For those who only know me from the interwebs and only care about either freelancing or web development, indulge me today. If you’d rather not read a personal story, feel free to move along. The next post will be on message, I promise. You can delete the e-mail now. No hard feelings.
15 years ago is etched into my memory. Exact times, voices, feelings will be forever present in my memory in a second’s thought. 15 years, when I was 12 years old, my father passed away. The tl;dr version is that he had a medical condition that slowly took him away from us, although at the time, I hadn’t the slightest clue it could take his life. I still struggle with the memories of the days before his death; what would be the last interactions I had with him. Those moments are truly the most regretful moments of my short life.
I don’t recall September 18th. He was in the hospital, which was no longer out of the ordinary. We had to take him to the emergency room on a somewhat regular basis. He’d spend 24, 36 or so hours in the hospital and we’d continue on again. Dad just needed a refill of blood again. No biggie.
September 19th, my mom woke me up around 1:30 a.m. The hospital had called at 1:24 a.m. We needed to get there. My mom was a wreck. She called my grandfather and siblings. Her nerves wouldn’t allow her to drive; my grandfather was coming to take us.
1:52 a.m. The phone rang again. We had only one phone; it looked more like a desk phone that belonged in an office than something on the “window sill” between the kitchen and living room. Mom answered it. Moments later, she slammed the phone on the table. She ran into the dining room, throwing herself to the ground and letting out a cry I’ve never heard in real life before or since. I picked up the phone—still off the hook—and spoke: “Yes?”
“Mr. Kraft has passed away.”
I said thank you to the nurse as I heard the call waiting click. What else would you say? My arms and legs went numb. My stomach dropped. Time to call my siblings. Time to find Mom.
At 1:48 a.m., everything in my world had changed.
I’m not sure how without coffee I managed to be awake for the next 24 hours, after only getting at most three hours of sleep before getting the call, but nevertheless, between the hospital, the funeral home, school (dropping off a paper I printed for a friend without a printer at home), random errands, and my sister’s house, it wasn’t until the morning hours of September 20th I was able to rest.
After all these years, I remember the conversations taking place as the family discussed the details of the obituary. I remember exactly where in the “casket showroom” was the one that I thought would be best and suggesting it to my mom. I remember finding an unused office in the funeral home with a phone. I would just call “the weather line”— 940-692-9999 for those who are curious what the temperature is in Wichita Falls at the moment—over and over again.
No one close to me had died before. My paternal grandmother had died years before, but I had only met her once and didn’t go to the funeral. There should be a manual of things to know if your first experience with death is with someone so close. Little things like the casket isn’t opened at the church. Folks were telling me to say goodbye at the funeral home, but I didn’t get it.
The Mass—my first Mass as far as I’m aware—had two moments that left a mark on me. It was held in the Parish Hall since the church itself was under renovation. They had placed some movable stairs at the front up to the stage, where the altar was located. The pallbearers placed the casket too close to the stairs so Fr. Koch had to slightly push the casket out of the way. Secondly, I remember the Our Father. I don’t know if I had ever paid attention to it being recite en masse before and the “s’es” stood out (“forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us”).
The 21-gun salute. The flag being presented to my mom.
The one positive highlight, if you will, was from showing around my aunts and uncles. My dad was the oldest of ten surviving kids and seven of them (if I recall correctly) were able to come down, mostly from South Dakota, for the funeral. They didn’t know what my dad did for the Air Force (after retirement, as a civilian, communications instructor), but they were curious. Just imagine this scene. Two black Suburbans completely full pull up to the gate of the Air Force Base. Little 12-year old Kraft in the first car’s passenger seat. When we stop at the sentry, I reach over to hand them my military ID. I explain that we’re going to head on base to visit my now-deceased father’s shop (“the shop” is what he called his office) and I was going to escort the occupants of this vehicle and the one behind us—his brothers and sisters—for the tour.
The sentry paused. Asked me if I knew where I was going. “Yes, sir.” I told them the building number. Were we expected? No, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be an issue.
After a second, he waved us through. My uncle (and Godfather) who was driving was impressed.
I digress. Last year’s post, specifically “Knowing exactly the pain of having a father you know and love taken away from you irrevocably far before you’re even mindful of the possibility, my greatest fear for Olivia, Catalina and our future family additions (should God so choose to bless us with more)[Eds. Note: #3 is due in less than a month.], is for them to experience that pain themselves.” still applies. This year, though, realizing that 15 years has passed and how crystal those moments still are is what has struck me.
Sadly, they are clearer to me than memories of him alive.