My phone rang at 4:15 AM on November 16th. I had only been sleeping for two hours. There was a birthday party for my boyfriend Mike the night before, and while I left early because of some fatigue, I stayed up to hear about any shenanigans I might have missed. It wasn’t hard for the phone to wake me up, and I didn’t even think anything could be wrong; just a peculiar early hour call. If anything, my heart was pounding from bounding out of bed to make sure the phone wouldn’t wake anyone up.
It was my mom. My father was involved in a major car accident. Hit from behind by a tractor trailer, he was transported to a hospital in Norwood, MA, and then airlifted to Beth Israel in Boston. At that point we didn’t know the extent of his injuries, just that he was in critical but stable condition. “What should I do?” I asked my mom in a pleading voice, as though there were some specific action I could take that would make everything okay. “I don’t know. Just pray.” she said. My mom is a big say-er of prayers. I am not, but that morning I lay back down for about 10 minutes to try to collect myself and found myself clumsily taking her advice. When I was unable to stop shaking, and knew I had to gather my courage and get to the hospital, I got up, dosed myself with some panic attack meds, and took a quick shower because I knew I wouldn’t be back for awhile. It’s odd how very rational thoughts pass through your brain in times of extreme panic.
I had to call my brother Julian and tell him. Not wanting to worry him and his wife, Jenna, I sent a series of oddly calm text messages and voicemails, which in retrospect was probably more disturbing. In the Uber on the way to the hospital I chatted about the situation with the driver, letting him reassure me that everything was probably fine. Once I arrived at the hospital and saw my mom though, I let all my sadness and worries pour out.
My dad and I are not big talkers. Our relationship is fine, but quiet. Now I was sad for all the missed conversations we could have had, all the time I could have gotten to know who my dad was outside of being my dad, and all the times I could have used words to show my love for him. I was afraid he didn’t know. I was afraid that he only saw his flaws, worried that I saw them too, and that they colored my opinion of him. My mom reassured me that he knew I loved him, but I continued to feel the empty pit in my stomach.
After my brother and sister-in-law arrived, we were allowed upstairs to the Trauma ICU to see my dad. Surprisingly, he looked pretty good. A little banged up, quite a few tubes and wires everywhere, but overall, good. He had fractured his spine in a few places, and they needed to do surgery to stabilize his neck as quickly as possible, so we only had a few minutes to visit. As the rest of my family filed out I hung back. I slipped my hand into his swollen one, and gave it a gentle squeeze. And I spoke to him, like I always wanted to. I told him I loved him, and that whatever his faults were and whatever mine were, they didn’t matter. I loved him and only that was important. Julian poked his head around the door to make sure I was alright, and we left the room together.
My dad needed more surgeries in the next days, and stayed in the T-ICU for 3 weeks. He was sedated most of the time, but I continued to talk to him, in the best way I knew how. Whenever I visited I would write to him in a journal I left in his room. I wrote about my days, his days, the nurses, his visitors. I would always end with “I love you”. Many of his visitors did the same. His friends wrote about stealing his pain meds and running around his bed to try to wake him up. His sisters and brother wrote about their visits. Julian and Jenna wrote. My mom wrote every time she was there, and she was there every day, multiple times a day. Mike wrote, with his trademark irreverence. My sisters wrote. Everyone wrote and my quiet dad’s book was filled with love.
After months of the hospital and rehab facilities my dad came home. He continues to improve and is working again. The other night, for the first time since his accident, he went out to play his guitar. I am comforted by the fact that he still has his journal and hope that if he ever needs words of encouragement, he reads the letters his friends and family wrote.
This is my letter to my dad on Father’s Day: I love you, I am so happy you’re home, and I am proud of all the strides you’ve made. None of us are perfect, but what is important to me is that you are my dad. You are my dad, and I love you.
We don’t speak many words, but those are the ones that are important.