The last memory I have of my father is a good one. He had a terrible sense of direction and couldn’t have found his way out of a shoebox. Every weekend my baby sister came home to visit from college, he would be tasked with driving her back to Hamilton, ON. from Guelph, and I was tasked with going with him so the big guy didn’t get lost.
It was one of those weekends.
A few years before this day had been upon us, my Dad, sister, and I were all in Hamilton visiting our older brother and his wife who had just had a set of twins. It was late in the evening before Dad and I packed up and headed for home, and both of us were hungry. Alone, in the dark, in a foreign (to us) city, we coasted up and down Main St. looking for something enticing. We passed a closed pancake house, but next to it was a restaurant that boasted the best pastrami and beef sandwiches. We stopped and proceeded to have the most delicious meal together. In the days and months that proceeded, my Dad and I bragged about this place to my sister and promised to go back when we were in town to drop her off next.
Two years passed, and in that time, we searched high and low for that restaurant, never finding it again. My sister thought we were both crazy. Dad blamed Hamilton’s one-way streets and I blamed his lack of thought to remember the restaurant’s name.
So here we sit, two years later, driving Lindsay home for the millionth time, and low and behold, we’re hungry again (I was seven months pregnant at the time, so the struggle was real). It doesn’t take long for Dad or I to turn to each other and say, “Let’s find the place.” With Lindsay navigating the one ways and me Googling every restaurant in the Hamilton area known for their sandwiches, we finally found it. As it turns out, while two heads are better than one, undoubtedly, three heads are better than two. We piled in and had another delicious family meal, our threesome complete with Lindsay.
With my kid sister tucked safely away in her Hammy home as she called it, Dad and I drove to Guelph in comfortable silence, every once in awhile pausing to turn up some good pickin’ on the radio. Dad remarked how it looked like it would finally snow that night and we both smiled, excited.
He dropped me off in my apartment parking lot and I playfully said, “See you next weekend, Dad. Love you.” To which he replied, “Yep, okay.” And I happily hopped out of the faded blue Dodge pickup, anticipating showing him my ultrasound photos after an appointment the next Saturday.
My father died Saturday morning, hours ahead of my ultrasound. No warning, no goodbyes. I didn’t even know he had left this earth until I was halfway home clutching photos of my unborn daughter, his granddaughter.
It hadn’t snowed that last weekend like he said it would, but as I drove to the funeral home on December 7, the little flakes danced across our hood while “Landslide” played on the radio. He gave me a blizzard that day.
My father died of Coronary Artery Disease, the most common form of heart disease. It is entirely preventable and even manageable when you have it, but it took him at 53 years young, without his knowledge.
I give this story to readers now, regardless of age, as a reminder that death does not discriminate; sometimes you don’t get to choose how you say goodbye to your loved ones. As I write this, I am sitting in a medical waiting room waiting to do an EKG on my heart. As someone with a father and grandfather who died of heart-related illnesses before the age of 70, I am at a huge risk for life cutting short on me. I urge anyone, regardless of age, to start the process of talking to health care providers on their own family histories. Ask your parents questions. Ask your grandparents questions. Ask your doctors questions.
It could mean the difference between living long enough to see your youngest child graduate college, watching your children have children, and achieving your dreams.
Weeks before his death, my father sat in this very clinic. He had strict orders from the same doctor to get an EKG after a high blood pressure reading during a routine check up. He hated doctors and public places, and upon seeing the long line, he left. That test could have saved his life. Would have saved his life.