By Heather Regula
My dad died on April 17 2014. It was totally unexpected – he was getting ready to get his hair cut and boom – just dropped dead. My mom opted not to do an autopsy as there was little good that could come from it. The doctor told us it was likely a stroke or massive heart attack and that he was probably dead before he hit the ground. My dad’s death has been brutal on me and there have been a few times over the past year when I’ve felt that reminders of my dad’s death were going to crush me. There are physical symptoms associated with where I’m at mentally and emotionally – inability to sleep, restless sleep, grouchiness, extreme sensitivity and being overly emotional, etc… Mainly I feel like fifty bricks are sitting on my chest – every day for the past two weeks.
My dad’s birthday was on September 1st and in a typical overly dramatic fashion I’d like to announce that September damn near killed me. My annual “Dad’s birthday” alert popped up on my iPhone. That visual reminder hit me harder than I ever imagined and it took me months to seemingly bounce back. My dad’s birthday was definitely a sorrowful trigger and I’m cognizant of the fact that September 1st will probably hit me hard every year. I left the birthday alert on my phone – sure I could’ve easily deleted the reminder but I chose not to. Not because I want to feel heartache when it pops up, but because I want the forever reminder – kind of like how my dad is still listed in contacts on my phone. Perhaps if I don’t delete his contact or the birthday reminder, then his death won’t be so permanent. Childish? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Definitely. Avoiding? Likely so.
Let’s back up to the fifty bricks on the chest feeling. It’s crushing, suffocating and makes breathing difficult – all at once. The weight on my chest came to light about two weeks ago when I got two letters in the mail from Temple ISD. I teach third grade for Temple ISD and while I live in another city’s school district, I complete transfer paperwork annually so that my girls can go to Temple schools. The transfer forms need to be filled out every year and turned in to the district’s Central Office. On April 17, 2014 I went to Central Office on my conference period to complete the transfer paperwork and turn it it. I left my phone in my car while I went inside. I missed four phone calls from my mom during the short time I was away from my car. I called my mom back as I drove back to my school and I remember having to pull over on the side of the road while I talked to her. My dad was being transported to the hospital in Round Rock and wasn’t breathing on his own. This eerie feeling settled over me as I talked to her and started driving again. I knew my dad was gone – I could just feel it. There really are no words to describe how I knew. I stayed on the phone with my mom and shortly returned to my campus. I walked into the office and the secretary and principal were waiting for me. My mom had called the school in an effort to get ahold of me when I didn’t answer my phone. No one calls a teacher at school unless it’s an emergency so they knew that something tragic had happened.
Here I go with the fifty bricks on my chest feeling again. About two weeks ago I got these letters in the mail from Temple ISD and I knew exactly what they were – there were the transfer forms I have to complete in order to keep my girls going to Temple schools next year. I placed the envelopes aside because I wasn’t ready to deal with them yet. My mind immediately floated back to last year when I was filling out the papers and got the call about my dad. So my avoidance trick this time around? Perhaps if I don’t open the envelopes and fill out the forms, then things won’t be the way that they are? Maybe if I ignore the letters then the anniversary of my dad’s death will just come and go? Ridiculous? Probably so. Unrealistic? Definitely. Immature? Perhaps.
Well I looked at the envelopes again early this morning and decided enough was enough. I placed the envelopes in my purse and promised myself that I would deal with them today. Take the bull by the horns. Put on my big girl pants. Just handle it and move on. Maybe my dread and avoidance was actually making things worse. So this afternoon, I opened the envelopes and pulled the forms out. I read them over and realized that all this transfer renewal required was my checking the “yes” block and signing the form. Done – in less than a minute for both forms.
So this is what it boiled down to? A check in a box and a signature? Yes – that’s exactly it. Except that nothing has changed – my dad has been gone for almost a year and somehow life has managed to go on. I was texting with my favorite uncle tonight and mentioned that somehow, in the midst of our pain, life has gone on. He agreed and said that we are all so busy. Seems that life has not choice but to keep chugging along. He also told me to “…pray, pray, pray…” I definitely needed to hear those words tonight. I need to spend some time on my knees in prayer tonight.
Life does go on – no matter how badly we are hurting or how much we want to change things. There are times when I am totally okay with my dad’s passing. Now there are definitely times when that is not the case. Now would be one of those times. Triggers for sadness are obvious ones – birthdays, holidays, etc. I also know that the transfer letters that come in the mail every year for my girls will also be a trigger. So I am filing this away – under the “not obvious, but important” tab in my brain. I know that the lists of obvious and seemingly insignificant triggers of sadness will grow as the years go by.
Heather Regula is third grade teacher and an aspiring writer. She was born in California, grew up overseas and have happily settled in Temple, TX. She has two daughters – Haley, 12 and Taylor, 7. Her words are straight from the heart – they are often based on life experiences that have moved and changed her.
Featured image by Tiffany Lucero.