It’s crazy to think that 15 years ago today, the life of one of the most important people in my world, was suddenly over. Gone. Just like that.
I remember getting the call that he had almost died. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the fear. The tears. The anguish. And, that I was here. In Ottawa. Sitting in my little cubicle. Living my life, while my dad was fighting for his, and I didn’t even know it.
I look back on that time as though I was watching a movie in slow motion. I can hear the sob escape my lips, and see the desperation in my tears as deafening silence engulfs the office. Sixty people stop cold. No movement, no sound as the heavy hush falls. In my movie, I see my good friend rush over, grab my hands in hers, and my voice shakes as I tell her. Silence. Gripping fear. Real, desperate heartache. I hear my voice talking to the doctor, to see what shape he’s in now. And hear his deep soothing tone tell me “You’ll never regret coming, even if he was to get better”. And… it is at that split second… that very specific moment in time, that I feel the ‘crunch’ of my heart cracking; it’s jagged tear echoing in my ears. I will never experience life the same. He won’t be getting better. This the beginning of the end. A piece of my heart will always be broken. Forever.
In a blur, I take the next flight home to Edmonton, where my best friend is waiting to take me to the hospital. I remember sitting outside in her car, sobbing. Again. Trying to muddle up the courage to see him. The hollow “click clack” of my shoes resonate against the linoleum floor of the empty corridor as I sneak into his room after visiting hours. I remember holding his hand in mine, the raised purplish veins under his skin, and the familiarity of his kind, gentle, warm touch. I can close my eyes still today, and see the same hazel eyes looking back at me, and hear him tell me “I almost didn’t make it today”. How the words hurt to hear, but the relief of being with him, even for a few minutes, hours or days were of comfort. He must’ve made a joke, because I remember smiling a real smile, not a sad smile. He had that way about him. That charm. That gentle soul. The one I still miss.
As the days passed, and we were all around him, I felt the warmth of his love mixed with the fear of losing him. Of never being able to see him again. To ask his sage advice, to sit with him in silence and watch the squirrels on our deck, to lay beside him, match his breathing and hear the ticking of his mechanical mitral heart valve pumping the blood in and out, or to hear the unexplainable joy in the sound of his laughter and telling of witty jokes.
The day he died, my sister and I were trying to coax him into eating his lunch. My niece was just a baby (the apple of his eye), and my sister and I were both on the verge of bursting into tears, because it was just too hard. It was – too hard. It was hard for each of us, in the same ways, yet differently. But mostly… it would’ve been the hardest on him; in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend… or face. My mom and brother were talking to the doctor… my sister had taken my niece to the lounge… and I sat with him, and tried to convince him to eat something. I heard the rasping of his shallow breathing, saw the very distant far away look in his flecked hazel/brown eyes, and knew something was… wrong. I remember desperately trying to press the nurse’s call button – and choking out a plea for help – and then running down the hall as fast as I could to find a nurse. I could feel the pounding in my chest, the panic and the feeling of wanting to scream as loud as I could; but not being able to.
By the time I had found everyone, he was with my brother and had taken his last breath. And … I had missed my chance to say goodbye … to hold his hand and reassure him so he wouldn’t be afraid and to tell him how much I loved and admired him. In my heart, I knew that he knew all the love we each carried for him, but… my heart’s regret is that I didn’t just stop and hold him… that I ran to find help… and that for a fraction of a second he may have been alone.
On the way to his funeral, we were all sitting in the car, and I can’t remember which one of us said it, but it was his classic line. “I’m okay… you okay?”… And I remember looking at my mom, and I think that was the first time we were all able to smile. And it was because we felt him with us. That he would always be with us, in the big and small ways. And that in moments such as this, we were reassured that he would always be a part of us.
It took at least 6 months of deep hearted sobs every day, which tapered to every few days, then weekly, monthly and now, fifteen years later, in moments when I least expect it. The tears will trickle, and I can feel the ache of that hairline fracture that remains in my heart.
In our culture, we celebrate the lives of the people who have passed. At a young age, I was introduced to open casket funerals. I was five when my dad’s dad passed away, and I was scared to view his body at the funeral. My dad gently took me by the hand, and reassured me that everything was going to be okay. He led me past the pews, up the long red carpeted aisle to the coffin, where we stood in front of my grandpa’s body. My dad reached out and touched his hand, and took my hand to do the same. Nothing happened, and I remember distinctly that any fear I had , dissipated. We had annual gravesite visits at Provody; where baskets of food and Ukrainian bread lit with candles are laid on the graves, and they are blessed. The baskets are then given out, in memory of our loved ones, and the lives of those who passed are celebrated. As a young child, I knew that death was a part of life. And to this day, it brings me comfort knowing that each and every day my father’s life is celebrated in everything we do.
The crack in my heart is still there, but it is healed by his memory; filled with joy from the time I spend with my family, and blessed with the love I see in my son’s smile when he laughs and expresses himself in ways that remind me of my dad, even though he passed before Mouks was born. It makes me think that my dad lives in more than just my memory, that he really is a part of each of us.
My dad worked hard, laughed heartily, enjoyed life, and loved deeply. He lived his life with integrity, joy, humour, trust, kindness, generousity, optimism and enthusiasm. It is my wish that I can live my life with the same abandonment. That any obstacles I am faced with, I can rise above them, and see the hope for tomorrow, the beauty in the moment I am in, and appreciation for the life I have been given. And to know, that no matter what, we’ll all be okay.
“I’m okay…..you okay?” Johnny Huculak
Oh Sheri, how I cried when I read this. I can so relate to you loss…and mine is still fresh. I cry everyday for my mom and it’s been six months. I miss her like crazy. I feel your pain and I’m sorry for you. this was written so well and from the heart. I”m sorry for your regret you weren’t there… Perhaps your dad let go at that moment you were gone so you didn’t have to be there. I was with my mom as she took her last breaths and it was hard. you were there with your dad too… you might have missed a millisecond… but you were there…. I’m thinking of you.
Thank you Rhonda… It took a few days to write, and many tears to recount those feelings. I still miss him… Thank you for reading this, I know it must be hard to bring up your own very recent memories… (Hugs)!
Beautiful story and memories of a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. He will never be forgotten and shall live forever in our hearts.
Thanks mom. I know it was a hard one for you to read. Love you!!!
Well written but hard to read my friend. Evoked a lot of my own memories of my parents passing. Your dad is smiling upon you everyday as he watches over you. I’m pretty sure he is saying in your heart “You okay, I’m okay” as we hope to meet all our lost ones one day. Hugs my friend.
❤ thank you…. ((Hugs))
As I look at the calendar today February 16, I realise that it was my Dad’s birthday today. I guess your blog was a kick start to my day and a way of remembering my own Dad and how special he was and still is in my heart.
I hope you think of him with sweet memories and not sadness today. Celebrate who he was, and the time you did have together. ❤
Denis…. I also remember the day I came home to Ottawa after his funeral, and there you all were waiting at the airport, with welcoming arms, opened wide. It still brings tears to my eyes to remember the warmth of my giant group embrace. xo
Jim and I both read your post ((( Sherri ))) and there has been buckets of tears. Thank you for sharing your memories and daring to remember such a painful moment. You’ve written about it so eloquently, I’m in awe. I wish I was near by, we could hug each other to pieces. I loved the photo’s you included too, especially the one with your mom near the gas tank, so fashionable they look like movie stars. I guess it’s the price of being loved, to have to say goodbye. Your dad knew you were there Sher, he felt your love in every way, everyday. xoxo We Love you xK
PS, May I link your beautiful post to Boomdeeadda today?
Ohhh Cuz…. Thank you! I cried just reading your comment! xoxo. Very kind to link me…. I shall link back, when i figure out how! Am taking that virtual hug! I need it! xoxo. Miss you!
You are so welcome, I actually just wrote a little Link helper for my friend Julia who wanted to know how too. It’s here at my post about Grandma’s decorating. Hugs my dear xK
Just for ‘if you ever want to’ info. Today, you should just enjoy time with your Mom (hi Aunty…mwaaa…blowing kisses)
Crying along with both of you. Painful. Real. Honest.
Thank you for always being here Alys, your support and friendship means the world xoK
Pingback: We Miss You « Boomdeeadda
Sheri, I was right there along with you as I read this. The fear, the heartache, the desire to make it better. I truly, truly believe that your father was not alone when he died. How could he be with all of you loving him the way you did. In fact, my guess is that it was an unconscious act of fatherly love and protection that allowed him to slip away when you were out of the room for those short moments. You went to get help; he needed to go. Love at it’s finest. My dad died when I was nine and I’ve suffered more from the mystery of his death, not attending his funeral, not being able to see him as he was dying. I know my mother did what she thought best, but the ache of not being there, not knowing, was terrible. I know you miss him dearly, as I miss my own dad. What an amazing life he lived, and how proud he would be to read what you’ve written today. XX Alys (friends with Boomdee)
Thank you so much for sharing your story and my tears. One of the greatest gifts in life, is to be able to love deeply, and with that, inevitably comes heartache, but a life truly lived. (Hug)
So true. Hug back.
Oh Sherri, thats such a lovely tribute to your father and his memory, and also to everything about him that keeps living on all around you. I can so relate to the sorrow, but also to the joy of have had the life with a father you looked up to and loved so very much. Thank you for sharing this and huge thank you for being there when my dad passed away. You really do make your dad very proud and not only with this beautiful story of his life, but by being you dear.
Lots and lots of hugs my friend, to your and to your family.
Sherri you are an amazing writer. I’m glad you shared this again today. We hadn’t met the first time you posted this, but it was clear then as it is now what a special woman you are. Arms around you. Anniversaries are tough, no matter how much time has passed.
I wish I had met your dad. I’m glad I met you.
Oooooooooh hugs, Alys….. words cannot express how much your comment means to me. It really does bring tears to my eyes to read your kind and thoughtful words. You have such a calm, generous and loving spirit, and I am so blessed to know you….. thank you for always sharing who you are, and inspiring me to do the same. ❤
It seems like yesterday sometimes, then at other times it seems like ages. Even now, I hear the sound of your dads laugh. Always a joker, young at heart. I think the Huculak boys must have been the popular boys at school hey? I wish I could share something profound that takes all the sadness away, but as you know, I struggle myself. It’s probably hard to know that Ben won’t get to spend time with your dad and your dad him. It’s so unfair to miss that. But you’re both part of him. So in that way, your dad’s still here and is alway with you. We were the lucky ones. We had wonderful dads and we had them with us longer than some. I hope your regrets are far less now. I think it went without saying, your Dad never felt alone and knew your love that day and everyday. xo I love you hon, gentle hugs x K
Awwww… ((((hugs)))) It is true that we were so blessed to have amazing dads, and to be connected forever by them. Each day, when I look at Mouks and his expression portrays that mischievous glint in his eye, I see so much of my dad in him. I love that he talks about my dad and feels a connection to him even though he never had the opportunity to be a part of his life in this world. I feel comfort knowing he is still with us in so many ways… that his spirit is alive and strong and very much a part of our daily lives even though he is not physically with us. In these moments, I know that his love really does live on. Many hugs to you my sweet cousin! xx
❤ ❤ ❤ x a million xx