By R’becca Groff
A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart.
I sat at my desk recording the week’s stack of résumés when someone behind me shoved their jagged nails into the small of my back. The pain radiated into my kidneys. Even the natural childbirth I’d experienced recently couldn’t compete with the debilitating strangeness of this attack.
The intensity pushed me forward and I gripped the edge of the desk. I needed it to let up—I didn’t think I could stand it much longer. And then it was over. I took a deep breath and looked around. The clock on the wall showed 2:30 p.m. As I sat there, uneasy at the thought that the pain might return, I felt grateful that I could go home in two hours. I waited for the pain to return, wondering what could be going wrong with me that would cause such an onset of vicious discomfort. The pain didn’t return and I finished out the day, retrieved my infant daughter from the babysitter and headed home.
In light of that episode, I asked my husband to watch the baby while I took a short rest, thinking maybe that’s what my body was trying to tell me. Working moms pull out all sorts of stops to cover both the work front and the home front, and I do believe our bodies tell us when we’ve pulled out a few too many stops. We need to pay attention to the messages.
Several hours later I opened my eyes, feeling wonderful yet a bit guilty as I had slept way longer than I intended. My husband pushed the bedroom door open, baby girl on his hip.
“Are you awake yet?”
His tone was flat and I thought he was upset because I slept so long. We hadn’t had supper, the baby probably had been fussing and I hadn’t attended to any of it. And yet it wasn’t in his nature to begrudge or complain about things like that. But something was on his mind.
“Yeah—I’m awake. What have you two been up to?”
He came and sat on the edge of the bed next to me. The room was dark and I couldn’t see his face.
“Is something wrong?” I asked him.
“Your mother called. Elmer had a heart attack.”
I sat up straight. Dad had a heart attack?
“When? Where is he? What hospital did they take him to?” I asked, kicking my legs over the side of the bed, as if my hurrying to get out of bed and get my shoes on was going to get me to him any quicker.
“He’s not in the hospital.”
My brain took a moment to process this fact, and it made no sense to me, of course. A person has a heart attack; the ambulance races them to the closest hospital. All the doctors and nurses come running and eventually the patient is stabilized and moved to their own room—right?
“He didn’t make it, Bec.” A quick hug and he and the baby left me alone with this, and my mind wrestled with those thoughts that bombard a person when they receive such news. He wasn’t even sixty-two yet… he couldn’t die. Was this really happening?
Downstairs I asked my husband why he didn’t wake me up when my mother called.
“She said to let you sleep. There wasn’t anything to be done. She’ll call you later tonight.”
“When did it happen?”
“Earlier this afternoon.”
My father died in Minnesota, just over the state line from Iowa, and Minnesota state law at the time required an autopsy. The coroner’s report arrived several weeks later. I had to look every other word up in my medical dictionary, but the gist of the matter was summed up in terms I understood… 90% blockage… 100% blocked… 85% blockage noted on the such and such… scar tissue observed… indication of possible earlier episode. Death was instantaneous.
What was it he’d told me at Christmas about feeling suddenly dizzy and having to lie down on the car seat until the sensation passed? He thought maybe he’d taken in a dose of carbon monoxide while waiting for my mother to finish her shopping.
There it was at the end of the report. The thing I’d been wondering about ever since they told me he died in the middle of the day. The official time of death on record.
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