Today is the five-year anniversary of the day my dad dropped dead.
Well that's not what actually happened. He really died at a hospital after collapsing at work. He died in an emergency room before anyone in his family even knew he was in trouble. So for us, who had no chance to say goodbye, he was there one instant and gone the next. For us, he simply dropped dead. A month before his 57th birthday.
I'd last seen Dad a couple of weeks earlier. He'd dropped me off at the airport as I was flying to Chicago for work. For us, things were still a little strange. I'd only moved home, after living all over for 15 years, just a few weeks before. We'd not really had a chance to get to know each other since I'd become an adult. Oh, our relationship was good, not strained at all, we just didn't know each other as well as we could have. All that was going to change, though. I'd moved back to Indiana and we were going to hang out a lot. I think were both a little excited, and maybe a little nervous, about the change that was about to take place in our relationship.
The last words I said to my dad were when I told him that my sister would pick me up at the airport when I returned from Chicago. The last time I saw him alive was when he drove away from the airport curb in his Monte Carlo.
A couple of weeks went by and I was again traveling on business, this time to Baltimore. I left on a Monday and when I returned that Thursday night my sister Dina was waiting at my house with her family. I knew something was wrong, and she told me the news. The words that should have been burned into my brain forever were lost almost immediately.
Dad fainted blah blah broken nose blah blah ambulance blah heart stopped blah emergency room blah tried to revive blah blah died.
Dad was dead. My uncle had gone to the hospital, expecting to give Dad a hard time about breaking his nose in a fall at work, only to arrive and be told that his older brother had died. Uncle Wayne had then driven to my grandmother's house and had somehow managed to tell his mother that she'd lost a son. He then called my sister Dina and broke the news to her. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard that must have been for him. Dina let my other sister Neisha know then drove to my house to await my return from Baltimore.
My sisters and I became orphans five years ago today. We'd lost our mother ten years earlier, after a long hospital stay. Back then, we'd had time to prepare for the worst, even though I don't think any of us really believed it would happen.
When Mom died, it was as if a dull ache inside us had suddenly solidified, become a tangible thing that we could at least get a grip on and even push aside somewhat. When Dad died it was like a stake through the heart. The shock, at least for me, completely overwhelmed the grief. In a way, it still does, and I'm oddly grateful for that. After my mom's funeral I went back to my home in Omaha and went on with my life. A sadder life, of course, but less sad because my physical separation from my family aided in my mental separation from what had happened.
After my dad's death there was, and could be, no separation. My sisters I and went to the apartment the next day to clean out Dad's things. We met with the funeral director to discuss arrangements. We went to Dad's house in the country, the house that my sisters had never had a chance to see, to collect what we could. To keep busy. To keep from having to stop and think.
For the last five years our lives have gone on. I bought a house, partially with the money from my dad's life insurance. My sister had another baby. She got divorced. My other sister has developed this obsession with Renaissance Faires. We've all gone on because we've had to. We've had to play the hand that we were dealt. Folding is not an option.
The rest of the world has gone on as well. The Internet bubble has burst, but not before creating an awful lot of new millionaires. The passing into the year 2000 ended up being more of a media event than the disaster many were predicting. We elected (sort of) a new President. And the United States, perhaps even the world, became a much scarier place when that second plane struck the World Trade Center.
Every now and then, not as often as before but still more often than I'd like, I'm struck by the absurdity and unfairness of it all. Dad worked jobs he hated for his whole life so his family would be taken care of. He lost his wife when he was forty-six. He bought a little house in the country, made it livable, and eagerly awaited an early retirement. He never got that retirement. That time to simply relax and enjoy the fruits of his lifetime of labor. What he got was a new suit and a place in the ground next to my mother.
On my bad days I cannot stop wondering (boy do I wish I could) what Dad's last minutes were like. Did he know what was happening? Was he in pain? Was he scared? I'll never know the answer to those questions, and it bothers me more than words can say. Was he there for us our whole lives and then, when he needed us the most, we couldn't be there because it all happened too fast?
We may not have been able to be there for Dad, but we did our very best to be there for each other. As hard as the loss was, it may well have been impossible for any of us had we been unable to call on our family and friends to share the burden of the shock and grief.
My father was David Martin Siltz. He was born on December 17th, 1941 (Ten days after Pearl Harbor) and died on November 12th, 1998. He was 56 years old.
He grew up in Southern Indiana with his parents, Stanley and Dorothy Siltz, and his brothers Wayne and Stanley.
He married Launa Harmon when he was 21. He and his wife had three children; David, Dina, and Neisha. They in turn gave him between four and seven grandchildren, depending on how you count them.
For several years he built fences for a living. After that he delivered propane gas. Then he turned to factory work, making, among other things, little rubber things shaped like french fries that were used by other factories to make things like tires. He worked hard both at home and away. There was never much money but there was always enough.
He pulled his son and daughter out of bed to watch the first man walk on the Moon, though he knew they were probably too young to remember it.
When his oldest children were little they'd often ask him to draw for them. His favorite things to draw were Chevrolet Impalas. He always drew a checkered flag and a trophy off to the side, and money floating around, and it made his son laugh.
He lost his beloved wife on January 16th, 1988. Just 13 days before their 25th wedding anniversary. He remarried once, a couple of years afterwards, but was soon divorced and single again.
He spent his last years in a little apartment in New Albany. "Just a place to sleep," he'd always say. His real home was the little camper, and later the little house, in the country that he'd escape to whenever his work schedule allowed it.
He loved cars, and could identify all the old cars after the slightest glance. He bought a Corvette and a Monte Carlo SS and withstood the accusations of "mid-life crisis" from his family. He even joined a car club and helped judge entries at their shows.
He could spot a four leaf clover "while driving down the road" as his brother Stan joked.
He was very good at pitching horseshoes. He'd learned from his father.
He liked to play pool with his friends, and put a pool table in his country house - the first time he'd had enough room for one in nearly thirty years.
He liked Benny Hill and James Bond and the old spaghetti westerns.
He was a big fan of Anne Murray.
All of his radios were tuned to the oldies station.
He would read voraciously, usually science fiction novels, and in his locker at work on his last day he had a half-finished book that his son had loaned to him. That book was buried with him.
He would work a crossword puzzle every morning after a night shift, and carry a book of them to work and fill them in throughout the long shifts.
He could walk into a bar that he hadn't visited in years and always be greeted by name by someone there who knew him and was glad to see him. He had friends everywhere.
His favorite beer was Falls City, and it bothered him so much when that beer's recipe changed that he switched brands until it was changed back.
He had all the state capitals memorized.
He was a fan of all types of auto racing, and would often tape races to watch on his days off work.
On his last day he took some cash from the bank. He was scheduled to be off the next several days and was planning to go to his house in the country. That money instead went to pay for the clothes he wore to his funeral.
Throughout his entire life people would constantly misspell his last name. When he died, some newspapers misspelled his name in his obituary.
At his funeral, a friend from work put a book of crossword puzzles and a pencil in his casket. They were buried with him.
His favorite song was the theme from the movie "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." It was played at his funeral.
Everyone has a father, and most people lose theirs at some point. I'm not going to say that my dad was any better than anyone else's. He was better than many, certainly. He yelled but was never cruel. He punished but was never abusive. He played a very big part in making me the person I am today. I have the same sense of humor, the same love of science fiction, the same fascination with the future and outer space. My love of pool started with the table we had in our basement when I was a child.
So much of what makes me who I am came from him.
My father was David Martin Siltz. He died five years ago today.