Today's a special day in my life: it's my birthday! But it's also a significant one for more than that reason.
It's the first birthday I'll be celebrating without my dad here to share it with me.
On Wednesday this week, early in the morning, my dad passed away peacefully in his sleep with my mom and I with him in his hospital room when he went, which was exactly what he had said he wanted.
My dad was in a coma from Monday afternoon until the time that he passed in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The last words I heard my dad speak to me were when I was leaving the hospital on Sunday evening and he gave me a kiss, thanked me for coming and being with him there, and then told me that he loved me. I'll remember that forever.
When I got back to the hospital on Tuesday morning, it was the first time I walked into the room and my dad's eyes didn't open and he didn't greet me. It hit me like a ton of bricks that this was something different than every other time I'd come to see him, even on his really bad days. My mom then shared with me that the doctor had just been in and said that he believed my dad would pass within the next day, possibly before then.
As much as I've known this was coming, and tried to prepare for it, nothing prepares you for the moment when you face having to say good bye to one of the people who raised you, who taught you how to be the person you are today, who made sure you were taken care of in more ways than just food and shelter.
I called MG and he immediately came over from work and my mom's best friend came by as well while my mom went home for a bit to shower since she'd been there for 2 days straight. It was nice to have people there so that I wasn't dealing with this alone.
Later in the day MG went home to take care of Cooper and to get me things to stay over night at the hospital, and my mom's best friend left, too, while one of my best friends was on her way to be with me.
It was just me and my dad for a while and I was able to hold his hand, and tell him how much I love him, how thankful I was for everything he had ever done for me and taught me, and how much he had loved me. I told him what a great dad he'd always been.
Once the nurses came in and moved him, he would groan from time to time, so I would just rub his arm, tell him that I was there, that it was going to be ok, and that I loved him. It seemed to help.
My friend got to the hospital and I was so thankful that she was there. She's known my dad since middle school and it was nice to have my friend to lean on.
When my mom got back, she told me she'd gone through my dad's lockbox where he'd kept important papers, looking for some papers that she needed, and saw that in there my dad had three letters: one from his sister from the 90s who has since passed, one from my mom on their 21st wedding anniversary, and one that I had written him when I was graduating from college.
We sat there and read the letters out loud to him (well, my mom read mine because I immediately broke down when I tried to) and it was so special. My letter said everything that I wanted to say to my dad and made me realize, even more, just how lucky I am to have had such a great dad who gave me so many things to thank him for and be grateful for, for all of these years. I'm so glad that he knew how much he means to me.
Not only that, but it obviously meant so much to him that he kept this for more than 10 years since I'd given it to him. It made it that much more special for me that it meant so much to him.
MG got back to the hospital with my things for the night, my friend Crystal left after a bit, and so did MG after staying there for a couple more hours. And then it was just me, my mom and my dad.
When I got ready for bed, I said good night to my dad and I said a silent prayer that my aunt (his sister), his parents, and all of our family members who have passed would make sure that he wasn't scared, and show him the way. And at a little after 2 in the morning, I think they were all there to meet him and do just that.
My dad now doesn't have to worry about his heart not working. It's fixed. And my dad doesn't have to worry about feeling weak and trying to get stronger. He's strong again.
And most of all, my dad will never wonder whether or not he was loved. Because he was loved beyond measure, and will continue to be loved for the rest of my days.
So even though it's been a really hard, incredibly sad, and heartbreaking week, today on my birthday I can be thankful that I had such an amazing man in my life to show me what it is to be loved and cared for, among countless other things. I couldn't have asked for a better gift or a better dad. And I feel just a tiny bit better knowing my dad is always going to be watching over me, just like he did when he was here on Earth. That's one birthday gift that I'll treasure for a lifetime.