Levity at 10,000 feet


Stress and worry and ups and downs have begun to drag me down. It’s the dark season and my Dad has been in the hospital for five weeks now.

My weekends are spent one of two ways:

  1. Driving 12 hours round-trip down dark highways to watch Dad lie in a bed he desperately wants to get out of.
  2. Feeling guilty about not going home to see Dad.

Group texts with my siblings are eerily quiet or non-stop with news that is both good and bad. The latest update was from my brother Mike who went to visit Dad one evening, but found an empty room. His bed and personal belongings were gone. The nurses had no information to share regarding his whereabouts. Mike left confused and the rest of us panicked.

Was Dad rolling himself down Wisconsin Avenue toward his home on Hawley? Did something happen that required swift action? Either way, SOMEONE should know where he is!

I called the patient help line and they informed me he was moved into a new room, but they couldn’t tell me why (nor did I think to ask). My sister called his nurse and found out he had developed pneumonia, so they moved him out of cardiac rehab and back into the hospital for treatment.

This was another setback for my Dad who wants nothing more than to drink a Coke and shit in his own toilet. His words, not mine.

I’ve been rather stoic about Dad’s ordeal, but after learning this news, I had the cry of a woman who cries twice a year. I broke a blood vessel under my eye confronting the greatest fear I’ve held just below the surface for the past ten years – the possibility of losing my Dad.

I thought about the time he strolled onto the pool deck of our Dominican Republic resort two days before my wedding. He had just arrived from the airport looking like a cool Rick Steves. His light blue Oxford shirt was tucked into pressed khaki pants. A small backpack was slung over one shoulder. I remember him striding toward us with a wide smile, just itching to jump into the pool.

This happened one month before his first heart surgery four years ago. Afterwards, his smile was still bright, but his stride was a little less confident.

What will he be like when this is all over?

That question kept me up most of the night. When I did sleep, I had a dream about kayaking to the airport the next day for my work trip to Indiana. The kayak expanded to accommodate extra baggage and people I picked up along the way. The going was slow with me at the oars and I missed my flight.

But I didn’t care.

I still found time to lounge in the grass, ride a dry water slide and order pizza for my friends on the boat. I woke up before ever reaching the airport.

The next day was overcast and snowy. I was feeling tired and dragged out as our plane sat on the runway getting de-iced in the gray light.

The takeoff was bumpy as we wrestled through a thick layer of clouds. We broke through to find a perfect day on the other side. The setting sun cast a soft, golden glow over swirls of purple cotton. It reminded me of a Florida sunset, white sand beaches and the gently rolling Gulf.

The sun slipped through a perfect color gradient and dipped below the blood-red horizon, deepening its rainbow effect. It was beautiful. It was intense. And it broke me out of my funk by reminding me that life exists outside of the stress bubble I’m currently in. It’s easy to forget this when your world is compressing.

Whenever I get overwhelmed by a situation, I try to remove myself from the center of it. Once I acknowledge that it’s not all about me, I can relax and objectively analyze it.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Dad. But I know there are plenty of moments to come that are currently hidden from immediate view. Some will be a gray afternoon and some will be a beautiful sunset. Even though I can’t see them yet, it’s simply enough to know they will be there.


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  1. Sorry to read this, it’s a heartbreaking tale. Something similar happened to my father figure a few years ago. It’s horrible, it really is and it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I came through it eventually, I believe you will too.

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