The International Writers Magazine: Life Moments
“We need to go up one more row,” Ron decides. “We can’t end the day on thirteen.”
I study the fiber cement siding my superstitious coworker’s crew has installed. Considering the garage was bare when everyone clocked in a few hours earlier, I am impressed with how much progress Ron’s team, a trio of green teenagers, has made.
“Not bad,” I admit. “Brad would stop there though. He likes that number.”
Ron chuckles, obviously catching my reference to how our boss wrote February 13 two days in a row on next week’s calendar.
“Yeah,” he smirks. “Brad must have had his heart broken by a girl on Valentine’s Day or something.”
But I don’t laugh along with him. I utter nothing in fact. Instead, I slowly walk away, my steps weighed down by my suddenly heavy heart. Ron has unknowingly struck a chord.
February 14 is a melancholy date for me; not because of a woman, but because it marks the anniversary of when the world I used to know ended and when my new normal—one I continue to struggle with at times—began. When most people I know are preoccupied with roses, chocolates, and cards, I think about my dad who, at only 58 years of age, died of pancreatic cancer. I reflect upon the final hours of his life, which ended on Valentine’s Day 2011.
It’s around 8pm on the 13th when my brother Jay enters our father’s house for the night shift. He sits down on the opposite side of Pop’s bed. I give Dad a hug (something I always did prior to leaving) and I notice he has a profoundly sad expression on his face. We say “I love you” to each other as usual, and I assure him I’ll return in the morning before exiting the living room. While I open his front door, however, he shouts something I will forever cherish: “I LOVE YOU TYREL!”
I hesitantly close the door behind me. Although my father had always made sure to tell me he loved me, he had never done so in that fashion. I keep replaying this moment in my mind as I approach my truck. I get a huge lump in my throat.
I’m only home for about an hour, just climbing into bed when Jay calls. He informs me that our pop is in really bad shape. I give my brother the instructions to call the hospice nurse and I let him know Alyssa and I will be there as soon as possible. With great speed my girlfriend and I get ready and fly out the door. I don’t remember anything from the drive.
Jay, Alyssa and I sit beside my dad while he leaves this life for the next. He holds on till a little past midnight, peacefully breathing his last at 12:12am on February 14. I am convinced he did this on purpose, for a couple of different reasons.
On one hand, I believe my father waited until it was officially the fourteenth before he let go because he was a poetic soul. I’m sure he felt that departing while surrounded by those he loved most, not to mention those who loved him most, on the day most associated with love, would be a fitting way to go.
On the other hand, I also conclude that Pop wished to leave one last impactful mark. During the three decades I had with him, my old man made it quite clear that he thought Valentine’s Day was silly, a “Hallmark holiday” if you will. He believed that telling or showing someone love was something which should be expressed unabashedly and with regularity, not just on February 14. Furthermore, he knew I wholeheartedly shared his philosophy. By passing away when he did, Dad actually gave Valentine’s Day some meaning.
In truth, those twenty-four hours are now weighty. Even though I still refuse to get sucked into the commercialism of the holiday, I pay special attention to Valentine’s Day nonetheless. February 14 represents pensiveness, a day to reminisce about my father. This date also serves as a reminder to honor my best friend and the causes he valued most, such as end-of-life care.
Hospice provided my pop with some peace, dignity, as well as the privacy and comfort of his own home during his final months. I was grateful for the services he received and, therefore, wanted to dedicate myself to an effort that had done so much for him. So I became a board member for a local hospice foundation. Rather accordingly, the first meeting I attended was on February 14, 2012—the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. And the most recent gathering occurred on the second anniversary. I dwell upon a conversation which took place afterwards.
“Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!” Suzanne offers while packing up her things.
“Oh, thanks for reminding me!” Fred replies. He suddenly has some pep in his step.
“Last-second run to the gas station?” I joke. Getting up from the table, I glance at my watch. It’s 7:35pm.
“No, but I do owe my wife a phone call. Have a good night!” Fred disappears down the hallway.
“Good luck!” adds Suzanne. She then looks over her shoulder at me. “It’s a Hallmark holiday if you ask me.”
It’s a Hallmark holiday…
Standing in the doorway, I ponder those four words. I am instantly reminded of my father. Moreover, I muse over four additional words. I think back to that frigid evening two years ago.
There is no doubt in my mind Pop knew he was going to die soon. That’s why he yelled before I walked out. He wanted to make sure the last thing I ever heard from him was “I love you Tyrel.”
My hand on the light switch, I take another gander at the hospice foundation boardroom. I nod with pride. This is my way of saying “I love you too.”
I hesitantly close the door behind me.
© Tyrel Nelson March 2013
tyreln at gmail.com
Autumn in August
I’m fluttering like a streamer attached to a fan. A fan, however, is the last thing I need right now. I grab at the Ranger’s console and crank the heat on high. Hot air fills the Ford, but goose bumps keep popping through my skin.