A grieving Dad

(Disclaimer: For confidentiality reasons I will refer to our son as Super Giant and our daughter as Twinkler. Names from the summer camp I volunteer at)

Everything happened fast. Our Foster Care license was approved at the end of November and days later we were introduced to a brother and sister needing a forever home. They had been living in separate homes for two years and were seeking to be placed in a home together, with the goal of being adopted. The hubs and I were thrilled. To say I was nervous is an understatement, so many thoughts ran through my head; “Will they like me?” “What are they like?” “Am I ready for this?” etc…

The moment they walked through the door all my fears melted away. Their smiles were beautiful, their eyes full of light their excitement was pure joy. We chatted with them and played with them, they didn’t know at the time that we were a potential home, but they took to us right away. We were giving piggy back rides, tossing balls back and forth, and laughing about nothing. Everything seemed right. And it was. Less than a week later, they moved in.

It was Christmas time, our house was decorated from top to bottom. They screamed with delight when they saw wreaths on their bedroom doors and stockings hung by the fireplace with their initials on them. Their rooms were filled with toys and books, they ran circles around the house for hours. We took them to pick out a Christmas tree, Super Giant and the hubs chopped it down, while Twinkler and I sipped hot cocoa and played with the farm animals. The following day we decorated the tree and made sugar cookies, seeing them with their little aprons on filled my heart. I felt incredibly blessed.

The excitement of the holidays made their transition into our home a breeze. Gifts arrived from all over the country, from family and friends that were just as excited for us. There was very little room in our living room Christmas morning, there were presents everywhere! Santa left a footprint by the fireplace and the look on Twinkler’s face was pure awe.

My mom called nearly every day to check in. After the first week of the kids arriving she called as said; “Hey babe, are you well rested?” followed by a belly laugh. I yawned and responded with; “I’ve never been this exhausted, now I understand what all the other parents were talking about.” She said, “Yeah, that will never go away, but you’ll do just fine, I’m so proud of you.” Thanks Mom!

She chatted with the kids over the phone and told them she couldn’t wait to meet them and was so happy to be their grandma. She and my dad were planning to come visit in February when the hype of the holidays calmed down.

New Years day came and went, the kids and the hubs were asleep before the ball dropped and I rang in the new year staring at my sleeping family, full of bliss.

Super Giant began a new school on January 3rd and was excited to ride the bus. I eagerly paced back and forth waiting for him to be dropped off from his first day at his new school. I was excited to hear about his day and what he thought of his teacher, the other students lunch and all the things. I was waiting by the front window when my brother called.

I answered in my usual greeting with my brother, “What up bro?” In a voice that only my brother understands. Through sobs all I could hear was “It’s mom, It’s mom.” My heart sank. Bus rounding the corner. “What? What is happening?” Bus flashing lights. He cried. “I don’t know she’s being rushed to the hospital, we’re almost there” Bus door opening. “It’s not good, it’s not good” he repeated. “Carbon Monoxide poisoning” he let out another sob. Front door opening. 

Super Giant hugged me and then saw the look on my face. I told him that I was so happy he had a good first day, but I was on a really important phone call and need him to take his sister up stairs, everything will be okay. This wasn’t happening. “Call Dad” was the next thing I heard from my brother.

I immediately called Dad. His panicked voice brought me to tears. This was happening. They had been out ice fishing that day in separate ice shacks. When the sun was starting to set, my dad was ready to go and he called out to mom. He didn’t get an answer. He called out again, still no answer. He opened the door to find her laying face down on the ice. He performed CPR and called out to the other anglers fishing that day. They called 911, helped get her to the ambulance and rushed her to the hospital. Her portable heater leaked carbon monoxide and was at 40% in her blood system. She was in a coma.

The world around me started to spiral. My knees buckled. I dry heaved for what seemed like hours. “Do I need to come home?” I asked my brother. He answered “Yes”. I booked the first flight I could and was on a plane within the hour. Every thought I had was “You’re going to pull through, mom, you have to, you have to.” “I just became a Dad, I can’t do this without you.” I landed in Detroit seven hours later. I still needed to take another plane to my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie and the next plane didn’t leave for seven more hours. I thought, “Fuck that I can drive there in five.” Everyone told me to wait for the plane as there was a blizzard blowing across the entire state of Michigan. I didn’t listen to them. It was my mama and I needed to get home.

I cancelled my next flight and rented a car. I hit the blizzard about two hours into my trip. Cars were sliding off the road, at some points I could barely see the car in front of me. The highway was down to one lane. I pushed on. It ended up taking me six hours to drive. My phone kept ringing, everyone was worried. I briefly checked in when I could. No changes with mom. I still had hope. We all did. She is a strong woman, she’ll pull through. She has to. 

Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see. Family greeted me with hugs and tears, I was safe, they were relieved. No change with mom. I walked into her hospital room and let out the deepest sob I have ever cried. I held her hand and rubbed it on my face. I screamed “No Mom, you have to wake up. Mom I need you, now more than ever. I love you so much. I need you. Mom, please wake up.”

Her organs were enlarged due to the trauma of the poison in her blood. Once her organs were back to normal they were to perform a test to determine whether or not she was brain dead. On the morning of January 5th they prepared for the test. We each took a moment alone with her before they performed the test.

I sang, “You are my sunshine” to her as I rubbed her hand on my face. I told her she needed to pull through this because she needed to meet my kids. She needed to see me be a dad. I needed her to give me parenting advice. I loved her for everything she ever did for me, for being the most amazing mom and for being my best friend.

The doctors allowed us to stay in the room as they performed the test. We turned on Lynard Skynard’s “Simple Man” as she sang this to me and my brother while we were growing up. It was her favorite song.

“I’m sorry, there’s no brain activity” the Doctor said. Again, the deep sob came from the bottom of my soul. I held my dad, I held my brother, I held my sister-in-law while the doctors told the rest of the family. We sobbed. She was gone.

The next few days were awful. Memorial arrangements, obituary, flowers, words of sympathy, pictures, songs, memories. I was a zombie. I cried, I sobbed. People kept telling me she was in a better place, that they knew how I felt, and if I needed anything to let them know. To be honest, I wanted to tell them to fuck right off. I know it came from a place of love, a place of sympathy. Their intentions were good.

Anger is a very intense and very real emotion of grief. I politely said thank you, that i appreciated it, while on the inside I was screaming. Her service was beautiful. People came from all over, the funeral home had to add six pages to the guest book. I received condolences from all over the world. Mom was loved by many. How could they not? She was a shining light to everyone that met her.

Reality sank in when I returned home. I was so happy to see my family. I got in late and the kids were asleep. I kissed their foreheads. I cried. My friends and chosen family came to help with the kids so I could sleep. They brought food, flowers and cleaned my house. I am thankful I have such a large support system. I don’t know how I could have carried on without them.

I’m a good actor, my kids would never know the pain I was feeling, they would never know I was depressed. For them, I needed to be their rock, their safety, their dad. My life was no longer about me, I couldn’t let moms death be the death of me. They deserved every ounce of love I could give. I had no choice but to get out of bed every morning. They are my saving grace. They kept me from spiraling out of control. I need them just as much as they need me.

Parenting through grief has proven to be the most challenging feat I have ever faced. I have to remind myself everyday that mom would want me to be the best possible dad I can be. That no matter where she is, she is proud of the dad I’ve become. I am thankful that I could love someone as deeply as I love her. I miss you mama, I hope you’re proud. I love you.


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