Sunday, 20 May 2012

Thursday Morning, 78 hours ago.

I am not sure where to start this; do I introduce myself, do I introduce my daughter Calista, or do I just jump into the raw, ongoing story about how a middle aged man is dealing with the loss of his only child. I apologise to the reader, but I will go with the immediate and fill in the blanks later. I need to cry into this paper and let all the sorrow out before it consumes me entirely. I am also not really capable of completely remembering my girl without crying uncontrollably.

Thursday morning, May 17th, I arrived at the office about 8:15 am, just as I did every other day of my veterinary career for the last 25 years.  My wife stayed at home, putting on her make-up, feeding the numerous fish in tanks spread throughout our home, and generally looking forward to what looked to be a beautiful, sunny day on the West Coast of BC. She was planning on cleaning one of her main 45 gallon tanks and was pulling out the gear for that as I left the house.  Once at the office I pretty much fell into my standard routine: jacket off, mail checked, clinic fish tank checked and fed, and surgical roster perused and planned. Everything was in order and it looked to be an easy, routine day.

At about 9am I was finishing up a minor surgical procedure; lancing and flushing a cat abscess, when my receptionist told me that an RCMP constable was on the phone with a personal call. Some humorous quip was made to the effect that I was in trouble now. On the phone the officer sounded to be young enough to be my son and he sounded a little hesitant. I needed to come

"Now". There is a word that has all sorts of meaning. It means that they cannot discuss anything over the phone. It means something truly horrific has happened and they don't want a madman driving haphazardly through downtown to his home. It leaves a man with all of the answers and none of the answers.  I knew but I didn't know as I slipped into my red Mustang and, with shaky hands and unsure vision, rolled into traffic.

The drive from my office to my home is 5 to 10 minutes on a good day. It seemed like much longer Thursday morning.  I had already started the "negotiation phase" of grieving (typical of me, I always jumped at least one step in everything).  I thought that maybe my wife had had a heart attack and they were telling me that she was critical. I knew that was likely false since the hospital was next to my veterinary clinic, so they would have told me to come there if that was the case.  I knew my daughter had been out at a bar-b-cue the night before; maybe there had been an accident and I had to get to Courtenay (her home away from home) to be at her bedside.  Maybe my house was burning down; I looked for a smoke plume and saw nothing.  In truth, I knew all along what was about to be told to me, I knew that of all the things I treasured in life, the only thing I could not bear to lose had been taken from me as I slept barely twenty miles away, planning for a routine day in a boring life. No telepathic prescient ability here: Police don't ask you to come home NOW without it being about life and death and I could account for everyone except Calista.

I pulled into the driveway, observing everything. My memory of those moments are so very clear right now. The RCMP cruiser sitting at the foot of my driveway, the soccer-mom burgundy mini-van parked behind it. Two vehicles, one clearly a civilian vehicle. I parked my car in the driveway, not bothering to take it into the garage. Whatever was going on I thought I would just clear it up and get back to work momentarily, because that is what I do: fix problems quickly.  Deep down I knew the lie of that even as I closed the car door.

I stepped to my front door and through the abyss. To my right was a young officer barely older than my daughter, to my front, down the hall was a young woman who looked upset and hesitant. Someone, somewhere else in the house, was wailing, crying uncontrollably. My mind preferred to pretend I did not know who it was, all the while noting the half-cleaned fish tank and the distinct absence of my wife from the picture. The officer looked me in the eye and asked me to sit down because he had some "really terrible news".  The message was given right there; no need for further details. My life as I knew it effectively ended with that one moment. The one reason I have for everything I do was gone and I am now left waiting, possibly for years, for the end. Waiting now with open arms, relishing the end of this pathetic existence.

I did not come sit down somewhere; I sat down there, right there on the floor. I kicked my shoes off (my wife hates a dirty house) and pulled my glasses off and I started heaving those deep, gulping breaths of a man who is drowning in pain and can't find the life jacket. The poor constable told me "I have some truly horrible news for you. I am so sorry (as everyone is right now; everyone is just so sorry.)"he continued "Last night your daughter went to a friend's house for a Bar-b-Que. The kids drank a few alcoholic beverages, played some Bocci Ball, ate some grilled fish and generally had a quiet, fun time. At 11 pm your daughter indicated she thought it was getting late and her host thought that she should not drive because it looked like she had a bit too much to drink. Your daughter agreed and followed her host to bed, complaining that she did not feel very well either.  A boy at the party noted how ill she was looking and was concerned enough to stay with her in the bedroom as she tried to sleep. At 1 am your daughter awoke, was nauseated, and asked the boy to search her purse for some Advil or something to settle her headache. After this they both appeared to fall asleep. The phone alarm sounded at 6:15 am, an early hour since they all had to be at school by 8 am, and the boy awoke and immediately noted that your daughter was unresponsive and appeared to be seizing. Everyone present was alerted, 911 was called immediately, and they all started frantically trying to revive Calista. At some point someone noticed her breathing was getting weak and eventually stopped, at which point CPR was started.  The ambulance arrived and the medics took over as they transported her to the hospital. Two shockable rhythms occurred during transport (what the hell a shockable rhythm means I am not sure, but it still translates to "nothing worked") to the hospital. The doctors tried everything, but I am so sorry Sir, your daughter could not be revived."

There you have it. That is the end of her life and my life as I know it.  I think it probably is word for word, though everything after that is pretty much a blur of misery. Everything in my life after this, as far as I am concerned, is just place holding.

That is all I have for just now. I will try to type faster, because there is just so much to this grieving business that nobody ever tells you.


  1. Bryce,

    I am a friend of George Slade. That is how I found your words.

    I imagine that there are no comments here yet because nobody can manage to put two words together after reading of your horrible tragedy and grief.

    I can barely put together two words myself through the tears, but I wanted you to know I had read this.

    I hear you.

    I'm so very sorry.

    My life would end too.

    Ren Doughty
    Marietta, Georgia

  2. My father died when I was 16 due to a plane crash. While I was 16, my sister was 13. I was given a credit card and basically told to be an adult, taking care of all of the errands while my mother grew my father's business. My sister went a bit wild. We all deal with grief in different ways. Most of the time, I remember the good things: his rabid golfing, his madras pink and aqua golf pants (he always said that a man was only really secure if he could wear pink), the time that someone mistook him for Tom Selleck in a Tx air port and asked for his autograph (his writing as as bad as mine, so it probably took years before they figured that out) and his propensity for quoting Blazing Saddles. But this year was the 20 year anniversary of his death....and less than a month later I found out that my husband of almost 9 years no longer wanted a wife. There is an ebb and flow of emotion. Give yourself permission to laugh when you want to laugh and cry when you need to cry. While most of us assume that we will outlive our parents, there is no expectation to outlive our children.

    I am sorry for your loss and confusion. Blogging will help Writing her letters will help. And realizing that people grieve in much different ways will also help. My biggest problem was when people asked how I was doing....or refused to mention planes, flying, golf, or my father....that really bothered me.

    email me with any concerns... I found this from VIN

    Kate Allison

  3. Bryce,

    I'm very very sorry. Take care of your wife right now and grieve together... not separately.

    Rich McAroy
    Hudson, NH