“Call me ASAP.”
It was an unusual text message from my friend Mike, a police sergeant.
When he answered my call, he was direct and to the point.
“We found your dad unresponsive,” Mike said. “He’s not breathing and has no heartbeat.”
I’ve made similar calls and they are not easy.
I hung up the phone and headed to the hospital.
As I drove, tears poured down my face when I realized both of my parents were gone.
I was flooded with emotions.
Then I found peace.
I realized how grateful I was that the loss of my father was very different my than my mother’s.
Nine years earlier my mother died unexpectedly a few days before my son was born.
That was a very different experience and it is the reason I am writing to you now.
Nine years earlier, another friend pulled up to my house in a police car and I met him in my driveway.
He could not form the words so he pointed to the car’s computer screen.
“11-44 – Deborah Rylant”
It took me a moment to process.
I had not spoken to my mother for many years.
The last time I saw her alive was in a jail cell at 3:00 AM.
She did not see me that morning.
By pure chance, I was the on call detective when the patrol officers called me to investigate another homicide.
The call was routine and just another annoying night of interrupted sleep.
I stumbled into the police station, half asleep, looking for someone to brief me on my case.
When I walked down the hall towards my office, I heard my mother’s voice – a voice I had not heard in years.
I peeked around the corner and saw my mother standing behind the heavy iron bars of the jail cell door.
I was shocked. I could not imagine what was happening.
The officer talking to her walked around the corner to explain.
“I’m sorry Chuck,” He said. “We all know not to call you about her.”
My mother had been in and out of mental hospitals my entire life. She had been diagnosed with every label the shrinks use to pretend they know what’s going on inside her head.
After 16 years of struggling with my mother’s illness, I cut her off and left home as a teenager.
I felt helpless, as do most people dealing with a family member with mental illness.
I often struggle with guilt for abandoning my mother, but I did not know what else to do.
I rationalized that cutting her off was like removing a cancerous limb to save my entire body.
My mother was an incredibly loving woman, but when she refused her medications she was a different person.
On the night she was locked in that small jail cell, she was driving down the wrong side of the busiest road in town.
She was driving head on with oncoming traffic and blew through a red light at 50 MPH, almost hitting the police officer that arrested her.
He got into a dangerous car chase with her until she eventually crashed – fortunately no one was hurt.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she calmly told the officer when he approached. “Did you see the aliens too?”
It was by pure chance that she was being held for a mental health evaluation the same night I was called in for an unrelated murder.
I did not talk to her that night. I wish I had, but I did not know what to say.
The last time I saw her alive was when Mental Health took her that morning.
When she died a few years later, I was struck with overwhelming guilt.
I’m not sure what I should have done differently. There are no right answers, but in hindsight, I would have done more to maintain some sort of a relationship.
My father and I did not have a relationship back then either, but at my mother’s funeral we resolved some issues.
We began building a new relationship around my son – his only grandson.
After my mother died, he changed significantly and had become a significant part of our life.
The day I got the call about my father, I was devastated.
But as I drove to the hospital I focused on how grateful I was that we had been able to build a new relationship – a chance I never got with my mother.
By the time I got to the hospital, I had accepted his death and found peace with it.
When I walked up to the emergency room’s back door, I found that Mike, the police sergeant who called me, was waiting for me.
“I just spoke to your dad,” Mike said. “He’s doing fine.”
“He’s alive?” I asked confused.
I was shocked.
The officer on scene, Andy Brice, had performed CPR and brought my father back to life.
I’ve found hundreds of dead people throughout my career and never saw a single person come back to life from CPR.
But that was not my Dad’s day to go. Today he feels healthier than ever.
My dad will be spending Christmas with us which is the reason I’m sharing this note with you today.
If you have any unresolved issues with someone you love, I beg you to attempt some sort of resolution.
It will probably remain a strained relationship, but please make the effort.
Every time you have a fight with someone, ask yourself if you will be at peace if that is the last time you ever speak to them again.
If not, make it right today.
photo: I took this in Lompoc, California