Her Heart, His Heart and My Heart

Mother’s Day for the past 4 years brings up a certain level of emotion on my end.  I love my mom and don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank her enough for the amount of selflessness, love and guidance she’s given me over the years. She’s taught me the meaning of love and has continued to show me how a woman who’s graced with strength, dignity and compassion should look.

But, as I said above, the weekend of Mother’s Day also holds another place in my heart. A place carefully guarded and one that brings my dad into the forefront of my thoughts, our entire families thoughts.

Four years ago today, I woke up and spent the morning in an unusual way.
I got up with a cloud of emotions hanging over me…much like I did today.

See, the night before I did something I couldn’t fathom having to do only 12 hours prior and at the age of 28. I gave dad, my blessing to do whatever it was that HE wanted. Doing this, while fully understanding that another open heart surgery was not up for discussion and wouldn’t be 10 years down the road. Meaning, I let him know I would support his decision of picking between a tissue valve and a mechanical valve – regardless of his decision.

To put it into laymen’s terms….his decision to pick between something that would last for on average 8-12 years vs a more permanent option that would be with him until the end and not require a second open heart procedure. I spent the morning in complete shock.

It began by letting my parents’ dogs out the front door (not on a leash) and watching in panic while Gabby & Bailey made a run for it. I’m talkin’ fugitives on the run kind of run for it. I stood on the other end of the driveway, yelled, screamed and prayed to God (very quickly) that they would not get hit by the school bus that was heading their way. As you can see based on this picture, they are alive and well 4 years later and I was thankful I didn’t have to explain to my dad that his “other two children” had hit the road running and wouldn’t be there to greet him when he got home.

(Picture taken Christmas Day 2013)

I fully believe God gave me a slight break that morning and I learned a few big lessons. As I stood in the shower, letting go of every single emotion that was running through me, several things passed through my mind and out of my tear ducts. Thoughts of how quickly life can pass you by; the thought and realization that my dad chose to put a life span on his heart plus many more hung over me while I got ready.

But like I said, in hind-sight, I learned some pretty valuable lessons that day:

– Sometimes you have to let your hair down and run wild for a moment.
– Life is about taking advantage of chances when they are presented.
– That life is too damn short to not enjoy every living & breathing moment of it.

You never know when you’re time will come but I made it a goal that year to consciously be aware of who I am, what makes me happy and set out on a path to making those things part of my regular day.

The hours, days and weeks that followed were much tougher. Sometimes I think God was gearing me up for everything that morning. The days pushed my mom, David & I to the brink – emotionally and physically. My mom and I talked to dad’s surgeon following the procedure and received the report that everything went great –  dad was heading up to the ICU recovery bay.

Dad’s surgery was a serious one. He got what I like to refer to as the crème de la crème of open heart surgeries. A fixed hole, a new tissue valve, a few blockages fixed and an aortic root replacement and I got a quick education in cardiology.  Google it if you’re curious….pretty much all the fixings one person could want/need.

Within a few hours, it was clear that dad’s heart was not on the same page as his doctors originally thought. I’ll never forget the feeling of watching a waiting room empty and the cyclical process of families stationed in the main waiting room, rotating into the ICU waiting room upstairs and then rushing to the their loved ones. We watched it for days/weeks. The process is gripping, because we grew small bonds with the families, then watch with joy and frustration as they headed out the door for the last time. It was tough. I remember my brother & I watching through the recovery bay windows those first few days. I confided with close friends that it was like watching the TV show, House. Everyone standing around, figuring out what the best option was – what the next step should be. The doctors assured us that all their resources were being pulled together and that dad would make it.

Those first few days were interesting, as my dad is someone I look up to tremendously. He’s the tough one that always pushed me, yet had a delicate way of making me realize that whatever I wanted was within an arm’s length reach…just like the finish line in a pool, all I had to do was kick until the end.
But he is my dad: the guy that would sit and get tangles out of my hair when I was little, the guy who’s back I would jump on when I was scared in the river but wanted to ride the knee board, the man I called when I needed some extra cash in college, because although my budgeting skills were passed along genetically, (smirk inserted)…I might have had a moment of amnesia; and the man that to this day I call when I need real advice or guidance about life’s big issues
(you know – love, finances, jobs, etc). Those days were interesting.

Seeing my dad in that bed was interesting. I remember the first night my mom let me go back to see him in the recovery bay. She didn’t want me to, but I was so hung up on being there. I didn’t care if he heard me, if he couldn’t squeeze my hand or if his skin coloring looked normal, but I wanted to be there. I wanted to understand clearly what I was praying for. I sat with the nurse who was on his shift. A nice older, gray haired but balding gentleman that took the time to quietly explain to me everything my dad was hooked up to. There were a handful of times in my dad’s future that he got a nice clean shave from that man.
He was amazing and talked me though everything. I am forever grateful for him.

Then there was Shelley. My favorite nurse, the funny and cheerful nurse and someone who I’d run to for the
“give me a real answer, not sugar coated response” nurse.
She cared for my dad a lot over the course of those first days.  Mainly because they wanted the staff working with him to fully understand his medical situation vs being new to his case.  She always checked in on him even when he wasn’t on her list and I realized quickly I missed her smile when she had a night off.  She and I are still friends, to this day, on Facebook. She was the nurse that prepped us with details the day prior to surgery, and I am thankful she was the nurse that removed dad’s feeding tubs and the ventilator. I give kudos to those individuals that I crossed paths with while they were caring for my dad and I couldn’t have picked a more timely thanks, as last week was Nurses week! They are a big part of the reason he is around and the reason I still have someone to ask life’s big questions to.

My dad is my rock, my mom’s rock, our family’s rock and 17 days after entering the heart center, we were lucky enough to get him out of the hospital and home.

It’s this time in my life, the month of May, where I am grateful for those I love.

Where I realize how grateful I am for the past 4 years.
Where I am grateful that my dad is around another year and even more so grateful that, although against his will…..mom is there to take care of him.
I am grateful that there are nurses who can become friends and friends who become confidants and family.

So I challenge each of you reading this
to spend a little extra time showing those you love how much you care.
Whether it’s your mom, dad, your siblings, your children or the people you consider family although it might not be by blood.
Love them and tell them you love them because life is about being
vulnerable and honest
yet realizing that it shouldn’t have to wait for a special occasion…today is special.

Lastly – never forget that everyone’s life is made up of the same stuff:
hope and fear
promise and pain
happiness and sorrow
Love you Dad & Happy 4 year Heart Anniversary –
Cheers to another 14 or more if mom, david or I have anything  to do with it!
XO – J


(Picture Taken November 2010)


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