I’m rolling up on a year now since my father passed away. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you’re probably used to humor and lightheartedness (at least I hope that’s how I come across… maybe a little angry and ranty sometimes??). I’m not necessarily trying to switch gears here. I do have a story though, and the timing to tell it seems appropriate. It’s not a blow for blow recount of what took place, but more of a story within a story that lead to a moment that was crazy enough to write about.
The evening started for me while I was still at work. I was working a retail job, and we’d had a ‘Friends & Family’ type of event that involved ordering a bunch of product and having it shipped to our location, and then a whole bunch of my friends would stagger in over the next couple of days to pick up their stuff. I was trying to get out of there, but as I did, a familiar face would walk in, we would talk, and I’d help load up their vehicles. This was to be my last day before some vacation time that I had booked. My wife was to be induced into labour the following morning, and I was expecting to be a father for the first time. Ironic. My wife’s friends (a family of four) were picking up some things, and offered to drop off at home, which was on the way for them. I had taken the train to work, so I accepted. As I was helping load up their car, I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket, but I couldn’t grab it in time. Then it went off again. My sister had texted me, and left a phone message saying that my mom wanted me to go over there right away. This obviously wasn’t a social visit. I messaged back, and asked if there was anything wrong. ‘Just come right away’ was the response. We were just getting into the car, and getting on the road. I asked my friend if he wouldn’t mind dropping me off at my parent’s house instead. It was actually easier for them location-wise anyways. He agreed and asked if everything was OK. I said I wasn’t really sure, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t. I called my sister to ask her what this was all about. She wouldn’t tell me, she just kept repeating that mom wanted me to come over there right away. “Where’s dad?” I asked. ‘Just come over.’
This was the most awkward car ride of my life. I didn’t see these people too often, and there would have been plenty to catch up on, but I couldn’t focus. I had to figure out why my mom wanted me to come over right away. She obviously had something that she needed to tell me face to face, that couldn’t wait. It was her specifically that asked for me to come over (not her AND my dad), and she put the gag order on my sister. The question surrounding my father’s whereabouts wasn’t being dealt with which told me my answer would come during that face to face conversation. It couldn’t happen soon enough. I was trying not to completely unravel during this car ride. Their kids were in the back. They were being cute. I just couldn’t focus. I’d kind of explained that there was a family emergency, but I didn’t tell the driver that I thought my father was dead.
There was no reason to think that he would have died this night. He was 76 years old going on 66. In great shape, with a modest amount of health concerns, none of which looked like they would spell the end. Still, I couldn’t ignore the fact that nobody would say where he was, or why he wasn’t involved with this chat we were having. If something had happened to him, like an accident, I would have been headed for the hospital I figured. This just didn’t feel right. I had to text my wife to let her know I wasn’t coming home right away, and why. I don’t know if she was just so pregnant that she couldn’t focus, or because she knew I was in a car with her friends, but this was one time that she didn’t ask me a bunch of questions. I was grateful, because I had no answers.
We approached the house, and there were two cop cars outside. My fears had almost been completely confirmed by this point. I thanked my friends for the ride. I walked into the house, and saw 2 cops, my mom, and my sister. “Where’s dad?” I remember saying, even though I knew. Maybe there was still a chance that this wasn’t really happening. They asked me to sit, so I sat. The police officers explained what happened, which is another story for another time. To summarize, he had a heart attack on the train. There were people there that knew First Aid, and they assisted him right away. They were kind to him. An emergency crew was waiting at the next train station. They worked on him for a while, but couldn’t revive him. He was gone.
It sounds crazy, but I found all of that strangely reassuring. When I saw the cop cars outside, I thought maybe he had been in some horrible accident, or been robbed and killed or something awful. Him leaving us quickly and relatively painlessly seemed kind of nice. Like if you HAD to go, and we all do…… that might not be so bad. Not so nice for the rest of us, mind you. After a few emotional moments with my family, we started working the phones. My mom and my sister make lists and start executing tasks when in crisis mode. I, cut from a different cloth, try my best to sink as far into the furniture as humanly possible, and hopefully disappear altogether.
I called my wife, and told her the sad news. In her condition, she could have gone into labour right then and there, but she did a good job staying calm. I decided to call everyone else the following day. We had a couple of visitors that night including a close friend of my mom’s, and the Priest from our church. They were both wonderful at calming everyone down, and just being there. We all had tea. We talked about how nice it was that he didn’t have to suffer. We talked about how awful it was that he died potentially the day before the birth of his first grandchild (The grandchild took an extra couple of days to get out, but as far as we knew, it was going to happen the next day). When that would come up, they would look at me like ‘Oh my god, this must be EXTRA CRAZY for you’. It probably was, but I wouldn’t know. My brain was on auto-pilot, and I was having an out-of-body experience, but the real me was floating around the universe somewhere trying to cope with all of this new madness.
The night was drawing to a close, and there was something on the list that my sister and I needed to tick off that night, as unpleasant as this task seemed. My father had driven to a train station earlier that day. His car was still there. We needed to get it before it got towed. The Priest stepped up, and told my sister that he’d be happy to give me a lift out there on his way home so she could stay home with my mom. So off we went.
My father went to church just about every Sunday. He was active in the Church, and well liked by all. There was a time when we all went with him. We still would on certain holidays, but for the most part he was on a solo mission. I didn’t have a problem with this church, I just am not that religious in general. I do love this particular Priest. I think so highly of him as a person, and as a professional, that I would totally recommend this Church to ANYBODY who happened to live in the area, and feel inclined to go. They are very inclusive, and everyone is welcome. This is also where my wife and I got married.
So we’re driving to the train station, and it’s about 11 pm, so most of the cars have left the parking lot. It should be easy enough to find my dad’s car, and I’ll just use the spare keys to drive it home. To my home actually, because remember earlier in the story that I didn’t have a car at work today, and got a lift to my parents. We’re talking about the events of the day, both still blown away by what just happened. We arrive at the parking lot of the train station. Here’s where the fact that I’m completely ambivalent about cars doesn’t come in handy. I know what kind of car my dad drove, but I couldn’t pick it out of a crowd. Luckily I did have one of those door locking remotes that makes the lights flick on. We drove around the parking lot to take a closer look at some vehicles that may have fit the description. It wasn’t there. This station had 2 smaller lots as well, so we drove over to them and had a look. It wasn’t there.
This was going to be a bit awkward, but I knew that in the coming days especially, I was going to be spending a lot of time reminiscing about my dad, and telling, and hearing stories of his life. I didn’t think it would start so soon, but this situation left me in a position where I had to explain one of the quirky details of my father’s personality……. to a priest. My father never liked to pay for parking. He had a well documented history of leaving his car in some of the most creative places imaginable to avoid paying for parking. For years we walked and walked and walked and walked from parking spots to whatever event we were attending. Only recently when my parents had started to get older and didn’t get around as well, did he bite the bullet, and start parking closer to things. My dad would walk for 25 minutes from a parking spot to save $5. It drove me crazy when I was younger. I was telling the Priest this as we were going up and down the streets nearby. The truth is, this car could be ANYWHERE. It could be in one of these apartment buildings, it could be at a store, it could be in front of somebody’s house.
SIDE STORY: In 1992 The Toronto Blue Jays were in the World Series for the first time. Torontonians know only too well how starved this city is for the success of one of our major sports teams. My father who was a season ticket holder at the time, sprung for one game in the World Series. It was Game 5, and he took my mother (he had 2 kids, so you can’t just take one of them……so he took the wife….. I can’t get mad at him for that, although I am a RABID baseball fan). These seats of course were purchased before the series began, and I’m not even sure how much they set him back. I know he chose game 5 because there was a chance they could win the World Series that game. If he took game 7, the series might have been over already, and he wouldn’t get to go. As luck would have it, the Jays were up 3 games to 1, and game 5 was in fact a potential clinching game where they could become World Series champions for the first time ever. My parents would have been there. In those days he would park a good 15 to 20 minute walk from the stadium. There were a few businesses on a street nearby, and figuring that business hours would be until 5 pm or maybe even 6 pm, he would swoop in afterwards, and park in one of the employee’s reserved spots. Cheeky bugger! He did this for years. In 1992, the Toronto Blue Jays were World Series Champions, but unfortunately for my dad (and fortunately for me, who for the price of a donation to the food bank, was allowed to watch game 6 at the stadium on the Jumbotron with 50,000 other fans, even though the game was being played in Atlanta), the Jays didn’t win the Series in that 5th game. There was a sad trot back to the car, and I would imagine a much sadder trot to the pound to get his car after it had finally been towed from the parking lot of whatever business he decided to leave it at, complete with my mother ripping into him for the entire journey.
So there I was, not a regular church goer, with a Priest driving me around looking EVERYWHERE for my dead father’s car, and trying to get home so I can get a good night’s sleep (yeah right), so I can become a father for the first time the next day, when I had one of those moments of self discovery. This COULD be the worst moment of my life. Only if I chose it to be. I remember thinking at the time that I would HAVE to write about this someday. I don’t know if I will ever feel the full magnitude of the human experience quite the same way I did that week. Is it a bad thing? No, it can’t be. I loved my father. That’s the only reason I feel as crushed as I do right now. He was an amazing man. If he wasn’t so amazing, I wouldn’t be so crushed. If you were to ask me if I would take less amazing in exchange for less crushed, I say no way! So this surreal (the most overused word in self-expression….. sorry, but nothing else describes it better) experience of driving around aimlessly, a drive which included going to a completely different station as well, turned out to be a fun way to end the night. The priest and I had some laughs at what had to be the most bizarre moment either of us could recall having. I would have been super mad at my father for his parking shenanigans, but he had passed away that day, so all I could do was have a laugh, and shake my head. Good ol’ dad saved the ultimate parking fiasco for his last day on earth, and I was fortunate enough to be part of it. Exhaustion prevailed, and the Priest drove me home. I felt really bad for him. He must have to do this kind of stuff all the time. It was past midnight. I slept (surprisingly), took my wife to be induced the following day, and while we waited to go into labour, we went for another quick look at the train station. As I pulled out of the last parking lot, I was about to give up again, when suddenly at a traffic light, I spotted a car with a familiar licence plate. It was my dad’s car. Parked in front of a Tim Horton’s that had no drive-thru, which is as ballsy as it gets. I jumped in his car and drove it back to my mom’s place, while my wife (due to give birth that very day) drove our car behind me.
It was the beginning of the most intense week of my life. We mourned, we planned a funeral, we received an outpouring of support that I can only describe as exponentially phenomenal, and in the middle of all that, we managed to (after 2 agonizing days, but that’s another story as well) add a new member to the family that had just lost one. I consider myself fortunate to experience so much of what life has to offer, both good and bad, and survive to tell the story.