Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How to Save a Life

Grey's Anatomy ripped me wide open last week. Again. I'm starting to believe that the reason this show and I have made nice with each other is so that I can cope with my grief. Because three years, three weeks and four days later, it still hurts like hell. It's true that I have yet to watch an episode of this show and not get choked up a little or end up in full on tears. But this episode takes the cake. If you haven't watched the episode, come back and read this entry when you have. Seriously, don't keep reading if you are a fan of the show and haven't watched the January 18th episode (Six Days, Part II). I don't want to be held responsible for spoiling it for you. OK? Good. Thanks.

The short version is that George's dad dies from a number of complications stemming from esophageal cancer. The longer story, for me, is that what the O'Malley family went through is similar to what we went through with my dad, except that it was a longer road for us. Basically, the episode ended, my phone rang and it was my sister on the other end. I answered the phone with the words "OK, that was not cool."There were so many moments in the episode that were very close to my own experience. It was almost too much to take. The week before, when George can't walk into his father's hospital room and we see the scar down Mr. O'Malley has down his belly and the tube in his throat...that was a lot to handle. Things came back to me that I hadn't thought about in a long time. I remember seeing my dad intubated for the first time and it scared the shit out of me. After my dad's surgery, I was the only family member in the room with him when one of his doctors and a surgical intern showed up to check the scar on his belly and remove the surgical staples. Not stitches. Not gauze. Staples. I had to hold my father's hand while some kid in a lab coat used a staple remover on him. I'll never forget that intern's face when he asked about my father's condition and I told him what the deal was. His whole faced changed, like he knew something I didn't. Poor kid, I don't know if it was his first time with a patient who was dealing with what my father was dealing with or what, but suddenly, he looked stricken. He just patted my father's hand and said something like, "Good luck" or "I'm sure you'll be fine." Thinking back now, it was obvious that he knew something long before I did.

But the part of the show that hit the nerve, the part I can't think about without my eyes welling up and a lump forming in my throat is this:

CRISTINA: "There's a club. The Dead Dads Club. And you can't be in it until you're in it. You can try to understand, you can sympathize. But until you feel that loss... My dad died when I was nine. George, I'm really sorry you had to join the club."
GEORGE: "I... I don't know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn't."
CRISTINA: "Yeah, that never really changes."

And there I was. Ripped wide open, sobbing and feeling it all over again. That feeling never really changes. It's so unfair, but it's so freaking true. Yes, I get out of bed every day and I go to work and I spend time with my friends and live my life and all the other things that anyone else does. But there is this underlying feeling that something is missing. There is this piece of me that will always hurt, always long for my dad. I'm still not sure if I know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn't. I try to, but I know that there is no way I will ever fully recover from this loss. My heart's broken. That's a fact of my life. And maybe for the rest of my life, every happiness and every sadness will be tinged with an unspoken "I wish Daddy were here." Maybe. But watching that episode made a difference. It reminded me of how my family came together, how we found out how many people cared about all of us. It reminded me that it is OK to feel that sadness, he would want me to miss him, but he would also want me to go on and enjoy the life I have left to live.

I think what makes it even more meaningful is that the woman who wrote this episode, Krista Vernoff, was drawing from her own experience (
click here for her story). She was brave enough to put herself through it all again and tell the story of losing her dad. And that gives me the strength to tell the story of losing mine. I am strong and I am not alone. I have my friends, I have my family and I have my dad with me every day.


Ia said...

You had to go there? I just want you to know you're not alone in this. I think of him EVERY day, it's an ache that sometimes turns into a deep gash. Times when I want to call him because Brian did something (like when he cut his own hair or shaved and then said "Ummm...I think I'll wait 'til I grow hair to do that again"), Daddy would have peed his pants laughing. Three years, four months and 27 days later, I still miss him, I still expect him to answer the phone when I call there & I still dream about him (that's when I feel I have a little more time with him, you should read the book For One More Day by Mitch Albom ). It hurts, it hurts every day, but like you said he would have wanted us to live our lives, like he lived his, every day to the fullest. The one thing that makes me feel better is that I have no regrets, we did ALL we could do for him, and he knew it. I recently found the log I kept of all his Dr.'s appointments & what procedures he had when & what the results were. Although that made me sad, the one thing that stood out bright & clear was an entry that I had when he went into his little 2 year remission when Dr. Waintraub said "You are a miracle, you shouldn't be here but yet you're fine. Go live your life my friend!" and for those 2 years he did, he reached a goal he had worked for for many years which was to receive that honor with the Masons where they went to North Carolina & he got the ring. He fought for us, brought us to freedom, they enjoyed their life together, they laughed, fought & cried...mostly laughed. He lived a life where he went from riches to poverty & then middle class but he was rich with passion, passion that he passed down to us. It sucks to be in the Dead Dad's Club & Christina is right, it doesn't get better but, as much as I miss him, I am grateful for the life he had, the friends he made & the love he showed us. OK...gotta go blow my nose now.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I too am a member of that club. He was 60 years old, I was 22 years old. I was there, yet in total denial; willing death not to come. I never got a chance to know him, before he was gone. Oh, how I share your grief + ia's too. Love Laura

diana said...

That line is seared into my brain. It crosses my thoughts multiple times daily as I am feeling those words constantly now. I recently lost my Dad and seeing that show just tore my soul. My first Father's Day is approaching and I just want to hide. You really can't know this loss or grief until you are "joined" into the club.......profound line.

Grace said...

It's been a little over a year since I "joined the club." My dad died from an inoperable brain tumor. He was 55, I was 16. It killed him in 4 months time. I can't help but feel that same broken hearted feeling you were speaking of. My heart screams for him far more than I'd like to admit. I mean, he's going to miss my everything. He missed my first breakup, my first prom, my second prom... and he'll miss my graduations and wedding and children. It's never easy to think about...
I remember when I first watched this episode; I had read a spoiler the day before because my dad was home from the hospital and wanted to watch it with me but for some reason I was uneasy. When I read what was about to happen I refused to let him watch it. I watched it online the next day and I began crying, just thinking about it is bringing a tear to my eye. He was so sick and I know deep down I knew he wasn't going to make it...
So you are not alone in the club and the heartache. It's one of those feelings you want someone close to you to understand and then you think about it and realize what that would entail. I wish all of you the best and slowly with time we will be more than okay even with broken hearts.