I couldn't post about this when it happened, because I couldn't accept it yet. It felt like a bad dream, it was so surreal. I still don't want to accept it, but I will probably feel that way for the rest of my life.
My father passed away on March 18th, 2008. He was only 62 (though he looked and acted about 45). He was on his way home from our house and he called me about 20 minutes before it happened. He was turning onto the highway from a well-traveled side road when another driver ran a red light and slammed into him on the driver's side, killing him instantly. My mother and I, not knowing yet what had happened, agreed to meet on opposite sides of the pass and look for him when he didn't come home. She found him, at the accident scene. The police were there, roads were closed, and he was still in his van, with a yellow tarp over his body. I was on the other side of the pass, 20 minutes away, unable to get to her because the road was closed, until a deputy came to get me and got me through the barricade. I asked him to stop before the accident, because I didn't want to see, and he agreed. Another officer brought my mom to meet me, around the corner from where it had happened. I could see yellow flashing lights from the clean-up crew, and blue and red flashing lights from the police cars in the distance. I can still remember her words over the phone to me as her voice changed and began to crack and break. She said, "It's him, it's him. Dad's dead".
I didn't want to believe it, and I called my little sister who was out of state at the time. I told her what she had said and that it could possibly be another van, since that particular model is very popular, even down to the paint color, so not to panic yet. She completely broke down, and breaking it to her hundreds of miles away was almost as difficult as hearing it myself. She packed a bag, raced to the airport, got a flight out and was here within 12 hours of my phone call.
At the funeral home, since most of his injuries were internal, he was in what they call 'viewable' condition, meaning we could view the body and have an open casket, if desired. I had seen him within an hour of his death, so I chose not to. I wanted to remember him the way he was when he was standing in my kitchen, alive and well, and smiling, playing with the dogs. My mother, sister, and my Dad's sisters elected to see him, mainly because they said they had to 'make sure it [was] him'. I understood that, but being in the next room and hearing my baby sister let out a shrieking, guttural sob was almost enough to make my legs give way beneath me. I never want to hear that sound come out of anyone again, as long as I live.
We all decided on cremation, for various reasons, and began planning the memorial service. It was beautiful. Hundreds of people came, the flowers were gorgeous and the stories people told were heartwarming and amusing. My sister and I decided to have a small amount of Dad's remains placed in keepsake cremation pendants, which are designed to hold cremation remains, a lock of hair, or dirt from the grave site. Mine looks like this..
My sister chose a silver heart. I will get into the strange happenings since receiving the pendant at a later date..
Prior to the service, we went to the sheriff's office to see the van, and I took pictures. I wasn't sure I would be able to do it, but a part of me needed to know what he went through in his last moments. There wasn't a lot of blood, due to the type of injuries he suffered. I took many, many photographs, for the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit if we decide to file one. That decision will depend on whether the DA decides to charge the other driver with vehicular manslaughter, in which case he will (hopefully) end up in jail. At the accident scene, there were no skid marks on the pavement, indicating that the other driver didn't even bother to try to stop. There were many witnesses, all of whom said it was the other driver, not my father, who ran the red light, and in fact, ran it well after the other light had turned green. The other driver, age 69, was not injured in the accident.
People ask if I am having trouble sleeping since his death. I tell them I don’t have trouble sleeping.. I have trouble being awake. I see people on the roads now, driving like crazy, always in a hurry, and instead of thinking ’what an a**hole’ or flipping them the finger, I get angry, and very sad. I think to myself that someone like that, someone who couldn’t be troubled to stop for a red light, is the reason my Dad isn’t here now for me to call when I have a bad day (or a good one), to forward a funny email to, to bring me Gatorade and movies when I’m sick, to tell me it’s going to be ok when I’m down, or just to hug me and tell me he loves me, something he did often while he was alive. I wonder if the man who killed him has children, sons or daughters, and what it felt like to have to tell them that he took someone else’s father away.
At the funeral, there were so many stories, so many tears, so many wonderful people who loved him and whose lives will never be the same. The things I loved about my Dad, his integrity, his compassion, his zest for life and infectious smile, the practical jokes and the way he took care of everyone, always ready to help in any way he could, these were things hundreds of other people also cherished. You begin to believe, when you are close to someone, that only you and others that close can properly appreciate them. What a wonderful thing to find out that everyone, even people who only met him a handful of times, also noticed and appreciated those qualities. My father was not a perfect man, but he was a good one, and he was a perfect Dad. And, as devastated as I am that he is no longer a phone call away, I have so many wonderful memories to look back on, something not every person can say about their father. He loved us, my sister and I, his ’Girls’, he loved our mother, his siblings and his extended family, something we never had to question because he told all of us, all the time.
My father was my hero, my best friend, a trusted authority on almost every subject under the sun, someone I could laugh with and the only person I could cry in front of, and the person I trusted with anything and everything. We talked every day, usually multiple times a day, and even within an hour of his death. I had just written a tribute to him in one of my classes, and last Christmas, when someone asked me what I ’wanted’, I had said I wanted to freeze time so that my Dad wouldn’t get any older and he could be with me forever. I hadn’t known, at that time, just how little we had left to spend together.
I miss you, Dad, more than you will ever know. I never missed an opportunity to tell you that I loved you, and I am so thankful for every memory, for every silly moment, for every day you were alive, and I know that, even in death, you are watching over all of us, sending messages through license plates and mysteriously fixing a leak in the Jeep that we could never find before, no matter how hard we tried. It is heartbreakingly difficult to accept the tragic death of someone who never missed an opportunity to truly live. You will live on in the stories and memories of the family and friends you held so dear. We will never forget you.