The Ones who Guide you

My memory of the entire experience was with my eyes shut.

As though if my body took in anymore sensory details, I’d explode.

We had planned a girls trip in Sedona for a long weekend- all the high school girls together for the first time in a while. We’d fly in to Vegas on Thursday night, rent a big SUV, and drive to Sedona on Friday.

The day before I left, I remember having a conversation with one of my sisters while I was still at work. I stood at the big windows on the 27th floor looking out at the city and asked her if it was stupid for me to leave town while Dad was in the hospital.

Dad had gone in and out of the hospital many times before, so it was always hard to decipher if this was another one of those situations where he’d end up back home in a few days. My sister encouraged me to take care of myself and do whatever I thought would be good for my mental health. A relaxing weekend with my girlfriends was just that.

We took the flight to Vegas and spent the night at Keri’s house. Hannah, Natalie, Marcy, Kiyome, and I all shared couches and blow up mattresses, excited to see the rest of the ladies the next day.

We got on the road and stared to drive through the desert. Marcy in the driver seat, Natalie next to her giving directions. Kiyome and I sat in the middle row with Keri and Hannah behind us. About an hour in to the ride, my phone rings, a call from my Mom.

She asks where I am and I say in the middle of the desert on our way to Sedona. Then, those words: “Grace, you need to come home now.”

Throughout Dad’s sickness, Mom had played the challenging role of being the one to disseminate information to the various family members. Her strategy with me was to not share too much (disturbing, scary, confusing, etc.) information and only tell me things I “needed” to know. She was never certain how serious things were or what constituted a reason to alert the family.

So when I was told I needed to come home, that’s when my eyes shut.

A situation had happened at the hospital that caused nearly 10 doctors to rush in to the room and push everyone else out. Machines beeping, alarms going off, doctors running. It was the type of situation I imagine they had been dreading for the past 6 years.

As the life was sucked out of my body, there in that car, a switch flipped in the girls as they assigned roles and sprang in to action.

My eyes closed, my body went limp, and I could barely breath. Kiyome pulled my head on to her lap and didn’t let go for the next few days.

“What’s the closest airport?” Natalie opened up maps, started directing Marcy. Marcy safely started to book it, staying calm while chaos ensued behind her. Keri and Hannah each took an Arizona airport to check flights. Within minutes, flights were booked. It would take a couple hours to get to the airport. Kiyome would take me.

After a while, we had to stop to use a bathroom. I think we went in to a hardware store. While I waited for everyone to get back in the car, my phone rang again. This time my Uncle. “Grace, things are getting bad here. I want to give you an opportunity to talk to your Dad on the phone…just in case.” I was immediately transported back to 2012, that same Uncle calling me to give me the opportunity to say my last words to my dying Grandfather. He wouldn’t be able to respond, but he could “hear me”.

What words do you use in a situation like this? What do you want to convey to the man who was your world. How do you express yourself when you’re lying in the backseat of an SUV in a hardware store parking lot? How do you pull yourself together when your insides feel like they’ve come out of your body and you’re nothing but a shell with a tear soaked face.

I don’t remember what I said to him. I had blacked out at that point. Was my Dad going to die without being able to touch him one last time?

The girls got back in the car, buckled my seatbelt on, and continued the journey.

The car came to a stop which meant we were at the airport. Kiyome took our suitcases and my hand and pulled me through the airport. We made our way through the security line where I was suddenly shaken awake. “Please remove your sunglasses and look at me.” I lifted my head and looked ahead at the TSA agent.

We made our way on to the airplane and sat in the last row. I put my head against the window and fell asleep. As we neared Oakland, Kiyome asked the flight attendant if we could de-board first. She told Kiyome “we can’t ask other passengers to do that unless it’s an emergency.” “It’s an emergency” Kiyome responded. As the airplane was descending, I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was a lone sailboat in the Bay.

Now I’m not a religious person and don’t believe in higher powers, but if there were ever a time to need a sign, this was it. Dad’s spirit animal- a sailboat. A rarity. A sailboat in an area where people didn’t really sail. As soon as I saw it, I knew that Dad was going to be alive when I got to the hospital.

The flight attendant came on over the speakers and announced that we had landed, but if everyone could remain seated, passengers in the back needed to exit first due to an emergency. Sun glasses back on, eyes shut, we ran out of the plane and through the airport to a waiting Uber.

I started repeating “he’s going to be alive” in my head as we drove through Oakland. It was all I could do to stay calm and present.

We pulled up to Kaiser and Kiyome told me to go, she would grab our bags. I ran to the elevator and punched floor 4- a button I had pressed so many times before but never with such urgency. “He’s going to be alive. He’s going to be alive.”

I ran to his hospital room and arrived to a room filled with family and friends. Dad’s eyes met mine. His signature smile, happy to see me, clueless about what the last 6 hours had entailed for me.

“I made it Papa.”

Dad was completely coherent and at peace that these were his last moments. Sam arrived and the family was complete. In Dad fashion, he decided to have us gather around him so he could leave us all with some reflections. We cried a lot. He made us laugh. Made us hold each other tightly. Reminded us that Mom was in charge.

One or two nights passed with us sleeping in the room with him, mats on the floor, sisters on top of each other, until it was time.

When I finally had time to reflect on this whirlwind experience, it felt like a movie. The experience in the car felt like a dramatic scene. The President gets a call that she must get to the White House before it’s too late so her team of trusted experts jump in to action like they’ve been training for that moment their whole lives.

To have friends who don’t ask and just do. Who make the decisions when you’re too weak to make them. Who won’t stop for anything to ensure that you’re safe and taken care of. Who take your hand and guide you through the darkest moment of your life. Who show up and keep showing up. They’re the special ones. I will forever be grateful and indebted to them.

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