I remember seeing headlights in the driveway. Peeking out the window, I thought perhaps it was my father, to my surprise it was a police car. My heart began to race when I heard the knocking on the back door. I yelled to my step mother who yelled back “Well see what they want” as she stepped into the shower.
I opened the door and there stood the police officer. “Do you know Dave Brown?” He asked me.
“Yes, he’s my father” I say with a smile as I stuck my head out the door; expecting him to be in the back seat of the cruiser for some crazy reason. “Is he okay?”
Diverting my eyes from the empty back seat, I look into the officers face as he shook his head, “No Ma’am, he isn’t. He was in a car accident and he has died, I’m sorry”
I began to beat him with my fists, screaming at him that it wasn’t true! “You’re lying to me” I yelled at him; the tears rolling down my face. My world began to crumble around me. My father was dead.
I realized after what seemed an eternity that I was still hitting this man, knowing that if I didn’t stop he would take it back, god please take it back. He stood there and let me hit him. I knew this had to be hard on him, having to tell me such horrible news. Placing the palms of my hands on his chest, tears streaming down my face I apologized. I told him it wasn’t his fault and that he was only doing what he had to do. I lay my head against his chest and cried. He held on to me for a moment then we turned and went into the house.
I could hear my little sister now, she was crying in the bedroom. She didn’t know what was happening, how could she. I had to get my step mom out of the shower to tell her, the police officer standing nearby.
We were on the same road that night in separate cars heading towards each other. He in his car coming home from Sweethome, my step mom, my half sister and I coming back from Splash in Springfield. Had everything gone right, we would have met in the middle at home.
“We tried to get him out of the vehicle for an hour” “He was still alive” “His shoe ended up in the back of his Scout” “There were no skid marks” “He must have seen a deer”. These words echoing in my mind as time goes by, the delirium of what had happened trying to sink in, my mind still wanting to refuse the reality.
I remember talking to my grandmother on the phone, my poor uncles standing in the kitchen. “Are you okay?” She asked me. Trying to be brave for her, I said yes. “I’m not okay” she said, her voice quivering. Her words made it okay for me to cry. I sank to the floor as I held the phone to my ear, sobbing, wishing I could just have him back for a moment to tell him I loved him.
We had to wait for my older sister and her family to arrive back in Alaska before we could tell them the sad news. They had just left us earlier in the day. The wait was agonizing. I wanted my big sister.
Those memories will be with me forever. I will never forget the look on the policeman’s face as he stood there letting me beat on him, I will never forget the terrified look on my little sisters face when I walked into the room, seeing her on the bed crying. I will never forget the long drive to the church for his funeral, my big sister holding my hand, no words were needed, no words could get passed the continuous lump in my throat and the sadness we all bore. I will never forget my uncle Rod and my brother David who was named for my father, both rolling up their pant legs and braving the cold waters of the Santiam River to scatter his ashes on that cold February day.
The war was on and I was pregnant with my second child. My fathers grandchildren will never know him. They will never know the brave funny stubborn man that was their grandfather. I don’t know why he got in an accident, I don’t know if they ever did find out but I learned a valuable lesson that night so very long ago.
You see, my father thought I was mad at him that entire day and it upset him. Can you imagine the guilt I felt when he died? I blamed myself for the longest time. I know now that it wasn’t my fault but I still carry that with me to this day. I learned to tell those around me how I feel. I live by this rule.
My column typically involves fun things, real stories about life, finding them while I am Out & About. This is a real story and it is about life as well as death. This piece came to me while I was driving home this past Saturday. I was on the freeway, cars passing me and zipping back and forth from one lane to the next with barely a car length between us, their speeds way beyond the posted limit. It scared me. I thought what if, what if they clipped the front of my car or the next person in front of me, or hit the semi they were trying to get around. What is more important than a life that others would be put at risk and lives shattered forever? We lose too many people to automobile accidents.
February 4th marks the 23rd year of my fathers death. I have already outlived him by 4 years. I ask that you take a few extra moments to get to where you need to go, nothing is worth risking your life or another’s to shave a few minutes off your drive.
On this New Years eve if you are including adult beverages in your celebration, check your keys at the door, have a designated driver in your party or have someone you can call for a safe ride home. Because I can tell you, opening that door and hearing a loved one is forever gone is brutal. You can never get them back.
Wishing you and yours a happy and safe new year.