Four years ago this morning, I was driving to the airport in Athens, Ga., having just left the hospital to see my Mom. I got a phone call from my partner Shawn.
Shawn started the conversation by saying that my Mom and Grandma were OK, but that I should pull the car over before we started talking. When he said that Dad had died the day before, I was stunned. I sat quietly for a moment, contemplating what those words meant: Your father died of a heart attack. I tried brushing it off and told Shawn that I was fine, but for the rest of that day, I just walked around in a sort of haze. My Dad was dead.
A couple of days later, on the morning I finally graduated from college, there was another phone call that Mom was gone.
It’s hard to put into words how that week in May 2003 shaped who I am today. My relationship with my parents was about as strained and estranged as any could be, but Mom and I were trying to put things back together, and I had gone so far as to hire someone two years earlier to track down Dad by his Social Security number. In the time since, I had called his house in Savannah three or four times, hanging up when he answered because I simply didn’t know what to say.
Losing these two people, who were, at one time, the centers of my entire universe, well, I can only say that it hurt. The kind of hurt that’s down deep behind your heart and your stomach and that doesn’t go away but only grows for days. I was numb to my core.
And for my Dad, at least, a big part of that hurt was the regret I felt at never saying three simple words: “Dad, it’s me.”