Seven Days.

by Risa Green


My life changed on a Saturday morning with a phone call. My father …. hospital…heart attack….ventilator. It was Halloween. I was three thousand miles away. I booked a plane ticket for a red eye that night; I had already missed the only other flight of the day. More phone calls. My brother, my uncle, my mom, the doctor. I found a hotel near the hospital and called to make a reservation. How many days? I didn’t know. I couldn’t think. My husband took the phone away from me. Three days, he told the agent. Maybe longer, but let’s book three for now. More phone calls. Not looking good…not optimistic…still not stabilized. I tried to pack, but what? His birthday – his birthday is in four days. I cried violently; a wild, primal, shaking cry, like no cry I’d ever experienced before. My children were terrified. It’s Halloween, they whispered to my husband. Are we still allowed to have fun? More phone calls. Nothing else we can do…we want to make him comfortable…let him go in peace. By four-thirty, my father was gone.


Somehow, I pasted a smile on my face and went to a Halloween party. Somehow, I took my children trick-or-treating. Somehow, I walked through the airport and found my brother in the waiting area. Somehow, we boarded the plane. I barely remember any of it. I must have been giving off an aura of vulnerability, because I remember thinking that strangers – the TSA inspector, the guy I bought a water from at the airport, the flight attendant – were being unusually gentle with me. On the plane, I listened to my iPod and cried in the dark. I must have slept a little, because my neck hurt when the captain started his descent into Philadelphia.


At five am, my brother, his wife and I rented a car and drove to our hotel. We ate breakfast at a diner. At nine, we went to the funeral home. The director had been our next-door neighbor for twenty years. I used to go swimming in his pool. I used to flirt with his son. He looked exactly the same. He said that we did, too. We picked out a coffin. Dark wood with a Star of David on top.


We drove to my father’s apartment. He moved a few years ago, and neither I nor my brother had ever visited him there. It was small and sad. I hadn’t talked to him since Father’s Day in June. I hadn’t seen him since May. We met him at a children’s museum in Philly. My son refused to give him a kiss. He hadn’t looked good then; puffy face and shaking hands. He said he wasn’t drinking anymore. I knew he was lying. I would have called him on his birthday. I almost called him the week before, but I knew he wouldn’t answer. He only answered on his birthday, and on Father’s Day. His birthday was in three days. I had been waiting for it. I still loved him so much.


I barely knew him the last fifteen years. Friends appeared whom I hadn’t known existed. Clothes I didn’t recognize were in his drawers. An email account I thought he never checked was active. He’d saved the ticket from the children’s museum. He had a picture of my kids from last year’s holiday card in his wallet. He loved you so much, said a woman I’d never met before. She had been the last one to see him alive.



I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss. On November 17, I learned my dad passed away from a massive heart attack. About an hour later I got an email on my blackberry learning that you'd lost yours. The other eiree name is Tarisa, and my dad was the only one in the world who called me "Risa". I showed the email to my sister. We cried for you. And then cried more for ourselves. It's been two months, and we're both still a mess--I just wanted to say I feld a weird connection to you, and hope you're dealing ok...


So sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for your post. I had just gone through a similar situation a couple weeks ago, my grandfather had a heart attack and the prognosis was not good. As of today, my grandfather is stable but his days are limited and it helps to read about your personal experience. Your posting has helped me through this difficult time and also helps me to understand the pain my father must be going through but tries to hide it from us. Thank you!


I read your column pretty religiously, love it, and have never commented, but this struck a chord. I lost my Dad in July and there is NOTHING like losing a parent regardless of how close you are. And there is nothing like trying to carry on as a mother during that time. My twins celebrated their 7th bday 3 days after my Dad's death which was bad and good. It kept my Mom going and they had a HUGE family party by default because so many relatives were in town, but I never took the time to just grieve and let it out. Take care of yourself during this time. It does get easier to remember him in happier times and not just that last moment.


Many thoughts and prayers your way. God bless you. And your family.


Dear Risa, my deepest condolences to you and your family. I lost my sweet, wonderful daddy after to a brain tumor more than 8 years ago, and it still hurts. I've also lost the part of me I used to be when I was with him. He was the most upbeat, cheerful person I knew and would've been such a wonderful grandpa. Both of my husband's parents have died in the past 10 years too, so our 6-yr-old daughter and 2-yr-old son have only one grandparent, which breaks my heart. For me, the grief hasn't exactly become easier, just different. I still have days when something small will set off an avalanche of tears, but I try to go with it because I know that feeling the feelings helps us to heal while suppressing them does not. And I try to explain my sadness to my children. My little boy still cries when he sees me cry, for whatever reason, but I tell him I'm ok, only sad. Please try not to feel like you have to hold it together all the time--sometimes things need to really fall apart before they can be rebuilt. And our children will learn how to express emotions healthily if they see us do it. My sincerest wishes for comfort to everyone out there who's grieving.


Risa, It's hard, there is no way around it. Life plows on when you're a mom even when you want it to stand still. I am grieving the loss of my father in law who also died last month from a heart attack. We miss him everyday. He was a huge part of our lives.


Ah, Risa, my heart goes out to you. I lost my dad in 1986 to pancreatic cancer. I was just a kid, really, in my twenties, and my dad was an enigma to me. He was a Korean war vet, and I was too young to know him. I didn't know enough about the world, and humanity, and my own life truly was a terrible mess. He was only 57 when he died. When I got the news that he was gone, I drove home from a friend's house howling my grief at a full moon sky. By the time I arrived in Chicago from Houston, my mother had made all of the arrangements. My husband (long an ex now) refused to accompany me. I had no support from my family at all. I did not even know that my parents had planned to re-marry the day after my dad died (my dad always had a vicious sense of humor...if you knew my mother, you'd understand), cake, minister, guests and all. I had been speaking to my dad regularly...despite his faults I loved him very much. I miss him still. He never got to meet his grandsons (I am the only one of his children with kids), and I think he would have been a most excellent grampa. He never got to see me finally straighten myself out, find a good man, and find peace and joy. And I never got to tell him that I understood, more than he could ever believe. I weathered a lot while I was grieving, even without children. I don't grieve anymore, but I still miss that man. My thoughts are with you.



I agree. It didn't help me either that I was with my mom before she lost consciousness. I get "ambushed" with emotion nearly every time I am alone in my car. A song comes on the radio and I start to tear up. I pass the funeral home where I saw her last and I tear up. My mom died in April. It's been almost 8 months. I never thought I would ever say this but it really does get manageable. The pain, that is. I will not say it's "easier" because it's not easy not having my mommy here. But the pain now eight months later is not as profound and healing is taking place, I know. While some days are better than others, I am dealing with the loss better now. I read several books on grief and death. The one that helped me the most was "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One" by Brooke Noel and Pamela Blair PhD. If you could steal a moment here or there to give a couple chapters a good read, it might at least make you feel that your grief and your sadness is normal. Good luck. Just remember, your mother undoubtedly raised a strong woman. Share her legacy and honor her life. I am sure that's what my mom would have wanted.


I have tears streaming down my face as I write this. All i can say is please try and find the time to grieve for your loss. I wish you long life.


I am so sorry, Risa. I feel your pain only too well. I lost my mom at the end of August. We found out in May that she had stage 4 lung cancer. She was gone by the end of August. I held her while she took her last breath. It doesn't help me to have been there. I turned 40 at the beginning of August. I have a daughter who turned 2 at the beginning of Sept. I hardly remember the last 3 months. I try to just go through the motions of day to day living. Everything is enveloped in this shadow of her being gone. We were very close. Even though she drove me crazy in the way that only parents can do. I miss her so very much. I am trying to be present for my daughter but some days I wish I could just curl up in a ball and cry all day. No can do. Gotta make breakfast. Gotta play. Gotta take baths. Gotta smile and tickle and brush teeth and get the eggs from the chickens. Everyone keeps telling me that time will make things better. That I will learn to live without her here. I'm here. Waiting.