So Many Miracles
Published: Sunday, 20 April 2014 21:22
Written by Mariesa
While today is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, God, the Father, most of my Easter memories center around my own father.
As little girls, my sister and I would go with our Daddy to services at the Unitarian Universalist Church. On Easter morning, she and I would pad barefoot down the steps that split the lower level in two, the dining room to the left, the living room to the right. We’d peer through the open wrought iron railing to the fireplace hearth, where the Easter Bunny had left baskets overflowing with a rainbow of jelly beans, giant, solid chocolate rabbits, and big chocolate eggs decorated with hard candy flowers and filled with creamy maple nougat.
As an adult living 3,000 miles from my Dad, I call him every Easter. Part of the conversation is always the same.
Me: “Happy Easter!”
Him: “Happy Easter. I’m going to say ‘He is risen,’ then you’ll say, ‘He is risen, indeed,’ got it? Okay, He is Risen…”
Eight months ago I wondered how I would honor him today – if I would quietly have the annual conversation in my head and smile, or if I would have to find a way to pass on the tradition in his memory.
Twelve years ago my Dad was paralyzed in one of those accidents that people call “freak.” The circumstances really don’t matter – it wasn’t something that could have been prepared for or avoided – it just happened. He eventually went back to work and later retired, he takes classes online, visits with his grandchildren – you know – Dad stuff. In the years since, he has had several injuries and illnesses, some worse than others. Only one time has my stepmother called and said, “If you want to see your father, you need to come home now.” That call came last August.
The next day I was on a plane making the cross-country trip, not knowing what to expect. Not one time since the accident have I ever thought my Dad was going to die. In my mind, in my heart, I was remarkably calm. I had already gone through the shock, the disbelief, the ups and downs and ‘what ifs’ and ‘how could I have been a better daughter’ conversations with myself 12 years before. I remember wondering if I was in denial, or if I simply did not believe he was going to die – at least not this time.
When my Mom picked me up at the airport six hours later, she told me he had been put on a ventilator. He was not expected to survive.
I first met my friend Jay in 1999. In conversations early on he told me that one of the things he wanted most from his life was to be a father. He had always wanted to have a daughter. Being married – doing things the traditional way – wasn’t the goal, necessarily. He just really wanted to be a dad.
Several years later I visited him, his then-girlfriend and their beautiful blue-eyed baby girl in the hospital on the day she was born. He was beside himself. For years he posted pictures on Facebook of him and his little girl baking cupcakes, opening Christmas presents, fishing.
Last summer, Jay got married to a woman he seemed to love deeply. Within weeks, he was involved in a horrible accident. I was waiting to board a plane to visit my Dad when I heard Jay had already had several surgeries, needed more, had lost a leg below his knee, and had been put on a ventilator. No one knew if he would be able to pull through.
Around 2000, I started working with Antowyne. Once in a while I’d run into him in a bar, or when out with mutual friends. Antowyne was a good guy. He had a strong work ethic, he was funny, and he was a proud, dedicated father who seemed to love his family above all else.
When she was 25, Antowyne’s younger sister was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. At 33, her kidneys gave out and she died.
In August of 2011, Antowyne was diagnosed with the same condition that had taken his sister’s life.
Antowyne had an irregular heartbeat. His heart was enlarged – it was pumping harder, but producing less. He couldn’t lay flat, had trouble breathing, he feet swelled, his anxiety shot up. He eventually got an LVAD – from what I understand, a fanny pack device that went through his abdomen to his heart to keep the left ventricle open so he could get more oxygen. But it wasn’t enough.
In the spring of 2012, he and his wife welcomed Baby Number Eight to the family. A little more than a year later, they got the call they had needed so badly – there was a heart for Antowyne.
On the phone a few months ago, he said to me, “I’m blessed. A lot of people out there are in way worse situations than I am. I have never asked ‘why me.’ I believe God has a plan for me and that includes me being here with my kids. I’m just glad to be here.”
I am a Catholic – Easter weekend is a time to reflect on the death, and rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. It’s also traditionally a time to take in the spring, the renewal, the beauty, and the possibility in the world around us – a time to notice the miracles.
My father, Jay, Antowyne – they all could have been gone before Easter this year. All of their children – my sister, my brother and I – could be having a much different observance of the holiday.
Thankfully, we're not.
My Dad is home today. In fact, I just called him to check in, and to have the Easter conversation.
Jay is recovering, and recently got his first prosthetic leg.
A few months ago, Antowyne heard from his heart donor’s mother and he says that while she lost one son, she gained a second one – along with eight grandchildren.
So many miracles.