Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.
A decision had been made. Accompanying my parents on their road trip to Ontario in summer of 1994 was out of the question. I was starting a new job that was financing my upcoming return to school and which prevented me from taking time off in time to go with them.
That in mind, I explained to my father in a telephone conversation that I wouldn’t be able to take vacation before August. Agreeing that I would instead come to visit in Manitoba in early August before school started, my Dad said, “Sounds good. See ya then.” And we hung up the phone.
That moment in time replays in my mind, in my dreams, and in my heart to this day. It was the last time I ever heard my father’s voice.
In the midst of all of that I booked my flight to Manitoba. I was to arrive the day after my parents returned from their road trip to Ontario, intending to stay for a week.
The date of my arrival? August 3, 1994.
On August 1, I moved into the Edmonton apartment that I would be staying in for the duration of school. My husband was to commute from his work to the city, until I graduated.
August 2, the day before I was to leave for Manitoba, was filled with the usual pre-travel errands and arrangements. A bit of shopping, un-packing from the move, cleaning, and packing for the trip. I was exhausted from everything going on but excited about the impending visit.
In the early evening, I decided to have a bath and wash my hair so I could save some time in the morning and sleep a little later. I took my time, turned on some music, lit a candle and relaxed.
Coming out of the bathroom, hair tied in a turban, I gasped in surprise as my husband walked into the apartment. He wasn’t expected to arrive from work until the following morning, in time to take me to the airport.
I started to say “Hi, what are you doing here…?” But I didn’t get a chance to finish the sentence.
His hands gripping my shoulders, eyes awash with tears and boring into mine, he said almost harshly, “Jill. Your Dad was killed in an accident today. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to be the one to tell you.”
My heart stopped. The room started contracting. My surroundings began to look like those old fun house mirrors where everything is real but grotesquely distorted in every imaginable way.
I slowly shook my head, incapable of acknowledging the life-altering words just spoken.
“There’s been a mistake”, I said firmly. “It couldn’t be my Dad”.
My husband then squeezed me so tight I wondered if another breath would come. He said urgently,”Please call your mother.”
With leaden feet I walked into the hallway, leaned my back on the wall and slid to the floor as my husband handed me the phone.
With shaking hands I dialed and as the ringing tone began, everything around me retreated into a tunnel I could not name.
Abruptly, my mother answered the phone.
I couldn’t think or breathe. In a voice that to me sounded loud and crazed, these words rushed out of my mouth: “WHAT HAPPENED???”
Answering me in a soft, shaky voice, my mother unleashed a litany that would alter my world on every level. “The police came to the door when I came home from work today. Your father bought a truck and he was going to pick it up and insure it in Brandon. On his way home, just as he left the city, he was hit head on by an oncoming car swerving erratically into his lane. Emergency crews were called to the scene but it was too late. Dad died instantly. So did the couple in the other car. They were from New Jersey and it is suspected that the man who was driving had a heart attack. I couldn’t bring myself to call you, so I asked your husband to drive in and tell you in person so you wouldn’t be alone when you heard the news.”
We talked a little while longer. Shocked and in disbelief, and even in the face of confirmation from my mother, I still could not take it in. We ended the call with hushed tones and tears, nonsensical ramblings in a nonsensical time.
That night I did not sleep. I cried and tossed and turned and cried some more. Arriving at the airport the next morning, I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead.
As I checked in at the airport, the absurdity of what was happening suddenly and furiously hit me: I had turned down my father’s request to join his final road trip, thinking there would be lots of time to visit later in the summer. To add insult to injury, I had pre-purchased an airline ticket to arrive the day after my father died.
I missed him by a day. ONE. FUCKING. DAY.
As this realization came over me, in front of a ticket agent in a major airport and all in sundry, I began to sob uncontrollably. My knees buckled. I could not see. Not knowing what else to do with my sorry ass, the agent (bless her) came around the counter and gave me a huge hug, essentially holding me upright. She whispered: okay sweetie, let’s get this done quickly. Hold on to me and I’ll get you where you need to go.
And so she did. I don’t think I could have taken a step further without her. In hindsight, I wish I had asked for her name. Because her kindness will live with me forever. So wherever you are compassionate airline ticket agent: thank you.
On August 3, 1994, I boarded a plane to Winnipeg.
Not to visit my family as originally planned.
No. I was about to attend my father’s funeral.
Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t anymore.
PART 2 f 3 – PART SERIES.