I have many days tied for the best day of my life; the day I met my husband, the day we married, the day each of our children was born. But there is really only one day that I can say was a truly terrible day. The worst day of my life. The most terrible thing about the worst day of my life is that it keeps replaying itself in my head. Over and over, day after day, I see it all happening again.
Not everything. There are moments that are a blur, but there are also moments that I relive daily. The pounding on our door at 2:00 am. Staring at my uncle and realizing that something really, really bad must have happened for him to be at our house at that hour. Taking deep breaths and willing myself not to throw up on the drive to the hospital. Pulling up to the hospital and seeing my mom standing outside, looking so tiny against the huge hospital building. Watching my mom put away my dad’s clean laundry that night and seeing her run her hand over his yellow polo shirt and khaki shorts.
These are the moments that replay in my head every night as I go to bed and also at random times throughout the day. They haunt me.
But you know what? I also see my dad’s laughing face as we Facetimed early the morning before he passed away. I see his backward Redsox hat and my children’s giggling faces as they screamed in delight when they saw him on my phone screen. I see him at dinner celebrating his birthday, drumming on the table with my husband, putting on a show for his grandkids. I see him watching my mom play with the kids in their pool, pure joy on his face as the kids splashed and laughed.
I want these good memories to overtake the bad ones. I want the story of his death to stop playing out in my mind. My hope is that if I write out everything that happened… just get it out… I can stop reliving it daily. So, here goes. The story of the worst day of my life.
Sunday, October 7th, 2018
October 7th is my husband’s birthday. October 7th, 2017 also happens to be the day that we left our house in Ohio and began our move to Rhode Island. One year. We got to spend one year living close to my parents. One year with my dad. I am simultaneously so thankful for that year, while also feeling like it just wasn’t long enough.
We didn’t do much that Sunday for Ben’s birthday because we had already celebrated a lot on Friday and Saturday. We went to Target, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and came home and sang him Happy Birthday and gave him a gluten-free cookie cake that Theo and I had made.
Getting into bed that night, I had a lot of trouble falling asleep. I was really annoyed because I had established an awesome morning routine of getting up at 5:45 and I knew that wouldn’t happen if I was up all night. The last time I saw on my phone was 11:40 PM and I must have fallen asleep shortly after that.
Ben and I both sleep with our phones on silent. I think our phones started going off around midnight, but we were sound asleep. Completely unaware that my dad had collapsed and was dying and my siblings and mom were processing this without me.
Monday, October 8th
I woke up around 2:00 am and saw Ben out in the hall looking concerned. I heard really loud noises coming from outside… what sounded like shouting and a banging noise. I asked Ben what it was and he responded “I don’t know. I’m going to go check, you should probably call 911.” The noise had subsided and so I waited as Ben peered down our stairwell into the foyer. We heard the noise start up again and Ben told me to call 911 immediately. I was about to hit send when Ben said “Wait! They’re calling your name!” He shined the flashlight from his phone down into our foyer and we listened again and realized it was knocking on our door. Then we heard “Caitlin! Ben! It’s Billy!”
“It’s your Uncle Billy!” Ben said and started running downstairs to get the door.
It’s Uncle Billy. For a split second, I thought “Oh no, he’s hurt and he needs our help.” That didn’t make sense though. It’s the middle of the night. “Something must be wrong with one of my cousins,” was my second thought. That didn’t make sense either. If that were the case, my parents would come to get me.
My parents. My mom, dad, and brother were on vacation and the day before were driving home in their RV.
My third thought was that something horrible had happened to all 3 of them.
I ran downstairs after Ben and our alarm was beeping from him opening the door to let my uncle inside. I ran into the kitchen to turn the alarm off before it started actually going off and returned to the foyer and just stood there. I think he had already old Ben, but I hadn’t heard what he said from the kitchen.
I stood in the foyer and stared at them. “Who is it?” was the only thing I could think to ask.
“Your dad,” he said. “Your dad passed away. He collapsed and your mom performed CPR…..” and everything else blurred out because the only thing I heard, the only thing that mattered was that my dad was gone.
I did have a brief second of relief, that my mom and brother were alive; it wasn’t all 3 of them. However, that relief was quickly gone because… my dad was gone.
I sat down on the hard chair that was in front of our piano. I swallowed and said “No.” Just, no. My heart was beating rapidly in my ears and my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I heard Uncle Billy saying that he could stay with the kids and Ben could take me to the hospital, or he could take me.
I was still in my pajamas. I looked at them both, said “OK” and went upstairs to get dressed. I picked up my phone and saw what looked like hundreds of missed calls. From my sister, from my Uncle Jamie, from my mom. They had been calling us for hours. HOURS. I had a text from Uncle Jamie as well as my sister. Bonnie’s text said, “call me as soon as you see this.” I responded and said, “I’m coming.”
Ben brought me some water and asked what I wanted to do. “You need to e-mail work” I said. “You won’t be able to go in tomorrow.”
Since the kids had been up coughing with croup the previous night and we really had no idea what to expect, Ben and I decided that I should go with Uncle Billy to the hospital. My sweet Uncle lost his beautiful wife and soulmate, my Auntie Jane 6 years ago. He is all too familiar with the pain of losing a loved one.
The ride to the hospital was the longest ride of my life. Uncle Billy hit 80 MPH (probably the first time he’s ever gone over the speed limit in his life) and held my hand the entire time. I kept taking slow, deep breaths to prevent myself from throwing up.
When we pulled into the hospital parking lot I saw my mom waiting out front. She looked so small. She had just lost half of her life. I got out of the car and tried to run over to her, but my legs felt as if they weren’t working correctly. They felt as if they were a thousand pounds each. The entire walk to the hospital room was the slowest walk of my life.
My sister and brother were waiting inside the room. My brother looked like he was in shock and my sister’s face was tear streaked. I hugged her and told her it was going to be OK even though I felt like that was a lie. I was still in shock myself and hadn’t yet cried.
I then heard all of the details. My dad died of cardiac arrest. My mom heard him collapse and immediately called 911 and started performing CPR. The EMS did everything they could, but if a heart isn’t restarted by a defibrillator within a minute and a half, then death is imminent.
My dad’s body was lying there covered by a blanket. He didn’t even look like himself. I saw my sister use the blanket to wipe a drop of blood away from his mouth and that’s when I shed a few tears. I had to leave to go the restroom at least 3 times because I was certain I was going to throw up. My stomach was an absolute wreck.
They asked me if I wanted to say goodbye, but that I didn’t have to. I honestly didn’t see the point. It was just his body, my dad was already gone. There was no point in saying goodbye to an empty body. However, I didn’t want to have any regrets, so I did. I honestly don’t even remember that moment.
Then, we left. The hospital staff was going on with their normal routine and that made me so mad. MY FATHER JUST DIED. HOW CAN LIFE BE GOING ON AS NORMAL.
We said goodbye to Uncle Billy and Bonnie, Christopher, and I got into my mom’s car and went back to her house. They still had their packed bags from vacation sitting out. My mom had started doing laundry and all of my dads clothes were folded neatly. I watched my mom gently run her hand over them, smoothing out the material on his light yellow polo shirt and holding back tears, place them in his bureau.
How can this be happening. This is not real. This is literally the worst thing that’s happened to me. I can’t, I just CAN’T believe this is happening.
None of us knew what to do. At this point it was probably about 3 or 4 in the morning. Probably closer to 4. I honestly have no clue. I watched my mom wiping down her counters and thought is this freaking for real. She’s cleaning. She has no idea what she’s doing.
We decided we would try to get some sleep and meet in the morning to make arrangements for a service. Bonnie’s boyfriend was away at Martha’s Vineyard for work so she was home alone. I didn’t have anything with me and knew I would need to be somewhat put together the next day. Bonnie and I talked about me going to her house, her coming to my house, but in the end decided that the best thing would be if we each went home.
We knew that if we stayed with mom that she wouldn’t sleep but none of us slept that night anyways. I didn’t have a car with me so I had to ask my mom if I could take one of their cars home. She handed me my dad’s keys. I didn’t know what to do or so so I just took them.
This is not happening.
I called Ben on the way home. My dad had just died and I was driving his car. I made it home and climbed into bed. My children were still sleeping and it was still dark outside. It was almost as if nothing had changed in the past several hours… only everything had changed.
It’s been nearly a month now and not a single moment goes by that I don’t miss my dad or think of everything he’s missing.
He lived a good life and died happy, having just returned from vacation. He experienced no pain or fear, and for that, I am eternally thankful.