We stood on the front porch of the house on a very warm early spring day and watched the children playing in the front yard and Lucky barking at the dog across the street. Dad gave me a pack of film for my camera, we were laughing and enjoying the weather.
Then I went upstairs to dinner.
I never saw my father alive again.
He died the next day; a heart attack in the parking lot of the bank. He died before he hit the ground.
The call from Missus came at about 10:00 AM as best as I can remember. The police had shown up at our door. They told my wife Dad had a heartattack and was rushed to the local hospital. They didn’t tell her he was dead.
I drove from work to the hospital at barely controlled speeds. I don’t clearly remember the drive. I don’t remember much of anything. I only remember the nurse leading me in to a room and telling me that they had done all that they could but my father had died.
And so the hardest day of my life had begun.
I went in to the room where my father was. I stood and sobbed for a few minutes as a nurse steadied me. I then drove home and tried to think how I was going to tell my wife. How was I going to tell The Older Son that his beloved Pop-Pop was gone? We lived in the same house. The Older Son saw Pop-Pop every day. He adored his grandfather. How do you tell a learning disabled child, or any child for that matter, that his grandfather is gone and never coming back?
Missus met me at the door and she saw in my face all that she needed to know. I told her that he was gone; he had died. And we stood in the doorway and we cried.
I sat with The Older Son, not yet ten years old and I told him that Pop-Pop had become very sick and had to go to heaven and could never come back to see us. Tears were in his eyes but he didn’t cry. I didn’t know if he understood. Months later The Older Son would ask me if Pop-Pop could come home.
Now I had to call my family and the family friends and I had to tell the people at work. Dad and I worked together. Everyone knew my father, some for 25, 30 years; some for longer.
The first person I tired to call was my eldest brother, PC. No answer on his cell phone. Not sure how I came across his work number but I called him there. Out to lunch. I had to call SR, my father’s girlfriend. She was expecting him to be at her home in the early afternoon. I don’t remember if I told her before I told PC. The day soon became a blur.
I called SR and told her. “Dad had a heart attack, he’s gone, he didn’t make it”. She started to cry and begged me to tell her I was kidding. I think I called her son and told him. He was working in Maryland at the time. He left immediately for NYC to be with his mother.
PC called me back and had me on speakerphone. I asked him to please pick up and I told him exactly what I had told SR. It had become my script. My brother’s reaction was shock and I could hear the strain and pain in his voice. I could also tell that he was struggling to keep it together.
The hardest call was to my Aunt. I didn’t know how to reach her. She worked at a bank and I had no idea where. I called her son, my cousin, and spoke with his wife who gave me the number to reach my aunt. ES, my cousin’s wife, called my cousin.
I should have waited. I should have told him and asked him to tell his mother. I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I called my Aunt and they put my call into her office and I told her that her brother had died. She began to scream and cry and became hysterical. Fortunately, my cousin on getting the news immediately headed to the bank. They would later tell my grandmother.
What followed over the next few hours were more phone calls. A call to my sister, PS. She cried but regained her composure. She offered to tell our brother, BM. I was relieved to take at least that call off the list. I have always felt guilty for not making that call. Somehow, I feel I didn’t live up to an obligation.
Aunts, Uncles, cousins, co-workers, friends….
I don’t know how many calls I made. I don’t know how many calls I received.
PC arrived at my house in the mid-evening hours. He had reached his wife who had flown to Texas with their three children to spend Passover with her sister and now had to turn around and get to New Jersey.
BM and PS and their spouses were getting flights arranged. My 89-year-old grandmother was preparing to make what would prove to be her last trip, to bury her son.
As the night drew to a close I climbed in to bed physically and mentally exhausted.
I don’t remember much of the next several days.
I remember that day in chunks and vignettes. I remember the agony I heard in the voices of the people I called. I remember the awful pain of having to say again and again “my father had a heart attack, he’s gone, he didn’t make it”.
I would relive April 5th for several years after he died . I asked myself time and again if there were signs I missed. Was there anything I should have seen? Should I have realized that he was close to a heart attack? If I had been paying closer attention might I have realized that he needed to get to a hospital on April 5th so he might have lived past April 6th?
Slowly I have come to accept that there was nothing. No hints. He was happy, laughing, looked well, seemed to feel well. He was moving and acting and looking normal.
I can still hear his voice and his laugh.
I am in the same industry where my father spent his career. I still come across people who knew him. They all knew the same man. They speak of his honesty, his fairness, and his integrity. They speak of his brilliant mind, gentle nature, sense of humor, storytelling ability and his generous nature.
Fourteen years have gone by. I have missed him every single day.
He was my father, my mentor, my guide. I followed in his footsteps in the plastics industry. He lead the way, taught me the industry, taught this Theater Major to think like an engineer, a manager, a leader.
Far more important than my career, he was the example of what a father should be. Dad was firm but loving. He would get loud only when the situation truly warranted it. He was steady, strong, and gentle and devoted. His love for us was never in question. He worked two jobs when we were young. At a factory Monday through Friday and waiting tables in the Catskills on Weekends. Somehow he still managed to share a lunar eclipse with me when I was five, still managed to come to my championship Little League game when I was ten. He never missed a single play I was in. He made every concert his four children were in. He never let us feel that anything came before his family.
He took us hiking and camping. He became a scoutmaster so he could spend that time with his boys.
His love of music and theater was shared with all of us. One day he even, grudgingly, admitted to liking the Beatles.
Fourteen years and the wounds are still raw. I do still, once in awhile, wonder if I should have seen something, some clue…
Fourteen years later I still wonder if I could have told people more gently.
Fourteen years later I still think to myself “I should ask dad…”, oh yeah.
I look at my siblings and I know Mom and Dad would be proud. PC, BM, PS and I have all grown to a productive adulthood. PC has raised three children to productive adulthood. I see in my siblings the generous spirit of my parents. I hear my fathers voice in the stories we tell, the laughter we share. I see my mother in the family ties and the gatherings we all seem to have, and our shared tendency to show our love for friends and family with food.
After my father passed away one of my mother’s cousins told my brother PC “J and H batted four-for-four”. They had raised four children in difficult times and had raised four good people.
Fourteen years. I miss my father. I miss him everyday. Every day I find myself trying to live up to the example he set.
I guess there is no better tribute than that.