Tuesday was the worst day of my life. My father died suddenly and unexpectedly at my house early Tuesday afternoon. I got home from a meeting to find my parents at my house. Dad was mowing my yard for me, which he’s done often and is really appreciated. However, shortly after noon, he sat down in a chair on my patio, sweating like crazy and he started gasping for breath. I didn’t see this. Mom took him a glass of water, but he slumped down to the ground, which I did see and Mom yelled that he was having heatstroke, so I wet down two towels and took them out to cool him off. But he was on his side moaning and gasping and, essentially, issuing croaking sounds from his mouth and he was shaking too. It was horrible! I’d never seen him like this. I’d never heard such sounds come from a human. I asked him if he wanted me to call 911 and said I would, but he croaked out a “No” — his last word. Mom asked if he wanted to sit up, and he barely nodded, so we sat him up and I held him steady. But his head slumped to his chest and it didn’t appear that he was breathing, so I called 911 and, with them on the line, I performed CPR on my father for about 10 minutes, until emergency personnel arrived and took over. They tried for 10 more minutes. There were eight emergency workers there, and they’d blocked off the road. They named three different hospitals they were going to take him to before settling on Erlanger, the heart hospital downtown. But I knew it was too late. He had stopped sweating, had gone cold. His lips had turned white. He wasn’t breathing; there was no pulse. He was dead. Mom kept talking about heatstroke, I guess because she was in denial, but we rushed to the hospital where we were shown to a special, private visiting family room. Literally, 15 minutes later, a doctor and two nurses came in and told us that they had gotten his pulse back, briefly, but lost it and they had tried to shock his heart, but he was gone. He was dead. My dad was dead!!! F***!!! Mom started asking questions, but I tried to quiet her, because they were largely senseless. We were taken back to view the body. We stayed with Dad for about 20 minutes. I held Mom as she cried. My parents were elderly, but Mom’s nine years older than Dad and she was sobbing about how she was supposed to go first. I didn’t know what to do. This might sound macabre, but I took a picture of him lying there, with tubes and instruments sticking out of him. He head was yellow. His skin was cold as ice. I kissed him on his forehead and we left.
I’d always worried about Dad going because he’s fought two battles with cancer, and has had three or four serious operations because of it, but he’s survived. I never thought a heart attack — or something like it; it was cardiac arrest — would kill him. That’s not in our family. I guess it is now.
Mom and I made lists. My wife came home and we held each other, crying, before going over to Mom’s. There’s so much to do, so much to take care of. And we couldn’t find Dad’s final arrangements anywhere — not in his two safes. Mom’s having to wing it. The funeral service will be next Friday in Knoxville, where they moved from to be near me. That’s where their friends are, their home church is, their burial plots are. I think we’re going to have him cremated. Mom doesn’t want to live in their house anymore, by herself. It’s a two story house and she could fall on the stairs. I don’t know what to do. She could move in with us, but we don’t have much room and everyone would be squeezed in on top of one another. One option is to sell both houses and buy one large house for more room. Perhaps up in Knoxville. Chattanooga has been a disaster anyway. I’ve never had good job luck here and neither has my wife (or my parents). I got divorced here from my ex-wife. Bad vibes. It’d be good to start over. The only problem is, while Mom would like to be in Knoxville again, the job market is no better there than here, so we’d be facing similar problems. I just don’t know what to do.
I have to be honest — I’m petrified. Dad was the glue that held this family together. He was giving and caring and sacrificial and loving and he was the person I turned to in emergencies and for advice, and frankly, he was a real handyman — something I’m not at all — and he took care of both houses. Now I have to step up to the plate and I don’t know how. I don’t know how I’m going to make it without him. Gretchen’s going to miss him. My mom definitely doesn’t know what she’s going to do without him. This is a nightmare. I can’t believe this has happened. At my house. While mowing. And he suffered. He was in pain. It only lasted maybe 20 minutes or so, but it was horrible to witness and I would gladly have taken his place if I could have. Mom still thinks it’s a combination of heat and stress, but he simply had cardiac arrest and died. The thing I’m beating myself up over is, what if I had called 911 five minutes earlier, when I asked him? What if I had ignored him when he said “No” and called. Would it have saved him? Did I unwittingly kill him? Am I responsible? I tried to do the CPR as best I could, but I failed there too. I could tell he was dead while I was doing it. I was so distraught. I am still.
A number of personal friends and friends of the family have emailed me and I feel overwhelmed. I have something like 70 or 80 email messages to respond to. I don’t know when I’ll have the time or inclination. At least people care. People wrote repeatedly in these messages about how much they loved my dad, about what a positive impact he had made on their lives. I hope some will come to the funeral service. Dad was one of 10 children. Now there are only five left, and none live remotely close. I don’t even know if his own family will be able to attend the service. How sad.
I don’t know what to do. I feel lost. I feel empty inside. I’m tormented too, because we didn’t always have the best relationship, although we had both reached out to rectify that over the past decade. I’m an only child and I didn’t always treat him right. It took my maturing for me to gain the proper perspective on my dad. I love him; I always will. I just wish I could have said goodbye somehow. I feel so guilty.
Causes Scott Holstad Supports
PEN, The Authors Guild, Sierra Club