Why I Am Me

Those of you who know me well will have a good laugh when you hear that I used to think of myself as a care-free, happy-go-lucky person.  It wasn’t until later in life that a key event would unlock a Pandora’s box of neuroses and stress.

My dad died on April 8, 1987; 2 weeks after he walked me down the aisle at my wedding.  I remember his whispered words of wisdom in my ear and a weirdly funny quote from him about Lorna Doone cookies.  It was a great day followed by an equally great party at my home after the wedding where we listened to my husband’s family perform folk songs and finally sat down to relax.

Two weeks later we came back from our honeymoon in Hawaii amidst a terrible storm that delayed our landing by a few hours and my mom picked us up in the middle of the night from the airport.  I called my dad the next day to talk about the trip and we made the plans for our weekly “May I” card game to recommence that Friday.  Getting up the next morning I was so excited to be going back to work to talk about my wedding and honeymoon; I was on Cloud Nine!!!  Finally I was a wife!  After being at work for only a short time that had been spent smiling, laughing and gabbing about my new life, I received a phone call from the nurse at work.  “Please come down to my office.”  I couldn’t imagine why I would be called down but off I went.  When I walked in I saw my husband, Tony, and he had a look on his face that conveyed such a deep sadness that it stopped me abruptly.  “Don’t tell me,” I said.  “Who?” I continued.  He pulled me into his arms and said “Your dad…he died today.  He was alone and had a heart attack.  He was able to call 911 but when they got to him he had collapsed.  They found him on the floor.  They worked on him at the house and at the hospital but couldn’t get his heart to beat.  Your mother was called at her office and she’s being driven home.”

How could this be?  Through tears and shock I ran out of the office to my car and made my way to my mom’s house as fast as I could.  I wanted to be able to wipe away any evidence of my dad’s struggle before my mom came home. It was hard enough that she had to hear that her husband of 42 years died without her there.  I opened the door and immediately found my dad’s glasses on the floor by the front door.  I tenderly picked them up and walked through the house feeling a profound sense of emptiness and sadness, a feeling that would stay with me for a long, long time.

I realized several months later that along with my sadness came a sense of relief. My dad’s death uncovered a wound that had been deeply scarred and somehow overlooked.

I had been worried about dad since I was young, around 8 or 9, the first of two times that I witnessed him having a heart attack.  At that time we were living in Brookline and my mother was frantically calling for a doctor to come to our house. My dad was laying in the bed, in pain, with his hand over his heart and my mother sent me outside to play because she didn’t want me to see what was happening.  I remember my little kid self thinking how can I play when my dad is so sick? I remember the worry and the anxiousness I felt but it was not something a little kid could convey or speak about. I remember hearing later that my dad had his first major coronary at the age of 34!   Many years later there was another incident that happened when we lived in Natick and my mom, dad and I took at walk to JM Fields.  We couldn’t make it home and had to call an ambulance. My dad lived with the worry that he could have another heart attack at any time.  Little did he know that I walked that same path with him.

I remember having many dreams about my dad dying when I was a child and through adulthood.  I remember having the feeling that it was imminent and that I had to prepare myself. The timing of my dad’s death was very pivotal for me. I had just gotten married and this was supposed to be the happiest time of my life and yet here I was, devastated.

Can it be that we’re not supposed to be happy?  Can I let myself be happy again?  What if I smile and laugh…what will happen then? If I get too happy something bad might happen.  Something bad might happen no matter what I do. I will worry about everything because something bad might happen.  I will  make sure that everyone is okay.  This thought process has governed my life for the past 25 years and it is so thoroughly ingrained in me.

I am just starting to understand why I am me.  I am forgiving myself for being a worrier.  I am loving myself for caring.