….so my dad had a heart attack and was in the hospital…..I woke the next day and went to the hospital. My mother was actually there alone as they had taken my father to a hospital in Pittsburgh by helicopter. He was going to have open heart surgery.
We drove to Pittsburgh together. My mother was a strong woman. She never showed weakness. In this case she again was in control. I saw no tears, no shaking, no signs of fragility. She was in control and leading the way. We covered things about my dad’s business, the home, who to call, relatives to contact and that sort of thing. We acted like a team. We had a common goal and we were passionate about it.
My dramatic, self-centered nature from the day before had vanished, it seemed.
My sisters came to the hospital and my father went for surgery. I was still pretty confused and in shock. I recall getting all the information from the doctors and surgeons about the procedure but in that state I all just seemed to pass through me, I must have been glazed over. He was getting a multiple bypass, his heart was badly damaged. I remember someone saying he should have died with all that damage – that he should be dead now…., I remember then thinking that that person should have thought before they spoke.
After hours of waiting, pacing, visiting the cafeteria, walks around the block, my father came up from surgery. We went into his room as a family – my mother, my sisters and I. My dad was laying flat on the bed no pillow, no blanket or sheet. His arms were spread out wide with tubes in them and there were plastic ‘boards’ taped on his arms keeping them stiff. His bare chest had a very large bandage right down the center where they did open heart surgery. He had tubes down his throat and was still on a breathing machine. It was shocking. I wasn’t prepared for it.
Amazingly, he woke up. Of course he couldn’t speak and for some reason his eyes were tired and he couldn’t keep them open. But he wanted to communicate with us. I remember that he took our hands and tried to spell something in our palms; ala Helen Keller. My sisters and mother couldn’t get what he was saying. He moved to my hand and I felt his clammy cold hand, different from his standard warm grip. He spelled some words and I seemed to get them right away! A breakthrough. He said somethings that I don’t now recall. Then I remember him saying it was not pleasant to breath with the machine. Then he joked that he was full of hot air. He always had a good sense of humor.
He was moving his feet and toes a lot and my mom told him to relax. I think he spelled back that someone told him to move his feet and legs to keep the circulation going.
At one point it got quiet. We were all standing around the bed looking at my dad. It was such a wonderful moment. I think we all held hands for a quiet long moment. For many years my oldest sister had been living in Florida, my other sister was going through a divorce, I was away at college….we were now together with one mission,…..more importantly we were together. I’m not sure what everyone else was thinking but that moment was one I won’t ever forget. We were a family, a single unit. I’m not sure how long it lasted but it was magical.
The next weeks were spent at the hospital with challenges, progress and set backs. My mother basically lived at the hospital. My one sister moved home from Florida to help. I was driving a little over an hour to the hospital and home, trying to keep things going. We had support from many friends and some relatives.
I questioned myself. I was thrust into the role of taking care of the home, a fairly big one; all the property; the family business, and all that sort of thing. Suddenly I had to get up much earlier to meet the delivery guys, I had to deliver things and coordinate logistics. I had to place orders for kitchens and products. All this with about a day’s experience.
I recall when my dad came home. It was a nice day outside, shining sun, birds chirping, a pleasant breeze blowing….. However the recovery wasn’t over. He was still tired and couldn’t do much. My mother was on him to behave and first showed some signs of stress. My sister was now living at home and trying to put in her two cents. She was a nurse, had lived alone for many years, and she had her way to do things. My mother was strong willed and had her way. They bumped heads. Neither was right or wrong, just different from one another.
My sister thought I was just a kid (I basically was) and often treated me like that. Yet I had to do all the things a man had to do.
I was making progress and I knew it. But I still had to deal with my recently sloppy academic record. I remember trying to call the Dean’s office at the college. My intention was to stop or ‘catch’ my report card before it got home. I spoke to the Dean herself telling her my dad had a heart attack, that my grades were not good, and the report card could upset him more. Looking back, it sounded like a typical scam, I suppose, but I was truly worried. I even enlisted another professor to plead my case. No luck. The report card came home.
My parents really didn’t get upset, they were just disappointed, which actually hurt more. They didn’t say much. I recall my dad sitting there quietly – he wasn’t really a quiet guy – then asking me if I was serious about school and if I thought I should stay on campus next year – or even attend next year. I emphatically said I was serious and that next year would be different.
With that said, I signed up for a summer accounting class – a class that I had just got a “D” in – I was going to retake it. I didn’t have to retake it, I was told by my professor, but I chose to do so.
So I’d work the business, do things around the house to keep things running, then I’d go to class, return and work on the business more. One day I came home from the summer class and my mother came right out in the driveway and said simply and rather abruptly, “The water isn’t working, you need to go up on the hill and fix it.”
We had a pretty cool system for water. There was a large hill by our house and this very powerful spring ran a high volume of water all year long. It provided great tasting, safe water for our home. The overflow went to our pond and was a nice thing. For some reason it stopped working.
Again not knowing what I was doing, I climbed the hill in the mud and poison ivy. I dug and dug. I searched for the problems. I recall thinking that my mother was so mean not even saying hello to me. She just came up and said she wanted something. How dare she?
Then something jumped into my mind. I recalled doing the same thing to my parents. I recall being abrupt and selfish with my parents. Except it wasn’t about water or some basic needs, I wanted something dumb and silly that I can’t even remember what it was now. I remember doing this multiple times and then thinking how my parents must have felt.
The next day my dad’s friend Don joined me on the hill and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t figure out the problem. More days went past and the consensus was that the spring “moved” as it does sometimes and the spring was no longer viable as the primary source. So we had to drill a well.
We got the well guys out there to our house. My dad had a minor set back so he was definitely not able to interact so my mother and I worked with the well drillers…. and they tried to take advantage of my mother by not fulfilling their promises to do certain things and fill in the ditch, complete the job, and generally did a half-baked job. I had to stand up to them a few times and it was a first for me standing up for the family. I didn’t like it yet it felt good to ‘defend’ my family and get our money’s worth – and hold them to their Word.
That summer brought lots of challenges in the way of the family business…….
During this an other challenges in my life, I learning key lessons. One was the WORDS TO LIVE BY: Keep Moving. Sometimes when you’re in a storm of sorts – or it seems like it is – just keep moving. To me at this age and this time, my dad’s health, the responsibilities of the business and being the ‘man of the family’, and other challenges seemed overwhelming. Sometimes I let myself become overwhelmed. I even thought of escaping, withdrawing and just going to live at the beach or something and letting my family pick up the pieces. But when I took a breath, relaxed a bit, smiled and just kept moving ahead looking for solutions, things weren’t that bad. All of a sudden people gave me good feedback, good things started to happen, and more than anything, I got through it. Looking back, it wasn’t all that bad. Just keep moving, have faith in yourself, in others, in God/the Universe/the Source or whatever you believe. Sitting still whining and feeling sorry for yourself won’t help! Ask for help then take action, any action! Mistakes are OK – in fact mistakes will help you learn and be a better person.
….continued in the next chapter…….