My father was sitting in a chair in the living room of the new house he shared with his new wife of one year. It was his birthday, fifty-one years old. He was reading a card my younger brother had given him. I sat watching. I noticed the differences in his appearance. My father’s belly resembled the curve of a basketball. His hair had grayed, seemingly overnight. His face was a light shade, pale, free from any flush of color. Tired, I thought to myself. He must be tired.
It was five months earlier when my father first complained of pain and numbness in his left arm and chest. Stubborn and unwilling, my father had to be persuaded to see a doctor. He spent the night in the hospital performing a variety of medical tests designed to determine cardiac and pulmonary function. My father passed all of the tests and went home convinced he suffered from panic attacks. Prescription in hand, the doctors told him his heart was strong.
It had been only four years since my mother had left him with a broken heart. My father was devastated the day she left. He would often ask me to pray for him in the months that followed. He wrote me many letters that year, my sophomore year at Providence College. As time passed, the letters became lighter. My father perfected mashed potatoes, and learned to be more social. Eventually he met Barb, and fell in love. They married, his second, her first. His heart had mended.
I was in Boston he morning I received the news. I awoke to a frantic voicemail message from my mother. She was crying and telling me how sorry she was. My stepmother’s voicemail was calm, lucid. She was still in shock. In one night, my father’s life of fifty-one years was gone. I was twenty-four years old. The last moments I spent with my father were in the car two days before he died. He drove me to the airport. We talked. He mentioned his arm was numb and took his medicine. At the airport we hugged. He gave me his signature wet kiss. I remember lifting my shoulder to my cheek to wipe away the wetness, as he told me he loved me. My father handed me my hockey sticks and told me he was very proud of me.
My father died at seven o’clock in the morning on the third of December. I did not cry until I arrived at the rink for practice that morning. I was still in shock. In the company of my teammates I broke down in tears. The very people who held me in celebration and pure joy only ten months earlier during the Olympic gold medal ceremony in Nagano, Japan were now holding me in my deepest anguish. There was a hole in my chest. I had to force myself to breathe.
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