Monday, July 18, 2005

Last Chances

This time of years is, for me, the Season of Anniversaries. This coming Sunday is my and The Feared Redhead’s sixth Wedding Anniversary, which we’re celebrating by spending a couple of days in Seattle. Next month will be my one year blogiversary, and I’m still trying to decide how to mark that occasion. But today happens to be the fourth anniversary of the worst day of my life. Let me tell you about it and the events leading up to it.

Back in the spring and summer of 2001, TFR and I had decided to leave San Diego and move back to my home state of Oregon. At that time we were renting a 2-bedroom duplex on Alder Street in San Diego’s Kensington neighborhood, a nice part of town full of little shops and restaurants and few busy streets, lined with houses built in the 1920’s and 1930’s, mostly Craftsman and Art Deco and Spanish Colonial style architecture. The year before, a vacation trip to Oregon, coupled with observing an 1100 Sq. Ft. home in our neighborhood sell for $510,000, had convinced us both that it was time to get out of Dizzyland.

At the same time we were preparing to cut our moorings, other events were conspiring to help us on our way. Next to us, in a one-bedroom apartment over the garage for our duplex, lived a young woman who had rented from the same landlord as us for a much longer period of time. She and her new husband discovered she was pregnant, and informed our landlord that they would need to move out to find a bigger place. Well, the landlord decided that he didn’t want to lose her as a tenant, so he chose not to renew our month-to-month rental. We were given a one month notice to be out of our duplex by the end of May.

We didn’t plan to leave San Diego until the end of July, so that left us in a 2-month lurch. We didn’t want to spend our deposit on finding a new apartment, so we were planning on living on friends’ couch(es) until it was time to leave. You can imagine how thrilled we were with this prospect.

At the last minute, my parents decided to help us out by buying us a cheap RV. It was an 18-year-old 24 ft. Winnebago class C motor home. It became our abode for the next six months. Imagine living in a space roughly the same size and layout as a large booth at Denny’s. It was miserable, and put a severe strain on the marriage, but until we found work in Oregon (not an easy feat in 2001), that RV was what stood between us and homelessness.

We moved the motor home into an RV park in El Cajon, California, just across city lines from Lakeside, and about 2 miles from my parents’ RV park. So, yes, I lived in a Lakeside Trailer Park, but no, everything was NOT going to be all right.

For the next 2 moths, we spent as much time at my parents’ RV as possible, since they had the air conditioning we lacked, and also because we were incredibly lonely and yet crowded in that small space. We had some good times with my parents, as well as with my sister and her kids when they came out to visit from Michigan. In fact, I think we spent more time socializing with my parents in those two months than in the entire previous two years we’d been married. But we were moving to Oregon soon, and knew these good times must come to an end. We just didn’t realize how soon, or how drastically.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2001, I decided to call in sick from my job, since I was feeling a bit under the weather.. I’d already given them my 2-month notice, and knew that any sick days not taken would not be reimbursed, so what the heck. I settled in to take a nap. Unfortunately, TFR was preparing to go throw a Pampered Chef party, and the racket was driving me nuts, so I called my dad (it was his day off) and asked if I could come nap at their place. He said yes, and so I prepared to leave. TFR asked me to pick up a few things at the store first, and after the errand, I decided on a quick swim to cool off. By the time I left for my parents’ RV, it had been over an hour since I called.

When I got to the RV and knocked, no one answered the door, so I went ahead and let myself in. My dad, a heavy sleeper, was reclining in a chair by the door, the western novel he’d been reading on his chest. I was going to just go take my nap, but didn’t think it polite not to let him know I was there, so I gently nudged him to wake him.

He didn’t move.

I nudged him again, and he still didn’t move. I started shouting and shaking him, but still nothing. By now I was in a panic. I found his phone, and dialed 911. They talked me through the process of getting him on the floor and starting CPR while the paramedics made the 2-mile trip to the RV park. I don’t know how long it took them to get there, I suppose it was minutes at most, but it seemed like forever. They worked on him for quite some time while I called TFR and my mother to tell them to come quickly. But the fire department’s best efforts were in vain. My father was dead.

No autopsy was ever performed because it was obvious he died of natural causes, but we’ll never know if it was a stroke or heart attack. It must have been massive and instantaneous, because there was no sign he knew something was about to happen. He must have drifted into a nap, and never woke up.

The next few days are still a little hazy in my mind. On top of preparing to move, I now had to take over the duties of helping my mother with funeral arrangements. There were friends and family to call, condolences to accept, details to attend to.

I was overwhelmed by the amount of love and compassion that people poured out to us. I was also deeply moved, though not surprised, by how many people my father touched, and just how much THEY missed him. Not just during his career as a pastor, but throughout his life, my father had a way of making people feel at ease around him, of making them feel loved and important. He honestly cared about people, and it showed.

I often think about that day, and about my own health, and wonder if I’m going to die young and leave a grieving widow and son the way my father did. I hope to God not, but I can’t be certain. I’ve tried time and again to improve my health, to get a handle on my weight, and it’s still a losing battle. I live with the fear that I, like my own father, will never get a chance to meet my son’s son some day.

You know, it’s become cliché when talking about such things to make some comment about not knowing when you’ll die or lose someone to death, and to exhort people to take each opportunity as it comes to make the most of the time we’re given. I can’t even begin to tell you just how deeply rooted in truth this cliché is. Don’t blow it off as emotional nonsense. For God’s sake, don’t EVER take for granted the blessing of the presence of a loved one. That presence can cease at any time, and once it’s gone, it’s irrevocable. You get a last chance, you never know when that chance is, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Last means last. The night before he died, I told my father I loved him one last time. And even so, I still wish I could do it again. Treat every chance as if you won't get another. IF you DO get another chance, cherish it like a prisoner's stay of execution. Next time, the governor might not call.