How Do You Say Good-bye?
He’d been suffering from Unstable Angina for about two weeks. And no, he wasn’t in the hospital. He didn’t like doctors and hospitals—not that I can blame him—he wanted to be with those he loved—his family.
I think the saddest thing of all, is he knew he was dying. For over a year he’d been trying to prepare me, saying things like “I’m not going to be around forever” and “You’ll have to take over when I’m gone.” Near the end, he told me point blank that something was trying to kill him inside. But I just didn’t believe it.
As children, we tend to think our fathers are invincible…and why not? They carry you on their shoulder when you’re little. They are so tall and proud when you do good, and a thunderstorm when you’re bad. A father’s respect is earned…not given unconditionally. They have a kind of wisdom not to be found anywhere else…and they seem to be able to take care any situation which might arise.
I too thought my father was invincible…he’d always been there for me through the good times and the bad. Why wouldn’t he be around for another twenty or forty years?
Around 6pm that night, my father called me into the living room. I knew he wasn’t doing well, he’d been very weak all day, barely able to move from the living room to the bed room without it costing him chest pain (in our tiny house). But still...
He told me to call the ambulance or he was going to die this night. I began to cry and so did he. We hugged each other. I asked him if he was sure, because I knew the VERY last thing he wanted was to go to a hospital and die among strangers. He told me to call.
So I did.
Strangely, I do not remember my thoughts as we waited, I think I was trying really hard keep strong and not fall apart when my father needed me most. The local Fire Department came first, two really great guys who I cannot thank enough for the way they treated my father, who was so very scared. Giving him the care, understanding and dignity he deserved. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for being there for us.
Then the ambulance came. Unfortunately, at the time, the ambulance drivers were on strike, and I don’t know if this is the cause for it, but I found the paramedics to be rude and cold as ice. I was so upset with them (and still am) for the way they treated my Dad, but of course I didn’t say anything, because my Dad came first!
I remember watching them as they helped him out of the house and down the stairs so he could get on the gurney. The way they strapped him in, jerking hard on the belts, it was like they were treating him like a piece of meat! I’ll never forget the scared look in my father’s eyes as he lay there at their mercy. Seeing this, I reached out and squeezed his slippered toe. He looked up at me, as if coming back to himself, and nodded. He knew I was there, that there was someone in this group of strangers who loved him…at least, I hope that’s what he was thinking.
I watched as they wheeled him to the ambulance and put him inside…
The doors closed.
And the ambulance drove away.
That was the last time I saw my father alive.
I cannot begin to describe how helpless I felt, how angry that I could not go with him. I had to stay behind to look after my dog (who’s never been alone) and the cats and the house…
But I let strangers take my father away, I didn’t go with him…it is a regret I will live with for the rest of my life...
Of course I called my mother, who left work and drove to the hospital many miles away. I will not bore you with the endless phone calls, the countless hours I paced waiting for my father to come home, waiting for my mother to tell me everything was alright.
But everything was not alright.
Every drug they gave him only kept the pain away temporarily. They had him on a respirator and pain killers, and who knows what else. I honestly don’t think I could have handled seeing my father like that half as well as my Mom did. She was so very brave to face that and not fall apart.
Finally, they decided that the only thing that would save him, was to fly him via helicopter to Victoria (Capital of British Columbia) for emergency surgery. Turns out, he'd had a continuous heart-attack for the last two days, and as a result, his heart was horribly damaged.
So my Mom said yes, and she waited in the car, giving me a play by play over the phone as we waited for my father to take off. And we would be seeing my father the next day in Victoria, no matter how long the drive…
But something strange happened ten minutes after they wheeled my father’s gurney and all the equipment to the helicopter…the ambulance pulled up and took a bunch of the equipment and a gurney back. My Mom didn’t have the best vantage point, so she really couldn’t see what was happening. Neither one of us had a clue what it really meant…
So, once the helicopter took off, my Mom, exhausted and distraught, drove home.
Five minutes before she arrived there was a knock on the front door.
I’ve seen these scenes in movies, read them in books, but you don’t really know the truth of it, until you open the door, and there is an RCMP Officer (police) standing on your door step. And before he could say to me... "Ms. Hyatt, I have some terrible news, your husband is dead…" my stomach dropped out and I clapped a hand over my mouth and tears came gushing. (Yes, he said husband, I corrected him of course.)
Never, never, never would I wish that moment even upon my worst enemies!
Turns out, my father died on the way to the helicopter, from a massive heart attack. They tried to revive him in the helicopter, but of course, it was too late.
I’m glad my mother didn’t know then, she would not have been able to drive home under her own will power. She called only moments before she came home, and I had to tell her everything was fine with a policeman and a counsellor sitting in our living room.
In the days and weeks since my father’s passing, I’ve thought about the different things I could have said to him in those last moments before the ambulance came…
I’m sorry Dad for being so damn argumentative all the time.
I wish I’d been a better daughter; I tried to do my best.
Thank you for always being there for me, even when I didn’t want your help or advice.
I would not be the person who am today without you.
You were right, Dad! (because my father was always right--about the good and the bad)
I love you, Dad.
And now that my father is gone, I would like to say:
I wish I’d known how irrevocably my life would change with your passing. Had I known, I would have paid a little more attention to your astounding wisdom, I would have cherished each moment together like it was our last. I do know one thing Dad, I will live life to the fullest and to the best of my abilities which you have given me.
I will live it with passion, compassion, wisdom and honour, that is my pledge to you.
How do you say good-bye to your father, your best friend?
You don’t. Instead, you keep him in your heart, and your thoughts, and each day you live—you live a part of it for him.
There is one other person I would like to thank…William—for allowing me to lean on you in those first terrible days. I don’t think you realize how very important it was for me to be able to share with you my anguish when I could not share it with my mother who was suffering just as greatly. I know you have suffered much yourself, and you didn’t need another’s, but from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. And I hope to make it up to you in the very near future…I don’t think I could have handled those dark days as well without you...
A note on the photos...I took them all (my father was a professional photographer for many years, and yes he taught me that too). He loved hamming it up for the camera... He was funny; wise; one of the most intelligent and aware men I've ever known; simple; complicated; often times misjudged (because he looked so rough); he hated injustice; sympathized with others' pain; and was honest to a fault...but above all, he was my Dad.