West Bend Daily News – Family Article
Finding Hope After My Father’s Unexpected Death
By Joshua M. Miller Tuesday, April 4, 2017 Page A7 Opinion
It’s almost a year since I lost my father unexpectedly. It’s been a struggle moving on but I’ve found hope, love and unexpected journeys since then.
April 3, 2016 is a day I’ll fondly remember. My family celebrated the baptism of my youngest niece. It was also my last meaningful memory with my father. We gathered at my brother’s house after the baptism, enjoying a delicious catered meal and conversation. The following morning, my father and mother said their goodbyes and gave hugs, before setting off from Wisconsin for their trip in California. I stayed home to hold down the fort and watch our wired-haired terrier Chico. My parents were going to be gone for a couple of weeks.
About a week later, I got a call from my mother. Considering she had been texting me previously, I knew there was something urgent. But the news she gave was a total shock. The previous evening, a vehicle had struck my father while he was crossing a street and he was now at the hospital in an intensive care trauma unit. He had a broken pelvis, among other things, and was in intense pain. My mom, who was following him across the street, said he flew into the air on impact and landed fifty feet away.
I was an emotional mess upon hanging up the phone. It felt like a horrible dream, too unreal to be happening in my life. While I’m used to being by myself, this news made me feel alone and helpless on another level. They were thousands of miles away and I could only wait to get updates on my father’s condition. Fortunately, I had next-door neighbors and family and friends that rushed to comfort me and offer supportive words. I also got support in unexpected places through my role as a freelance writer. When I interviewed Brooklyn-based soul and R&B singer Charles Bradley, he offered me many words of support and told me to be there for my mother.
The uncertainty if my father would get through this was stressful for me, and, besides the one interview, I couldn’t really concentrate on much. Eventually the staff at the hospital was able to stabilize my father enough for surgery on his broken pelvis. The surgery was a success, although my father was still in a lot of pain. Because of this he opted not to talk to family on the phone. But I was able to relay “I love you” to him through my mother. We expected him to recover, albeit with a long rehabilitation.
But on April 18, I got the call that no one wants to hear. When I answered the phone, my mother said, “You’ll want to sit down for what I have to say.” She told me my father had died. His heart couldn’t take the trauma from the accident and gave way. I was numb with grief and anger. There have been deaths in my family, but nothing as unexpected as this. It was one of the worst days of my life. Waiting for my mother to get back home was also a gut-wrenching experience. I spent a lot of time praying she would get back. When she did arrive home, I was relived and overjoyed.
The memorial service a week later, while a fitting tribute to him, was also tough for me. The service featured the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings.” I somehow managed to keep it together, most likely because I was with family and friends who were also trying to process this unexpected loss.
A few weeks after the memorial service, my mother and I were invited up north to see extended family on my father’s side. I pushed back an interview I had scheduled as I realized it’s important to take advantage of as many opportunities as you can get with those you care about, as life can be so uncertain. Birthdays and holidays the past year have been tough without my father. It often feels like my life is off balance. But I’m deeply thankful for the family I still have.
Looking back at the past year, I feel my mother helped me the most with moving on. While we already had a pretty strong relationship before, our relationship is even stronger now. She’s the strongest person I know. I was looking forward to many more years of sharing interests and making memories with my father, but my mother said were on Plan B now, and had to adjust our plans.
My mom and I have had adventures the past year that included music concerts, trips around Wisconsin, and a vacation out to Colorado and Utah. The latter was planned partially to spread my father’s ashes at a couple national parks my father loved to visit. I think that process help further our healing process. Looking back at my trip photos, I probably took more photos of my mother than I usually have on past trips. It felt odd at first with it just being the two of us but I enjoyed spending time with my mother.
I will always be thankful for everything my father has given me. He was county park ranger for over 30 years, and living in the park gave me curiosity about life. He drove my family many miles through the U.S. and Canada on vacations and we went on all kinds of hikes in all kinds of natural environments. He was very faithful to his family. We had a similar interest in music and going to concerts. In 2000, in addition to taking us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he gave me some yellow legal lined sheets filled with bands he wanted me to listen to. It got me curious about a variety of types of music and is one of the reasons I love to interview musicians and go to concerts.
This February I experienced the healing power of family again, although in a more peaceful way, when my 93-year-old grandfather (my mother’s father) died. It hurts to have to close a chapter in my life, no matter how expected or unexpected the loss of a loved one is, but being there for family has helped keep steer me ahead.
While 2016 and 2017 have been turbulent years for this country, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be thankful for those you love and care about. The loss of my father and grandfather in the past year has shown me how important family is and how supportive family and friends can be in times of loss and hurt. I hope I’m the best son, brother, uncle, and grandson I can be.