A breaking heart feels like an asthma attack, like an elephant sitting on your chest. Follow that with the feeling of swallowing a golf ball, and nausea like you drank too much milk. Just when I thought my heart had finally become numb from heartbreak, it happened again. Not sure if it’s possible for the heart to actually break twice, or rather the same wound just opens multiple times. Either way, the result is the same. This time, the break went deeper- my father had an accident.
Let me back up and say how special my father is. See, he’s actually not my biological father. My mom was a single mom until 25 years ago. Then she met the man of her dreams, my father. He was the one that was there for me, though. He taught me all the Dad Things, like how to- shoot a basketball, ride a bike, drive a car, change a tire, check the oil, mow the lawn, and most importantly how a man should treat a woman. (I’m hard headed though, and that last lesson may have needed a little remedial teaching.) My dad rode his bicycle with me when I trained for my first marathon; he ran the last 5 miles with me of my first marathon. He walked me down the isle, helped me move multiple times, and picked me up late at night when my car broke down. He was the first man to ever give me flowers, and still gives them to me. He sends me gels and gu’s and running articles in the mail for no reason. He texts and emails me jokes, and most importantly, he’s told me time and time again that he loves me and is proud of me.
Tuesday afternoon my dad was cycling downhill with a friend. He was preparing to ride in the Horsey 100 Mile bike ride in Kentucky. My mom was to do the 50 miler. He was in remarkable shape for a 60 year old, and of course, he’s a handsome man. A dog ran in front of his bike, and he went over the handlebars. The rest is a blur. I flew home Wednesday morning very early, not even knowing if he would ever regain consciousness. Those first hours were so scary.
I did a lot of journaling while at the hospital, but after reading it, none is really legible. He finally regained consciousness after 72 hours, but unfortunately, there is brain damage. He has significant memory loss. When he first awoke, he could only repeat what said to him. When asked if he recognized any of us, he said no. I’ve felt rejected, disappointed, and crushed many times in the past two years, but this really surpassed any feeling I’ve ever had before. It was a feeling of panic, sickness, dread, and then the best of all- anger. Nothing hurts worse than the number one man in your life looking you straight in the face and having absolutely no clue who you are. Thankfully, this only lasted a day. He began to recognize us and say our names. He also recognized pictures. He even began making a few jokes, just like he usually does. He called his best friend a smartass and told us the food tasted like cardboard. LOL. When asked who was prettier me or Mom, he said, “Rebecca, of course.” Then patted my mom’s leg and gave a little droopy smile. Life began to look to up. There are many gaps in his memory, but luckily the knowledge of his family and friends is not one of them. He will recover, but it will be long. Tomorrow he will be moved to Frazier Rehabilitation Center for the rest of the summer where they will teach him to live normally again. For me, the impact of it remains.
Mostly, I’m left feeling quite raw. My first feeling is extreme guilt. What in the world am I doing living down here? I should be there, with my family, with him. I am feeling a lot of sadness, not just for him and my mom, but for myself. It really hit me Sunday. As he started to heal physically, my mom and I would be there to help him make progress. Like we would clean his cuts and stitches, brush his teeth with the little spongy thingie, and wipe his face with a cold cloth when he had a little fever. We took turns with the night shift, but mostly we both stayed most of the time. I took a nap in the chair one afternoon, and when I woke up, I saw my mom sitting in the bed with him. She was stroking his head and whispering in his ear. He was staring straight ahead, and I swear there were tears in his eyes. That moment was probably one of the best/worst moments of my entire life. It summarized to me a family’s love. Not just my parent’s love in marriage, but how they have raised me and how fortunate I am to be a part of it. The worst part was a feeling of complete dread. I couldn’t help but to think about myself. Down the road, there will be no one to care for me. Who will be there to make sure my hair and teeth are brushed, and I don’t sit all day with morning breath in the hospital? Who will pat my hand and tell me it will be okay when I can’t even feed myself?
On the ugliest side of every situation, there is always a silver lining. Like many other recent situations, my friends are really the silver lining. I got more phone calls, texts, and emails than I could count every. Single. Day. People from my school, church, and everywhere sent well wishes and prayers. The visitors never stopped coming. In a world with so much ugly, there is also so much beautiful. Anyone who has ever had long term experience with a hospital know that the nurses are really the ones that make the place run. My dad’s nurses were awesome. During one difficult all nighter, my favorite nurse, Cammie, came and sat with me awhile. I gave her some of our chocolate stash and we talked like old friends. She mostly just listened. For days everyone kept telling me, “Be strong for your mom. Stay strong…” I just got tired of being strong. I just wanted to cry and let it all out. I didn’t feel like holding it in anymore. This stranger, angel in disguise, was there for me. This particular night, my dad was not remembering us, and he was really saying some crazy things. She just kept reinforcing the amazingness of the human brain, and not to lose hope. She told me about some of the miracles she had witnessed, and she also told me that she was sure that he still loved me, even if he didn’t remember my name. True or not, it meant a lot that a complete stranger would be so kind.
So, that’s where I am. I’ll go back to summer school tomorrow, and try to kick it back up with the running for one or two more weeks before Seattle Marathon. I did book a long weekend home in 10 days, then will drive back for most of July. I did actually run almost every day while home. Some days it was a Galloway run, where I barely had the energy to move my butt up the hills near my parents’ house. I ran 16 one morning, but had to stop and have a mini breakdown after seeing a pack of cyclists ride by. The running was all for therapy, though, not really marathon intended. I love the way running allows you express any emotion- run while happy, sad, angry, no matter what, you will always finish feeling more level-headed, ready to tackle another day, or night…
If you are the praying type, send a few up for my dad. If you are not, maybe just throw some good thoughts his way. I would say my mom, but the woman is a rock, the strongest most amazing woman I’ve ever met. We’ll be fine, just fine.