Life

You Won’t Always Have More Time

When my dad was sick, I spent nearly everyday by his side. I gave him hugs and kisses every chance I had. And I was constantly saying “I love you.”

The day he died was hard for me. It was hard for me on many levels, not just the obvious one. The day he died, I got very angry at a nurse who was practically force feeding him. The day before my dad died, he was moved to a hospice facility, so these were new nurses who didn’t know us or his case. My dad had not been able to eat solid foods for a long time at this point, he had been surviving for the most part via his TPN and this nurse was forcing, I think it was pudding, down his throat. For awhile now my dad had been pretty out of it and unable to fully communicate, mentally deteriorating by the hour. He had been so strong and such a fighter during his entire battle, it was really hard to see him like that.

This all another story for a different post, but to sum things up, I had been at school all day and shortly after arriving at the facility this nurse walked in and as far as I was concerned started hurting my dad. I lost it. I told her to stop, made her leave the room, and then I walked out. I couldn’t handle seeing him that way.

I didn’t say goodbye.

I didn’t say I love you.

I just left.

And shortly after being dropped off at home. All alone, I got the call that he had passed.

It was the only time I never said anything to him and it was my last chance to.

Dad and daughter toast marshmallows
My dad and I toasting marshmallows at the beach

During my dad’s battle, I became really close to one of our neighbors. I had seen him around the neighborhood a lot my entire life. He had an old Chevy truck just like my dad’s and I’d see them talk occasionally, but I didn’t even really know who he was. At the time I didn’t even think him and my dad were real friends, even now I’m not sure they were until he showed up at the hospital for my dad. And then he came back. And he came back again.

Really quickly he and his wife became very important not just in my dad’s life but my mom’s and mine. They would check on us, bring us food, keep us company, let us cry, the list goes on and on.

One of the biggest things I remember about this man was how he spoke to me during all of my dad’s illness. He was there for my dad, but he was also there for me. When he spoke to me, it wasn’t just because I was there, he had real concern for me and he made it ok for me to talk about anything. When we would have conversations, it wasn’t always about my dad and how sick he was. It could be if that’s what I wanted, but if I wanted to talk about music, we talked about music. If I wanted to talk politics, it was politics. If I wanted to talk about cars or food or school, that’s what we talked about.

And it didn’t end when my dad died. I never felt like he was trying to replace my dad, he had too much respect for him to do that and no one can ever replace my dad, but he did a good job of trying to fill that hole that was left by my dad. He would celebrate holidays and birthdays with my mom and I. He would check in on how I was and how I was doing at school. He helped me with my car and most of all he was just there for me. No judgement ever. No matter what I was feeling or what I was going through, I could go to him anytime, day or night and he would just listen to me. And never once did I ever have to worry about him judging what I said or telling others what I said. It would always just stay between him and I.

For the first quinceañera I went to for my husband’s family, we dressed up very vintage like, 1940s inspired. It was something my neighbor would have gotten a big kick out of. The day after the quince, I saw him out washing his car and I thought about going over and showing him the photos, but thought, “I don’t want to interrupt him. I’ll just go tomorrow.”

He passed away that night.

I never got to tell him how important he was to me. And I never got to share those photos with him.

(Click here if you would like to read a post from one of my own blogs where I wrote about his passing.)

When I moved to Utah, I took a job working at my cousin’s Dairy Queen. This was never supposed to be anything serious, it was just a way for me to make a little extra money before I took off for Hawaii. It was never supposed to matter, but during my time there I met some of the greatest people I will ever meet and became really close friends with several of my co-workers. I became so close with some of them, that it was even hard to leave when it was time to move. Some of the people I worked with there made such an unexpected impact on me, during one of the roughest times in my life, I didn’t even know how to process it at the time.

After I moved to Hawaii I still kept in contact with several of them and I couldn’t wait to go back and visit them all. Two of them were even some of the first people I told when my husband and I got engaged.

Early one morning, just a day or two after I had told them about my engagement, I got a call from one of them. He had helped me a lot with my mom so when I saw his name flash across the screen of my phone I immediately thought something had happened to her. I picked up the phone, and he told his best friend was dead. His best friend and one of the girls I had worked with and had become good friends with.

She was killed in a car accident driving home late at night.

I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t know how to comfort him. And I didn’t know how to process what I was feeling.

I had only worked with this girl for less then two months, while I was in Utah. When she died, I hadn’t even known her for a year yet, but when he told me she had died, I physically felt it, as cliche as that sounds.

Her death hit me in a really unexpected and hard way. And it was multi-level. For one it was the first time anyone I knew my own age had died, let alone such a sudden way. On top of that, I had just been texting her, either the night she died or the day before, but we had just been talking. And the most unexpected part, which hit me slowly over the next few days, was how much I cared about her!

It’s horrible and another cliche, but it was almost like her death put in perspective how much I really did care about that group of people I worked with at Dairy Queen and how much they changed me. I knew I liked them, now I know love/d them, but it was almost like I was in denial that in just two months I could care that much about a group of people.

To this day when her photo pops up on my Facebook, or even if I take a moment to think about her I’m hit with this weird mix of emotions. She was kind of silly and crazy and could make me laugh and I’m so happy that I had the chance to meet her and spend two months with her. That part makes me smile. And then I’m also crushed with the reality that she is gone and she was way too young to be taken from this earth and that makes me tear up. Lastly, I top all those emotions off with the guilt that I never got to really be her friend or let her know how I really felt.

What makes this story even worse, is I still keep in touch with several of my DQ crew and I feel the same about them. They changed my life and mean more to me then I ever thought they could, but I’ve never told them that. I’m not really sure how to tell them. Maybe they will read this (I love you guys and you know who you are!) or maybe someday I will learn my lesson, clearly I haven’t yet.

Dairy Queen Sign
My DQ

Last month, I had the horrible task of adding yet one more name to my list of people I thought I had more time with. This happened back in mid-April, and this death hit me a lot harder than I thought it would too. Despite it being over a month ago, I still have a lot of unpacking to do with this one, but I’ll do my best to use it to complete my point and I apologize if this one is a little all over the place.

I read about this death online, on Facebook, and my immediate response was “oh no, how do I tell my mom?” I knew this man through my mom and because this is my mom’s personal story, I don’t feel right going into the details, but he was someone very special to my mom and had in fact been asking since December to see her. My mom desperately wanted to see him as well, but with the holidays and her moving into a new facility and me being busy with work and then COVID-19 , it just kept getting put off. (He was sick and in a facility as well.) This was why my first reaction was all about my mom.

I really had no emotional reaction, until about 4 or 5 hours later while I was hula hooping. This was during my month of hula hooping. Out of nowhere I just started bawling and I couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t even know where it came from, but I was overwhelmed with a feeling of loss and guilt.

This was a person very special to my mom and I met him probably around the time I started high school. He always had super cool antique cars he was restoring and was always playing classic rock inappropriately loud. After my dad passed away and I started trying to fix up my bug, this man helped me whenever I found myself stuck on a task, whether it was helping me actually figure out the problem or tracking down the right part. When I was “homeless” he even offered to let me move in with him, if I couldn’t find anything else. That was 2015 and I don’t think I ever saw him in person again, but we kept in touch over the phone and Facebook and he was always staying in touch with my mom.

When my mom got sick, after we brought her down from Utah, while I was still in Hawaii, he went to visit her a lot. From what I’ve heard, he would lay with her and play music for her. His name was one of the first my mom was able to say.

Shortly after I moved back, he got sick, well more sick, and ended up in a nursing home as well. I spoke to him on the phone in February of last year, the last time I ever spoke to him, and he told me all about what happened. I knew it was bad, but he made it seem like he was headed towards at least a partial recovery. I still wanted to get out to see him, but like it always does, life got in the way and the year flew by. He was always in the back of my mind, that I needed to go see him, but it always turned into, next week or next month.

Flash forward to Christmas and his son reached out to my mom on Facebook, which I saw and then reached out myself. That’s when I found out how bad things had gotten and how things weren’t looking good. The son told me he asked about my mom a lot. Despite my mom not being able to talk, I told him I would help her call. I told my mom about the situation and that we needed to call, but every time it would come up we’d either be on our way somewhere or it would be too late at night so she’d agree we’d do it next time. But next time never happened.

Whenever I’d visit, it was a guarantee I would hear something like this playing way too loud…so turn it up!

That’s four. Four deaths I have lived through in the last 10 years where I messed up. I messed up in a way that I can never fix. Four people that I put off until later. Four people that I didn’t tell how I felt. That I didn’t make the time for. Four people that I took for granted.

I thought I’d have more time.

We always think we have more time, but time and life is not a guarantee. The ones you love the most, your family and friends, they can be taken from you in the blink of an eye, with or without warning. You never know when your last conversation or interaction may be occurring, so don’t wait. This post has had way too many cliches for my liking, but this one is also true, tell the ones you love how you feel now! Tell them now and tell them often, because you may never get a chance.

2 Comments

  • Cynthia Prochaska

    Alex, you inspire me. You were so committed to your father and visiting with him– doing homework at the foot of his bed, being there everyday. It is unfortunate that you weren’t there at the moment he passed away, but I am sure he knew you loved him. The girl from Dairy Queen and the friends of your parents, knew without your telling them how much you cared. I, too, haven’t been there at the exact moment when my mother and uncle passed away, but I was part of their lives, especially near the end. Cherish the memories of these loved ones, but also give yourself a break. You are such a loving, caring person. You have given so much of yourself. I thank you for sharing their stories.

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