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The Day My Life Changed Forever

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

February 5, 2005

There was a knock at the door around 11am. It scared the crap out of me.

One, because I was in a deep sleep.

I had just gone to bed about 4 hours earlier. It was a Saturday morning, and Friday night was the kickoff for "24 Hour Theater". Two and a half weeks prior was my first day as a student at Bradley University, and the theatre department did a yearly event called 24 Hour Theater. Each student could sign up for the production, however, you had to sign up for a position that you hadn't been in before. So, as an actor I could not sign up to act in the show. People in the production side couldn't be in their normal comfy roles. The idea was to do something you're not comfortable doing. Then, at 7pm on Friday the 24 hours' part begins! The 3 people assigned to writing the show meet and begin to create the show: concept, outline, actual writing, etc. That's what I did. I was assigned to be a writer with Beth (who I had 2 other classes with) and Dan. That's all I knew. I knew their names. And now we are to write a play. Around 1am or so we have a table read with the actors, director, and production heads. From there, the production peeps begin to build sets and gather props, the director begins to take notes, and we make the final changes to the script. We did a final read through around 6am and I went home for some much-needed sleep. The show would be going up at 7pm for a paying audience. It was a big night.

Now, here it is, about 4 hours later, and there's a knock on the door. It totally scares me.

One, because I was in a deep sleep.

Two, because my room is in the basement, and the knock on the door was to my room.

I lived with my Aunt and Uncle in their basement. But they were on a cruise.

So, who is knocking on my door?

I crawl out of bed and open the door cautiously and confused. There stands my cousins Tom and Bob. It's a strange combo. I mean, they both live nearby, and they're both engineers at the same company, but there's a 20-year age gap. So why isn't Tom here with his brother Tim, who also lives nearby? (It's weird what your brain does with a split second of input.) How did you get in here? Hmmm, Bob is the son of the Aunt and Uncle I live with. Ahhh, yes, that's how they got in. Obviously he has a key. But why are you here?

I stand there for .2 seconds confused and processing who I'm seeing. And the next part I remember clear as day. Bob said, "Lindsey, your Mom called me. Your Dad went to the Emergency Room this morning." Then he dropped his head, looked at the floor and gasped 'oh god'. He picked his head and said, "He didn't make it."

In hindsight, I feel like I knew something bad was coming because of the strangeness of it all. But I wasn't thinking that. I do know that those words hit me so fast and so hard that it knocked me off my feet. I literally fell onto my cousin Tom. Which, again, in hindsight is ironic because he lost his Mom (my Aunt Carol) 3 months earlier and he himself was in a motorcycle accident a month later and was in a coma for a few weeks. The ironic part is that I fell onto my cousin with a new steel rod in his leg and an entire rib cage healing from being broken. I did not fall into the arms of my perfectly healthy cousin who had just delivered the unfathomable news. (This, by the way, is the cousin that passed away a few weeks ago.)

I crumbled as they continued to tell me the plan of attack: Bob had to use the key to get in because they knew I wouldn't answer the door even if I heard the door bell, and that Tom was going to drive me home. I composed myself and said, "Ok. I'll pack."

You know that part earlier where I said it's funny what your brain does? The same applies to when you try to be logical in an extremely emotional state. (Side note: It's impossible to be emotional and logical at the same time.) My packing consisted of underwear, make up, and all of my text books because I knew I was going to miss classes and would have lots of homework to make up. That's it. I threw those items in a bag, grabbed my cell phone and purse, and headed to the car.

Tom got in and asked me if I wanted anything to drink or eat. I shook my head no. He said, "Ok. I have to stop and get some gas and then we'll head to the house." I nodded yes. The gas station was on the corner just outside of the subdivision. It took about 2 minutes to get there. As Tom was pumping some gas my cell phone rang. It was my Mom. I honestly have no idea what that conversation was besides, "I'll see you soon. I love you." I had so many questions but no ability to ask them. Not just the 'what happened' or 'how' questions, but the bigger unanswerable questions, 'Why?' and 'How come?'.

I hung up with my Mom and two seconds later my phone rang again. It was my friend Abby. We've been friends since as long as I can remember. Like, preschool friends. We were now 21 and had been roommates the semester before at Illinois State University. I tried to calm myself but shook as I answered the phone. She said, "I just heard something and need to know if it's true." I started to sob, and she just said, "I'm on my way." I don't know where she was. I didn't even know where we were going. But I remember that moment so clearly. I felt so loved, and cared for, and strangely comforted by that five second phone call.

Tom got back in the car and we were on our way. At some point on the drive home I decided it was very important to let someone know that I would not be in attendance at our show that night, at which point I realized I only had the phone number for one person in the theatre department: Beth. So she got the call. It went to voicemail because she, like I, was sleeping. The voicemail went something like this, "Hey, Beth. This is Lindsey, from the writing last night. Ummm, I won't be at the show tonight. Ummm, my Dad just died. Can you let our professors know I won't be in class next week. Thanks."

Again, brain does weird things.

I laugh just imagining Beth getting that voicemail. She barely knew me, and I have now tasked her with giving that information to our professors. And our fellow classmates that will probably ask why I wasn't at the show. Oh man. She did call me back when she got the voicemail and said, "Oh my god I am so sorry. You let me know anything you need. I'll take care of it." In hindsight, I know it worked out the best way it could have because Beth became one of my best friends. We were inseparable in college, and that horrible, awkward moment was just the start of an amazing friendship.

The next week is basically a complete blur. Hell, the next 6 months are a complete blur. I remember people being at our house every morning and every night to drop off food, or help answer the phone, or write down names of people who brought food so we could send them thank you notes later. I remember Abby was there every morning when I got up and left when I was going to bed. I can't tell you what did she specifically, I just know that she was there. And that was the world to me.

Of course, I had so many other friends that came by and I appreciate what each of them did. Some made me laugh in only ways they could. Some shared their favorite moments and stories of my Dad. And some were grieving so hard in their own way that they just couldn't come. And I get that. I really do. If I could, I would have tried to escape it too. Some pain is just too hard to face even when you want to be supportive.

I remember the wake. There was a blizzard, as can happen in February in Illinois. The funeral home did it's best to get as many people inside as they could, but some people stood in line outside, in a blizzard for 3 hours to pay respects to my Dad. That is something I was not prepared for. But that's what can happen in a small town. You build these relationship and community. Not just community in the physical sense, but the emotional sense. The people who support you and cheer you in the good times, and hug you and comfort you in the bad. That's one of the many reasons I love my hometown. The outpouring of love was and is unbelievable.

That's the story. My Dad walked into the Emergency Room on his own around 8:00am. He said he didn't feel well and was having hot flashes. He was pronounced dead at 10:27am. It turns out he had a cyst on his liver that burst and he went septic. There was no way we could have known or suspected.

It's been 15 years now.


Wow, that's weird.

15 years later I still have some of those questions. Why? How come?

I still can cry at the most random things:

- hearing his favorite song on the radio

-hearing my parent's wedding song on the radio

-seeing a movie I know he would have loved

-wanting to talk to him about a topic I know he'd love to talk about

-someone saying something that sounds like something my Dad would say

I never know when these things will happen, and some of the most random things can catch me off guard. Seeing a restored classic car on the freeway. Or making peanut butter cookies. I faced a new, scary moment this past November when we went to Disney World. Our last family vacation, less than a year before he died, we went to Florida to see my Uncle as well as my Grandma, and in between we stopped at Hollywood Studios. My Mom and I laugh about our Tower Of Terror experience and photo (If you want to hear it, I'm happy to tell you sometime.), and this was the first time I had been back since then. Of course, we're going to ride that ride. The entire day there was a mix of laugh and cry. Laugh on the outside, cry on the inside. Laugh for the memory, but cry because it can't happen again.

I still cry talking about my Dad, even when I'm telling stories that make me happy. I love hearing stories about my Dad. I love that he still lives on in people's memories and hearts. But I will cry. Possibly uncontrollably. You should see the mess I have here now as I type this. (It's best that you can't see the mess I have here now as I type this.)

I was speaking with my friend last month who recently lost her Dad, and she said some extremely insightful words: "It's like we're members of a really sh*tty club".

And I thought, "Man! That is so true. A club that no one ever wants to be in."

This club teaches you some things that may have never occurred to you before. Such as: You will now and forever relive this heartbreak anytime anyone you know loses a parent.

And there are things that aren't spoken about that I simply wasn't prepared for such as:

-The guilt that comes with knowing that I rushed our phone call the night before. He called at 9pm and we had just started writing. "Now's not a good time, Dad." I try to remind myself that at least the last thing I said to him was, "I love you", but I know I was rushing to get off the phone.

-The brain will play the good memories, yes, but it can and will just as easily replay the bad. Mine likes to replay the one time we had a fight and my Dad said, "Why do you hate me so much?" It's funny because I can't remember what the fight was about, nor can I remember my response, but I sure as hell remember him saying that. I find myself beating myself up for the things I may have said and did that made my Dad think that I hated him.

-No one warns you of the guilt you'll feel the first time you get through a day without sobbing. No one warns you of the guilt you'll feel the first time you get through a day without being consumed by the loss. No one warns you of the guilt you'll feel the first time you get through a day without thinking about them.

-I never realized how deep the grief can be for the future and things that will no longer happen. I cannot watch father/daughter dances at weddings, and seeing multi-generation pictures on Facebook warms my heart but also breaks it.

-No one warns you how angry you can become towards others when you perceive them to be dismissive of their parents. Seeing someone roll their eyes when their Mom calls, or the "I'm busy" cuts me twice as deep. I want to scream, "I'd give ANYTHING to talk to my Dad right now you selfish little a**hole!". I don't scream it. But man do I want to.

And it's been 15 years. Maybe it's just me. But I really don't think that's the case.

I know that there are tools to help in those moments of guilt and anger. I know that I know what to do to process those feelings and find the peace and comfort and forgiveness for myself. But that doesn't mean it just goes away. It really is a process. Grief really is a process. Some days, some months, are great. Some days, some months are not. Some days I'm floating along a babbling brook and some days I'm hoping to catch the wave and not be taken under by it. And it's been 15 years.

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