What I Want You to Know on the 16th of February

Nineteen years ago today, my father died. I talked to him on the phone a few days before about bowling. We laughed about having no finesse, only speed and the hope of ricochet. Then he was gone. I was on a road trip with friends. This was before cell phones and text messages and easy access to emails. We got to a friend’s dorm and the friend told me I needed to call home. Somehow a neighbor from home had tracked me down. I knew something bad had happened but thought a grandparent had died. I spoke first to my sister, who was hysterical as she broke the news to me before the neighbor came on and asked to speak to one of my friends. I stared out the window while they coordinated travel plans to get me home. As I sat there, I realized he had been dead for hours without me knowing. I couldn’t understand how the world hadn’t instantly felt different the moment he left it. I felt numb for days, like I was living someone else’s life. And then I saw his body at the mortuary and the shock that had been holding all the pain above my head was torn away and I wept like I had never wept before and never did again until

Eight months ago today, your mother died. She was here, finally at our house after spending two long weeks at the hospital. Her body was thin, jaundiced, warped from the cancer that had decided to return and then completely take over within a matter of weeks. We were making plans for chemo and wondering whether one or both of us would need to drop to half-time at work, but she got weaker and weaker and the pain in her belly kept growing until I rushed her to the emergency room. For those next two weeks, I went back-and-forth between the hospital and home, trying but failing to take care of both of you, and every day seemed to be the opposite news of the day before. One day improving, the next day deteriorating. Improving. Deteriorating. But it became clear which way the trend was going. A few days before we brought her home, I told you I thought she might die. You cried and told me you were nervous to tell your friends next year that your mom had died, and I realized you knew we were losing her maybe before any of the rest of us knew it.

Nineteen years ago today, I hopped on a plane from Seattle to Billings. On the plane, I wondered what all those other people were flying to do. Not bury their fathers. I was alone in that, I knew. The flight attendant asked if I wanted something to drink. I had no idea. I said, “Coke, please.” I don’t remember it but I’m sure it tasted like nothing. Everything tasted like nothing for weeks. Everything felt like nothing. My mom and brother picked me up from the airport. We were all in shock. My mom told me all about my dad’s heart attack while we drove home. Through tears, she recounted how she tried to save him with CPR but couldn’t. All that school to be a nurse, all those years in the hospital, all the training to stay up to date on medical practices, none of it could save the love of her life. Somehow, hours later, she was already working on saving us instead.

Eight months ago today, we sent you to a friend’s house for the day. Your mom was taking weaker breaths, longer apart. We were told that she wasn’t suffering, but we were suffering listening to her sound like she was suffering. None of us wanted her to die at all, but none of us wanted her to go on like this for much longer, and we all felt bad for feeling that. The hours stretched on and we took shifts sitting with her. Finally, in the afternoon, with her best friend holding her hand and speaking calming words to her at her side, she began to let go. Your aunt went in and held her other hand. I walked by and noticed her breathing had changed. I came into the room and grabbed what was left, her feet. A minute later she breathed and then didn’t breathe again. Your mom’s mom came in a minute after that. We were all stunned and speechless. When I could finally speak again, I called hospice. Ninety minutes later your mom was taken out of the house. Your friends brought you home and I went outside to tell you that your mom had died. You did not act surprised, and I realized you had carried the knowledge that you wouldn’t see your mom again with you all day while you played. We cried together in front of our house, and then we went inside to start our new life, each feeling lonely and alone but very much together.

2 Comments on “What I Want You to Know on the 16th of February

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I’m so glad you and Evander have each other. You are both super amazing men…I can see whyJaime was so proud to tell us all about you guys. I miss Jaime everyday. I’m so sad that you both have to live a life without her in it. Her friendship was such a gift to me and I know she was top of the line when it comes to wife and mom. She was the best. Her big, bright smile is so missed. Thanks for keeping her memory alive with your posts. I really appreciate it.

    I know your dad would be so proud of you…you are one of the most amazing dads I’ve ever met. Your dad lives on in you. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Caleb. It means a lot to me to be able to read about Jaime’s last days and hours. I’m glad that she was surrounded by people that loved her. The way that you each were holding a part of her as she took her last breaths made me think of the many hands that reach out to catch a new baby as it is being born. Birth and death… so mysterious, so difficult, so powerful.


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