Warning: F bombs up ahead.
I miss my dad.
My dad died from a heart attack in April 1997. I was 24 years old—I’m 41 now.
I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad when I was a kid. I only started to connect with him when I was in my early 20s. I remember it was either the 3rd or the 4th of April; he passed after 11:00 p.m. so we’re not sure exactly which day he died. My mom found him around 6:00 a.m. the next day perfectly “asleep” in his recliner, in front of the television.
Though he had no choice in the matter, he went out how he wanted.
Favorite chair? Check.
Favorite channel on the TV? Check.
I called the house that evening. I was in college and two hours away from home. There was no answer, but I told myself I’d call later knowing they’d be home after 10:00 p.m. He and my mom had gone to a hockey game.
I never called back…
My mom joked that they went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.
I always smile at the thought of my mom at a hockey game. Back in the late 60s / early 70s my parents went to a game. Mom got nailed in the forehead with a puck. They were sitting just high enough in the stands and the rouge puck cleared the safety glass. BAM! Right in the melon.
Dad loved hockey. Mom? Not. So. Much.
He played the game growing up in Cleveland, Ohio and in college for a few years; we both went to Ohio State. I remember seeing his team picture at the ice rink. My dad died when I was in my senior year (I should have been a doctor I was in school for so long) and I asked the then University President E. Gordon Gee to fix the typo in my dad’s last name. There was an “x” where the “z” should have been.
We have an awesome last name; Wozniak. It looks pretty badass on the back of a jersey.
Dad and I started to connect after so many years of not really getting along because I went to Ohio State and also because I developed a love for hockey when I was 19 years old. The Captain of the men’s league was super hot. Rules of the game? No clue. Men on skates? Hotness.
Listen, we connected. That’s all that matters.
My dad bought me my own hockey skates. I still have them and even though I now live in Florida, I grew up just outside of Cleveland, I can still skate. I can’t stop, but I can make it around a rink just fine. My dad taught me how to skate. He probably tried to teach me how to stop as well…
The two hour drives back and forth between home and school were our time to connect. Dad loved to drive and so do I; we are Nomads. We’d talk or sit in silence, but it was our time.
I remember the drive home from school the morning I got the call that my dad had died; the whole day was surreal.
My parents’ neighbor, Lisa, called to give me the news. I thought she was kidding; it was close to April Fools’ Day and that’s how the brain works. I said, “That’s not funny.” She said, “I’m not kidding.” I asked for my mom. My neighbor said she was talking to the police. My first thought? “Holy shit, she killed him.” That’s how the brain works and well, maybe… I had no idea how my dad would have died. As far as we knew, he was healthy. Overweight, but OK. He was seeing his doctor regularly and all was well.
All wasn’t well. He was a walking time bomb as far as his heart was concerned and it finally gave out that night after the game when my mom went to bed.
This was strange. Lisa called the police for my mom. The police instructed her to cover my dad up with a sheet. Weird, right? I don’t know if after all these years I’ve just remembered it wrong or what, but I do remember thinking back then, “Oh, please dear god, I hope she didn’t use the Strawberry Shortcake sheet.”
We didn’t own any white ones…
I remember the drive was so long. My roommate drove me home because my dad had my car. I ran up the driveway because that’s what you do in the movies. I had no fucking idea what to do or how to react. When I walked into the house there stood my mom, my sister’s ex-fiance and my uncle in a suit making hamburgers.
I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. It felt like a dream. A really, really weird dream where my mom, my uncle in a suit and my sister’s ex-fiance make burgers for lunch.
“Today happened, right,” I questioned. The words didn’t feel like they came from me. My mom laughed a little and hugged me, “Yes, today happened. Do you want a hamburger?”
Still really weird, Ma.
I don’t recall ever thanking my roommate or what even happened to her after my mad dash to the house. I remember calling people and feeling like I was lying. When someone dies, it’s just weird. They’re just not there anymore and you have this news you have to tell everyone and at some point it feels so robotic and emotionless because truly, you can only cry so much before you dry up completely and they’re just words.
My dad died. So, how are you?
The day of my dad’s service I was overwhelmed with the number of people who showed to pay their respects. The funeral home had to open up the adjoining room to fit everyone. The line of well wishers was long and full of people from my family’s past, I simply stopped crying. I was so freaking happy to see people I hadn’t seen in years. “Holy smokes! Mrs. Burke!” She’s sobbing. I’m all hugs and “How are you?!” as if we’re not standing in the receiving line of my father’s memorial service and the answer isn’t obvious.
His chair remained in the house until my mom moved to Florida in 2001. I remember looking at his chair and picturing him in it so many times watching “Cheers” and laughing. Norm and Cliff cracked him up every episode. There was a small hole where a button had been right in the head indent from years of wear. It was a rusty hole. “Mom, are you sure you didn’t kill dad? This looks like a bullet hole.” She’d shake her head and ignore me. She sat in that chair most every night after that day.
To this day, people say, “I’m sorry.” It’s nice, but I’m a smartass and reply, “Oh, thank you. It’s OK. You didn’t kill him.”
Awkward smiles for everyone!
Humor is a coping mechanism and death is just too much to process. Find the funny or die. Remember the laughter and rejoice in the memories or be swallowed whole because death is just that consuming. I remember feeling my own mortality and that scared the shit out me.
Death is weird. Coming to terms with it is weirder and personal. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms.
I read an article on Huff Post Comedy about Laurie Kilmartin, a writer for “Conan” and a comedian, live tweeting during her father’s passing. It’s a beautiful article and though some might object to her coping this way, this is real. This is life. This is the dying process. This is how personal death is and it’s up to each of us to process in our own way. She chooses to bring the reality of the dying process to all of us and I was moved by her tweets, her humanity. We can choose to not follow it. She has the opportunity to share the last days with her dad and the rest of us. She’s sharing her story and his as it unfolds and he slips away. It’s a moving article and it’s real.
I am grateful for her sharing as it made me remember my dad and made me smile to think of him randomly on a Friday when I was busy with work. I paused. I gave thanks.
Laurie Kilmartin is on twitter at anylaurie16.
Here are a couple of her tweets from the Huff Post Comedy article.
Truly. That’s a big goal. I saw my dad’s junk accidentally when I was a kid. #scarredforlife
I did get to tell my dad “I love you” one last time face to face. We didn’t say it much. It was an overwhelming need to say it when I did say it. He died days later.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Huff Post Comedy