December 2008

It’s a Sunday evening, eight days after my dad’s open heart surgery. I can feel my body start to shiver as I try to swallow back the tears. Is this really my life? In a few months I am supposed to graduate from college. The hardest decision I should be thinking about is where I am going after graduation. Spain? Ireland? Maybe that little island off the coast of…

“Yeahhh, No,” I said. “I’m not doing this.”

“Alaina, please work with me here,” Mom pleaded.

“No, I refuse to talk about this anymore,” I said, turning my back to her.

“Fine,” she said. I could tell she was trying to hide the hurt in her voice.

I just don’t know how she expects me to respond. But her words still echo in my ears from five minutes before.

“The doctors said your dad doesn’t have much time. Should we have them take the trache out or leave it in?”

Why does it matter if the doctors take out the trache or leave it in? He is still going to die. Nothing or no one can fix that. Leaving it in just prolongs the inevitable, while taking it out just speeds up the process. My weekends for months had consisted of driving 3 ½ hours from Hofstra University in Long Island to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to donate my platelets. My dad had a rare blood disease, and I was a match. I can fix him. I will fix him. And for a brief time, I did.

I turn back around. “Let’s leave it in. I heard on a Discovery Health Channel show that it’s painful when taken out.” And there it was: my attempt to somehow regain some control. Mom agrees, and I think I saw a long line form on her forehead.

I wake Monday morning at my parent’s house with a lump in my belly the size of the TI-89 graphing calculator I use in engineering school. The phone rings, and it’s Mom telling me to come quick, there is not much time. It’s a radiant yet raw December day. Three days before Christmas. I drive five miles to the ICU in an auto-pilot trance. The hospital is buzzing with nurses in the Christmas spirit. Exchanging cookies and Secret Santa gifts. If only Santa Claus were real, he could cure my dad. And then my brain lights up like a Christmas tree. I know what I have to do.

“I want to be alone with him,” I say as I signal for Mom, my aunt, and our pastor to leave the hospital room. I am wearing my clothes from the day before: a green thermal long-sleeve shirt, jeans, and a Puma cap slicked over my un-washed hair. I am left alone with the intermittent humming of the respirator pumping oxygen into his pneumonia-filled lungs. I take a deep breath and pause. My head gets fuzzy as the scent of antiseptics nips my nostrils. My eyes gloss over.

“I’m sorry for being so selfish. I can’t pray for you to hang on anymore. If you feel you need to go to God then I will understand.” I feel my knees buckle under my weight. “I will finish college and take care of Mom. We all just love you too much to see you this way.”

He makes a half head nod as his way of showing me he is conscious. I take a deep breath as I feel the cascade of tears escape my eyelids. I sob as I call for Mom to return. We each clutch one of his cold hands, blood embedded under his nail beds, each feeling his frail and frigid fingers between ours.

Moments later the doctor walks in. “Have you come to a decision about the trache?”

“Yes,” we say together, but right then my dad’s heart begins to slow. Markedly. He’s beginning to flat line. Mom and I stare at each other as droplets dash down our already damp cheeks.

Three and a half minutes later he is gone.

We stand in stinging shock. Was it because of my words? Was it because it was just his time to go?

Or was it because it was his decision all along?

Alaina is a mom, wife, and senior biomedical engineering specialist who in her spare time loves to write. This is an excerpt from her first memoir which follows her journey through the death of her father, birthright trip to Israel, and the year that followed. She is currently looking for publishing companies to send her manuscript. If interested in her writing please email [email protected].

Originally published at