My dad called the other night to ask me if I wanted to come over the following day to learn how to take care of his plants while he was gone.
I laughed and challenged him on the notion that watering plants was somehow a complicated task but more so understood it was an excuse to see me.
So when he finished telling me that his new "flower tower" actually DID require a tutorial and followed that sentiment up with, "I have some sad news about R.W." -- a name I'd come to learn in recent months since my dad's heart attack and my mom's passing- I wasn't prepared for his next statement.
Truth be told I'd only met him three times. The first, when he popped in after recess duty to say hi and offer condolences as we planned my mom's services in the conference room at the grade school. The second, at her funeral. The third was when he actually showed up to watch the Minnesota Gophers play in the NCAA championship hockey game. I say "actually" because my dad has this ridiculous quality about him where he throws out vague invitations, and unlike the intense type-A in me, never expects a firm RSVP. "You should stop by!" He says. So when M and I arrived that night to watch the game he told us there could be anywhere from zero additional people, to approximately 6. The game started and no one had showed up and my dad was a little disappointed.. the consummate host, he took it a little personally when people no-showed, despite having obtained no firm RSVP's. I still remember his excitement when he glanced outside and saw R.W.'s wife dropping him off with a bottle of whiskey and the note in his voice when he said "aww, it's R.W.!" R.W. was more quiet overall, but seemed comfortable and offered the odd commentary: he reminded me a lot of my dad.
So when my dad said "I have some sad news about R.W." my immediate thought was, "oh no, I bet he just got diagnosed with cancer." So I wasn't at all expecting to hear what he said next, "He had a massive heart attack and died last night. He and his wife were just biking and he fell over and they couldn't revive him."
My heart jumped into my throat because I understand all too well what separates a "he didn't make it" phone call from a "he's on his way to the hospital" phone call- the phone call I was lucky enough to receive last October: dumb. fucking. luck. That's it. I know it, my dad knows it, and that's why I heard all the things he didn't even have to say on the phone during that conversation, "that could have been me..that WAS me...why him...why not me..."-- and I know there are people reading this who live their lives every day knowing what it's like to be on the other side, the awful side, of that kind of luck. Thinking about that dumb luck paralyzes me, sometimes. That's because there are two great equalizers in life: guilt and fear.
I honestly didn't really even KNOW him, so I would hate for this to be construed as making it about me, but in some ways his death has me even more rattled than my mom's. I can picture him on the couch watching the game, hear his voice. It was SO recent. It seems both incredibly obvious and stupid to say this but the thing that shakes me most about death is that in the months, weeks, minutes before it happens - these people had no idea it was coming. I find myself mentally tracing back to that one second, that one decision, that could save them. This happens more notably for me when I hear of car accidents, someone steps off a corner and is struck and killed by a truck.. literally ONE SECOND could have saved their life. It seems as though we should be able to go back in time and fix it. It seems so fucking STUPID that such a blip on the radar in terms of time, can cost someone their life. The same can be said with things left to chance, as is often the case with a heart attack: the moment the blocked artery triggers cardiac arrest. What if it had happened at school? or any place with an AED?
I'm sure it's the oversaturation in the media but I find myself drawn to, and easily obsessed with, tragedy news stories. Shootings, car accidents, drownings,.. constantly cycling the "one second before/one second after" thoughts in my head. I know this is wholly unproductive and unhealthy, but it often has me wondering when (not IF, when) tragedy will strike me again personally. It feels like it's inevitable, and it terrifies me. Perhaps that's a sign I need to step away from the news..since some small logical part of my brain knows these are the exception, not the rule.
It's hard to find any deeper meaning for why my dad is here and R.W. isn't. I refuse to believe that was part of God's plan. I don't think God plans for anyone to die, or orchestrates it in any way. I do hope and pray that the fact that R.W. seemed to be a very devout catholic helps his family in the coming weeks and months. I'm sure this post sounds rambly and a touch self-centered at times but I'm not trying to make this about me. It naturally comes from my point of view as I process this but I really truly am devastated for his family, and my dad.. who has lost his wife and a friend who- from the sounds of it- he admired greatly, among some other scary family health news in the last few weeks.
There's no point to all of this, but I needed to put it out somewhere. Maybe I need to absolve myself of the guilt that it easily could have, should have probably, been my dad.