Blood Brothers

Trying to match the old man since day 1 apparently

A year ago today, I lost my dad.

They let us into the hospital to see him so long as we “followed CDC guidelines” on the pandemic, which is to say doing what is now common and everyday. I’m acutely aware that many others suffering losses of their own during this time didn’t get the same privilege of access. I don’t fully understand why there was an exception for my family but I am grateful for it.

Security gave me along with the others a green wrist band, the paper kind like you’d get at a concert, to control admissions during the early days of the virus I suppose though maybe this is more common. I don’t visit hospitals often. On it the security guard scribbled “4/29” in red ink. From there we went on to his room in the neurological wing high up in the VCU building.

So yeah, it wasn’t covid. In fact, part of the reason it was apparently okay for us to go up during that early time of lockdown might have been to do with the fact that covid wasn’t particularly the biggest problem facing these patients, at least ours. The morning before, my dad had started a workout with my mom as they very frequently would: probably being slightly obnoxious with a slight grin on his face about how important it was to keep doing it. One side of his body abruptly went alarmingly slack and with a small “oh” he slumped to the ground.

He was taken first to one hospital then another, ending up in the VCU’s care an hour’s drive south. The immense swelling of his brain from the blood clot inside reflected the rapid death of cells conveying the instructions for repeated operation of the body’s anatomy: the instructions for continued life. A operation would have been too risky at this point, and the only option left beside a wait-and-see with progressively worst prognoses was a drug that would try to attack the blood clot culprit itself at the significant risk of hemorrhaging. There were no good options, and as it turned out in the end, no good outcomes either.

It was the worst day of my life by far. I refused to take off the wristband from security in a sort of solemn, maybe masochistic sense of remembrance. Eventually I realized that obviously this would get gross, so to replace it I got a green bracelet engraved with “4/29” which I wear to this day and, I intend, will continue to wear for the rest of my own life.

I’m not sure I would characterize my relationship with my dad as especially close, but that was not for lack of trying on his part. It was mostly for reasons of my inevitable, innate introverted nature exacerbated by my persistence in returning to the Seattle area of Washington after the Marines. He himself was ever warm and friendly and loving. He apparently always looked forward to traveling out here for work (there’s a major army base nearby) to meet up.

A colonel at the time of his passing, he was approaching retirement (and simultaneously his 60th birthday) awkwardly off-phase with the three-year rhythmic cycle of army assignments. To fill the one year gap left, he was given a post at the DIA where not only did he not treat it like some slack-off, cushy final billet as probably most of us would, he apparently made a strong impression on people pretty high up in the Department of Defense on his way out.

I never fully appreciated how cool my dad was in that sense. He was just the guy who would smile wide and bear hug me when he first saw me coming home on holiday.

Those two intertwining aspects of him and his personality both inspire me and challenge me moving forward. (Not “moving on.” Never “moving on.”) He carried with him a deep-seated work ethic and professionalism that was oriented around people and doing right by them. I know I struggle with both, especially doing right by people around me. But I have his example as a guiding light, a standard candle in the night.

Less than a year before his death, he as well as my mom and youngest sister and brother flew out to attend my graduation from the University of Washington, most memorably the Astronomy-specific event with all of its nerdy, Star Wars-themed glorious indulgence.

After that small ceremony, we toured the department, stopping for a moment at one particular poster. It was a picture of a 2D slice taken from cosmological surveys of the universe, highlighting how because of the speed of light distance essentially equals time; the further out we look, the further back in time we look all the way back to what is thought off as the snapshot of the Big Bang, the cosmological microwave background or CMB.

It was a lot to take in. Dad was very religious, and I’m not sure how much he believed in the Big Bang. He stood there trying to process the poster, and I tried to explain it to him, rather weakly. He wanted to understand, if only I could successfully fill in the gaps. I wanted him to understand this crucial cosmological cornerstone of what I’m so passionate about. There will be no more chances to make it happen. What’s left is to work to spread that information to others, and do a better job of helping them understand at least. I don’t know how much I’ll get a chance to do so at this point, but I’ll take what opportunities I have. Whatever my life is at this point, I want to also orient it around people with the main skills I have, writing and knowledge, with the time I have left.

We only have so much time. Don’t waste it. It’s been said a thousand times, but we still ignore it. Live life, love your family and close ones, treat well those around you, and do as much with what talents and skills you are given for the betterment of others.

I miss my dad so much.

One of my favorite songs from my favorite band was written by the founder, leader, and bassist Steve Harris after he suffered a similar event in his own life. In a band known for epic fantasy, tense horror stories, and high-flying historical tales, it may be the only truly autobiographical song they’ve ever done. It’s musically beautiful, known to at times cause legions of metalheads to sway together arm-in-arm singing along, but its lyrics hit home hard for me especially after this last year.

Now if you’re taking a walk through the garden of life

What do you think you’d expect you will see?

Just like a mirror reflecting the moves of your life

And in the river, reflections of me

Just for a second a glimpse of my father I see

And in a movement he beckons to me

But in a moment the memories are all that remain

And all the wounds are reopening again

(…)

There are times when I feel afraid for the world

And at times I’m ashamed of us all

When you’re floating on all the emotions you feel

And reflecting the good and the bad

Will we ever know what the answer to life really is?

Can you really tell me what life is?

Maybe all the things that you know that are precious to you

can be slipped away by fate’s own hand?

We’re blood brothers. We’re blood brothers.

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This effort has evolved to primarily be for clearly communicating technical subject matter to the public: largely my two passions astrophysics and space travel.

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Christopher Sharp

This effort has evolved to primarily be for clearly communicating technical subject matter to the public: largely my two passions astrophysics and space travel.