A grownup first: a brush with parental mortality

Heart attacks do exist by Gorilla Ink via Deviant Art

Most folks panic when their parents have their first sudden reminder of near-fatal mortality- not the everyday kind of white hair and creases and slower footsteps but the immediate, gone-in-an-instant kind. Not the kind that kills but the kind that wounds for whatever days they have left. It reminds them that death is waiting ever so patiently to steal away their loved ones. It shotguns them with guilt and grief. It makes them selfishly question the entire gamut of their own lives.

My dad had a heart attack last week.

A 100% blocked artery the doctors tackily call “The Widowmaker”. He’s fine now – on nitro and off cigarettes – but when you get a call at 1:30am from your mother who’s thousands of miles and two time zones away, it’s never anything good.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know. I didn’t really tell anybody. Which is sort of weird, right? You’d think I’d be more forthcoming, more scribbly-vocal, about my dad’s brush with death. It’s not a secret. And it’s kind of a big deal.

If I’m honest, I haven’t said anything (until now, obviously) because it didn’t bother me. Once the immediate panic was over and I knew he wasn’t dead – once I knew I hadn’t missed my chance to hold his hand when he passed away and say all the things I’m still too uptight to say – I lost exactly zero sleep. Between his stubbornness, my grandmother’s nursing training, and the doctors hovering over him at all hours, he was fine. Is fine. Practical steps towards avoiding a repeat incident are already underway, and he knows we’ll fucking kill him if he lets it happen again.

What does bother me is the fact that it didn’t bother me.

I don’t seem to process tragedy like a normal human. I just sort of acknowledge, experience, then move on. My dad could’ve died that night, and I should be singing praises and making more of an effort to say those secret things while I have the chance. But I’m not. While I know not everyone deals the same way (and there’s no such thing as normal), the ease of my transition from terrified little girl losing her daddy to adult woman admonishing her grey-haired father for eating salt is astonishing and unnerving. And the look on people’s faces when I tell them what happened makes me feel broken. They’re more traumatized than I am. Concern, sympathy, maybe even a little pity. They’re imagining how destroyed they’d be if their parent had a near-death experience 17 hours away. Meanwhile, I’m wondering what movies he’s watching on AMC in the hospital. It’s a disconnect that makes me question my emotional functionality.

But I know that one day it will be The Day.

Something will happen to one parent, then the other, and suddenly I’ll be an orphan, just like we all are eventually. I’m not ready for that yet. That moves my meter. Not what did happen already but the idea of what’s coming. The inevitability of death is both reassuring and soul crushing; it’s never not coming, but I can’t change it.

Writing this is sort of my way of opening the floor to you guys. Leave your me-directed condolences and sympathy in the comments if you like, but what I’d love most is to hear stories of your own brushes with parental mortality.

What was/is it like for you? What would you tell someone who’s never experienced it before? How did your life change?

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