It’s that time of year. My reserves are running at an all time low.
The holidays have always become a painfully bittersweet time of year for me. I’ve now lived in San Diego for nearly 7 years (time flies!) so right about now, with the weather cooling down (well, I mean, as cool as San Diego gets…), I start to get homesick. Homesick for the crisp air in NY. Homesick for the orange and yellow leaves on the ground. Homesick for love. Homesick for familiar faces. Homesick for my family. But besides all that, Fall marks the time of year when my dad’s accident happened and Winter marks the anniversary of his passing.
This year will be the fifth year since my dad’s passing. Five years. December 29, 2014; right after Christmas and just before the New Year. It’s not been an easy journey and it doesn’t hurt any less, but it’s a part of me and it’s made me who I am today. I’ve never really been one to express my feelings but I’m working on it. I am quiet by nature and would rather stew in my own feelings—I have a hard time letting people in. But anyways, here’s a piece of my life, the abridged version, plus some things I’d like to get off my chest.
My dad was a quiet yet outspoken man, if that makes sense. I think I get that from him. Quiet yet personable—once you got to know him, he’d be your best buddy. Outspoken—I can’t forget the countless times when we were growing up, that I’ve wanted to shrivel back into my body because anywhere we went, he lodged complaints about everything. EV-ER-Y-THING. He also had a sense of adventure that I have definitely inherited from him. He’s the reason I like to try new/weird things on a menu or have the curiosity to visit new places—mom likes to stick to what she knows & likes 😛
My dad was who he was. He was not perfect but who is? He had his good qualities and his bad qualities as anyone does; as personable as he was, he also had a terrible temper—riding in his car as a kid was slightly terrifying, road rage (also got that from him oops), anyone? But anyways, regardless of what kind of person he was, I know that he was endlessly proud of my brother and I, no matter what we did. As an angsty teenager, I definitely took all that for granted but as I’ve gotten older, I do see now just how proud he was to be our dad. He was far from the perfect father but I have no doubt in my mind that he would have done anything and everything to make us happy and if he were still here today, nothing would be different.
For those who don’t know: my dad was hit by a car while re-opening the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge one sunny October morning in 2013. He was left in a vegetative state for 14 months before he passed…commence the worst few years of my life.
By that time, I’d just graduated from college earlier in the year and then moved to San Diego just a couple of months later. The call came in and it was gut-wrenching. I was still sleeping and it was from an unknown number in Vancouver. I don’t usually pick up unknown numbers but I have family there and a cloud of instinct swirled around my head as I groggily reached for my phone. It was my dad’s sister, calling to tell me my dad had been in an accident. I was 3000 miles from home, horribly confused, and in utter disbelief. I almost didn’t want to book my flights home because if I went home, everything became true and I had to face the reality. I really just wanted to run and hide but I knew that wasn’t an option this time. I put in my notice at my internship and booked my flight home—the 6 hour flight home felt like an eternity.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking up to my dad’s bed in the ICU. It was late. I was exhausted. There were unfamiliar people everywhere. I stood outside the automatic sliding glass doors for a few seconds, not knowing what to expect and actually feeling really guilty. Guilty for whatever things I might have spitefully said to him the last few times we’d spoken. Guilty for not seeing him enough before I moved out. Guilty for not answering his calls. Guilty for moving away. Guilty for taking my mom’s side during their separation. Just guilt. All of it. My mom walked me into the room and I fell to pieces. He was wrapped up like a mummy and what I could see of him was swollen and bruised. I didn’t recognize him. My mom told me to tell him I was here. All I could manage to whimper out was a, “Hi, Daddy.”
I’d soon find out that he was hit during the morning traffic at work, re-opening the upper level of the Verrazano after the weekend. People are coming off the highway and onto the bridge so they’re driving fairly fast. A woman, blinded by the glare of the sun that morning, traveled towards the lower level even though it wasn’t open yet, and hit my dad. He flew over the car and landed dozens of feet away. He sustained a broken pelvis and severe head trauma. And there I was, by his bedside, with no idea of what was to come.
The first few days were terrifying. My mom, brother, and I sat by his bedside every day. I would carefully watch the line of the heart monitor rise and fall with every beep. Every noise my dad made was unsettling—I didn’t know if he was in pain, if he was uncomfortable, or even if he was going to make it. Days passed and then weeks passed before he was moved out of the ICU. He was in stable condition but in a vegetative state. It was just a waiting game at this point but my mom and I visited his bedside every. single. day.
Every single day, until one day, I got a call about a job offer. I wasn’t looking but this opportunity had basically fallen into my lap—how could I pass it up? It was my first real job right out of college. I interviewed over the phone and soon after, I booked my flight back to San Diego to start my career as a Graphic Designer—exactly what I’d gone to school for. The beauty of this job was that it was with a Social Media company, meaning I could work remotely when I needed to. The next few months consisted of me working as the sole Graphic Designer at this startup company with 70+ clients, along with flying back and forth between SD and NY every couple of months to help my mom out and see my dad. Then one day, someone decided to basically pull the rug out from beneath my feet.
I had just gotten back to San Diego not long ago when my mom called to tell me I had to fly back home to go to court. For what, you ask? To regain guardianship of my dad. Yes, RE-gain guardianship of my dad. See, what happens when accidents like this happen is people start to crawl out of the woodworks. Remember that aunt from Vancouver? I hadn’t seen her or her sister for YEARS before the accident. It’d probably been close to a decade since I’d last seen them. So what happened was, her, their other sister, my dad’s other son (my half brother), and the woman my dad was living with, had filed and were somehow granted guardianship of the person and of the estate of my dad. How? I’m not so sure.
I guess what it came down to was this: my parents had a divorce pending (it’d been long and drawn out—deep down, I don’t think either of them truly wanted a divorce—we’re talking years long here), I was living across the country, and my younger brother was too young to do/know anything so, to the court, all of this ruled us out as logical guardians. Essentially, these people decided to use all of this against us. These people, who thought they knew my dad best and thought that my mom and I had it out for my dad (or something? idk?), were granted guardianship. These people made my family’s life a living hell. I was a timid 23 year old called to the stand, while lawyers combed through my life and asked me why or why I should not be granted guardianship over my own fucking dad. Ultimately, the judge granted guardianship of the Person to the woman my dad was living with (she claimed he was like a brother to her even though I’d never met her or heard her name in my life) and guardianship of the Estate to an outside party. I must mention that this woman that the courts had granted guardianship to, along with my dad’s other son, pushed to sign a DNR and they easily could have done so had my mom not plead and plead with the doctors.
Over the next couple of years, we—mostly my mom—dealt with so many moving parts—lawyers, finances, union reps, police reps, insurance, you name it—and to this day we are still dealing with some of it. It’s hard to move on from it all and it’s hard to feel like we’ve gotten any justice from any of it. I’d like to think that my mom and I are the type of people who give and give and always try to do the right thing but people just overlook or take advantage of that. I’d also like to think that over time, people realized that we weren’t “out to get my dad” and that our family dynamics shouldn’t have been aired out the way they were. While we had a lot of people working against us, there were still plenty of people who supported and showed us love and I am immensely thankful for these people.
Everyone has their demons but you normally deal with them privately. Our family’s issues weren’t really anyone else’s business but it was all put out there. My parents have always had problems but, unless she was sick or too tired from work, my mom still visited my dad’s bedside every single fucking day and I cannot emphasize this enough. My visits to NY consisted of visiting my dad every day, whether he was in the hospital or in the nursing home. One of my last visits, I left the nursing home, got in my car, and bawled for 20 minutes straight. I’d lost hope and I was tired, just tired of still feeling like I didn’t do enough because I wasn’t granted guardianship, tired of feeling inadequate as a daughter, tired for my mom, tired of dealing with all the things that came with the accident, tired of feeling so helpless, just so tired. But we were there, from the day he was brought to the hospital, to the day he was moved to the nursing home, to the day he was admitted back into the hospital for sepsis, then back to the nursing home, and then one final visit to the hospital for sepsis again, when my mom told him it was okay to let go…and he did that night.
So yeah, 2019 marks the fifth anniversary of the start of all of this. But, here’s to starting the new decade with new hopes and, not leaving all of this behind, but learning to grow from it and not let the little things get you down. Do me a favor and go and give your loved ones an extra hug & kiss and cherish the people around you. Don’t end your conversations with something you said in the heat of the moment. Just make sure they know you love them.
Mommy this is for you, too. Thank you for how strong you’ve been through all of this and I’m sorry if we don’t talk nearly enough and that I live 3000 miles away. Know that I love you, I love you, I love you. Always.
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, all. 💖