When my mother died in 2005, neither my siblings nor I thought my dad would last for long. To our surprise, he slowly reorganized his daily habits and moved forward with a steady, slow-paced life. Eight months after the funeral his furnace spat black smoke throughout every room in his house, destroying most of the interior and its contents. Again, he forged on and with minimal hesitancy handed the project of redoing the house to my sister and me. We convinced him to knock down major walls, pull up old carpets, update his windows and doors, and redesign the kitchen, creating an open, light-filled living space. The project took over six months and in hindsight eerily paralleled my dad’s own process of rebuilding his life.
On most Saturday mornings I would call him from the sanctuary of my car, before I moved on with the rest of my day. It was our time together, unimpeded by the outside world or the humdrum of Saturday errands. In the summer my windows would be open, in the winter the heat would blast, and we would talk on about politics, sports, his walking routine, my siblings, and his grandchildren. Whether it was the impetus of the summer sun trickling moisture down my back or the soft beat of the rain on my windshield reminding me it was time to start moving, each Saturday visit with my dad would eventually end with a cell phone goodbye. I would always tell him that I loved him, followed by his uttering “OK.”
On December 5, 2009, my cell phone chatter with him was filled with talk of the Patriots, Tom Brady, and the recent hockey game where he had seen his grandson play. As we ended, he spoke of his brother’s visit to Rhode Island and suggested that both he and his brother were “showing their age.” I asked him to consider that, when he was ready, he should think about living with me. As I spoke my usual ending salutation, his “OK” was replaced with “I love you too.”
At some point in the next 12 hours, my dad had a massive intra-cerebral hemorrhage, commonly called a stroke. He lost all ability to speak, process information, and move on his right side. Blood vessels in his brain burst and spilled into his surrounding left-brain tissue, damaging cells and creating a large dead area. In addition, brain cells beyond the leak were deprived of blood and were also damaged. He died barely two weeks later, just before midnight on December 21st.
The odds a person 75-84 will have a stroke are 1 in 6.06, almost identical to the odds a man will attend an MLB game in a year and more likely than my being diagnosed with breast cancer. But what are the odds that the last words you will utter to someone are “I love you too”? On February 14, 2010, stay home and create a new odds statement: make the odds your loved one will hear “I love you too” before their head touches the pillow 1 in 1.