The Day My Heart Stopped but the Clock Kept Ticking, Part 1

Our lives are constantly evolving – at least we hope they will for many years to come.

Time doesn’t stop for anyone, for any reason; the darkest and deepest depths of our traumas may bring us to our knees but life goes on.

Reflections of my father’s sudden passing and the coroner’s determination that his death will never be solved rears its ugly head from time to time. Realization that the clock isn’t going to stop ticking due to my loss, pain or trauma provides lessons on future struggles to come.

I think most of us can relate when it comes to the loss of a loved one as we all handle the inevitable quite differently.

It was a warm summer day, August 6, 1995, and my parents were over the night before for dinner. We spent the late afternoon watching pre-season football, followed by America’s Most Wanted that Saturday night. I often cancelled plans with friends as I preferred spending precious moments with my parents. I have no regrets. I craved the simple and carefree life by creating family memories.

I awoke early the following morning as we all did – my three-year-old and my husband as well. Today would be another day filled with touring new homes. As I removed the bed covers and placed my feet on the shaggy outdated carpet, vertigo controlled my next move, which would be headfirst on the floor.

I passed out and was immediately driven to the emergency room in another county as my health provider offered emergency services a few miles from home. My parents were called, trying not to alarm them with a most reassuring tone.

As usual, Dad would be playing a morning game of tennis as he had more free time, being recently retired from the fire department he worked at for over 30 years. Since retirement, he seemed to be on the court more than at home. His golden years arrived early, being hired on the fire department at the young age of 22. He deserved it. He earned it.    

After I was admitted, my veins seemed to have a mind of their own as they twisted and turned with such stubbornness, each time the nurse attempted to insert the IV into my arm. Apparently, I was severely dehydrated and suffered from a viral infection. 

Taking a sip from the grateful cup, I was thrilled my condition was not life threatening and satisfied to remain in the ER for the afternoon. It could be worse. It could always be worse.

The IV was eventually inserted and I napped for a bit when the doctor entered my room with the most peculiar look on his pale face. His words rang something like this:

“There is no easy way to say this.”

It seemed like an eternity for him to finish his message; knowing these words are never followed by a joyful heart-to-heart.

“Your father has died.”

Instantly the pain in my body dissipated and transferred to a foreign pain in my heart like no other. Numbness,  confusion and denial immediately set in. I surely thought the doctor had the wrong person, but yet the urgency to be with my mother overwhelmed my thoughts. I believed my father was gone. I just refused to accept it. There were many questions overloading my brain as I ripped the IV from my arm and walked from that cold room.

As the nurses and doctor insisted I return, I continued walking toward the front entrance as the blood dripped from arm. I felt no physical pain; only loss in my heart. My daughter skipped to the car with an obvious innocence as her father guided us to the car.

I arrived at a destroyed hospital waiting room with tables and chairs overturned and magazines scattered amongst the floor. My mom literally destroyed the small waiting room.  When she saw me, she belted out a cry that I have never heard before. She ordered the priest to leave the room as he attempted to deliver the final blessings but her fear was having no part of it.

That day, at the young age of 54, my mother inherited the title of widow.

We met with the coroner days later and an autopsy revealed no answers – only more questions. Toxicology presented no hope as to answers as well. That year his death was among five deaths that were undetermined. The coroner advised I find a cardiologist as I may have inherited a rare heart disease from my father. I followed his vital instructions and I will save that narrative for part two of this story. 

My mother described the horrific incident with such sequential memory that I questioned if she was watching a Dateline rerun. My father’s funeral was a massive blur in her mind, but she remembered the incident as one would a repetitious nightmare. I dressed her that morning for his funeral and did my best to give her strength, reminding myself her strength could only come from within.  

The day embedded in her brain began like this –

Your father had just finished his lunch – his favorite, a hot dog and corn chips. I came inside from the backyard after feeding the cats. When I walked into the kitchen he was on the floor. I ran to the phone and called 911.

Being a fireman’s wife and knowing the protocol when emergency personnel arrived at the scene, it was best the public left the scene in order for them to focus on the serious job at hand. According to my mother, she was out of control and they had to remove her from the room. She was beyond frantic, if that is even possible.

My mother continued to relive that day as she cried, telling me her persistent questions to the paramedics – Is he breathing? Is he breathing?    

She knew he was gone. She knew by the mannerisms and lack of supportive words from the paramedics that he was gone.

From that day on, her life was forever changed. Many of our lives were forever changed and I realized how the death of a parent affects everyone on a different level. My mom lost her husband of 37 years. I lost my hero. My brother lost his baseball companion. Dad’s fellow firefighters lost their friend and brother. His sister lost the chance to apologize for wrongs that she confessed to me at his funeral. His father lost his will to live.

Loss is never the same for anyone; I hope you will stay tuned for part two of this story, when I fast forward to 26 years later. 

We are here for a visit. Some visits last many years while others are cut short. Live your best life now, while you can. No one will do it for you.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Lori Armstrong

Lori began her career in the legal field, leaving that position to pursue full-time writing endeavors. Being a criminal court reporter for the Record-Bee, she balances the chaos in her brain by writing children's books and reflective pieces. When time allows, she publishes books for Amazon.

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