make him comfortable and let him go. The odds were minor in their estimate of his surviving surgery, and Dad had stated many times that he wasn’t going under the knife again. So, with the support of her children, Mom made the difficult decision to let him go.
At this point I would go into work, then meet Mom at the hospital around noon, stay until 5-ish, then head back to work until 10. It was on one of these nights that I suddenly realized it was the 14th of February – Valentine’s Day – and I didn’t have a thing for the wife, my girls or my son. So, I left work at 9:30 and rushed to the CVS, hoping that it wasn’t wiped out. Luckily for me, I found some cards, candy and silk roses (for the girls) – not what I wanted, but better than being empty handed.
On the 16th of February, I skipped my planned visit with Dad, who was in and out of consciousness at this point, and stayed at work all day to catch up on things, knowing that soon I’d be out for a while. The next morning, while at work, I got the call I’d been dreading – that Dad had passed. And though I’d been expecting it, it still took the wind out of my sails. But for me, the most important thing at that time was to get to Mom – to be there for her.
That’s what Dad would have expected. And I wasn’t going to let him down.