At this very moment, on this day in 1979, I came in through the garage, walked up the stairs, and found you lying there. The best I can tell is that you came home, let the dog out on his run, and just keeled over and dropped dead. You didn’t even get a chance to reach for the phone to call 911. You were 51. Three days later, you were buried on your 52nd birthday. Mom and I would never be the same.
The night you died we came home from the hospital in shock. What were we going to do without you? Something happened that I wasn’t prepared for at the age of 21. I became the parent, and Mom became the child. I rocked her all night as she sobbed like a baby, crying “Tommy, how could you leave me? You said you would never leave me.” I had no idea what to say, so I held her and cried silently to myself.
Looking back, I never had a chance to think or feel. I could only jump into survival mode…something I would be doing several times during the course of my life. I called my brother’s school in Israel and let one of his teacher’s know what happened so he could fly home for the funeral. Next I had to start calling your friends. Your best friend starting yelling at me, telling me to shut up and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. What was I supposed to say? I was a kid calling adults with really bad news.
Mom went back to work not long after the funeral, and her drinking took off. Some nights I would come home to her sitting in her regular chair in the kitchen with a glass of scotch, talking to you as if you were there. Again, I didn’t have any idea what to do. How could I? Yet for years I beat myself up for not being a better daughter.
You never told me what to do if you died Daddy. I lived in a fantasy for most of my life about who we all were. It was only after you were gone that I started learning the truth. Neither of you gave me the tools to deal with reality. I used to be really angry about that, but today I know that you couldn’t teach me what you didn’t know.
Honestly, I used your death as an excuse when it suited me. It helped justify my own use of drugs, irresponsibility with money, immaturity in relationships, etc. It was an easy way out when I wasn’t having to take care of Mom. I think I needed the downtime and didn’t know how to take care of myself in a healthy way.
Fast forward 40 years. There are still so many questions that I will never have answered. I’ve come to peace with the idea that maybe I am simply not supposed to know certain things. Your death, once an excuse for poor choices, eventually became a reason to learn how strong I truly am and taught me how to stand on my own two feet. I used to be jealous of people who still had their parents or even one of them. Today, I accept this is the way my life was meant to be. I know that whatever comes my way, I can handle it. There is a sense of freedom in that knowledge. I still miss you, Daddy… I hope you are proud of the woman I have become.
Readers – Have you lost someone close to you? How did that loss change your life?