One year ago, not to the date, but to this day–the Thursday evening before MLK Jr Weekend, I was finishing up some work in my home office–much as I am right now. Next door, Micah and his girlfriend were laughing, giggling and taking turns singing parts of their audition pieces for their regional choir auditions.
I rose from my desk, grabbed my laptop bag from my bedroom, and made my way towards the stairs. On my way past Micah’s room, I popped my head in and asked if everything was going okay. He smiled at me and said, “Yeah, we’re fine Dad.” I said, “Love you Micah, see you at hockey practice. I should be there about mid-way through practice tonight.” He responded, “Okay.”
Okay. That was the last word I ever heard my son say.
Instead of meeting him at the rink, I had to meet him at the Gilbert Mercy Hospital Emergency Department, but he was not conscious to know this. Instead of watching him stop pucks in practice, I watched as a team of doctors and nurses tried to restart his heart. Instead of a short night’s sleep before helping out with the hockey tournament “tomorrow” morning, I was rushing to meet the helicopter carrying Micah to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Instead of spending that Friday helping run a hockey tournament, I sat at Micah’s bedside in the ICU, holding his hand, watching the rest of his life run past me–past us–all of us. At 10:14pm that Friday night, instead of telling Micah this was his last game of Call of Duty for the night so he could be ready to play hockey on Saturday morning, I was watching my son take his last breath.
His last breath.
In the 363 days that have followed, I have tried to make sense of all of this. I have attempted to soldier on, to take care of my wife and daughter, to live without a large piece of my heart. To look at the pictures, the hours upon hours of videos, to hear his voice–knowing that those memories are all I have left of my first-born child.
His hockey jerseys still hang in his closet. His goalie bag sits on his bedroom floor–virtually untouched since he died. His old goalie sticks are still in the garage, next to the fridge. His choir folder sits on his closet shelf. His pictures, his Playbills, his trophies and medals — all still sit in his room, on his walls. 363 days later, and I still can’t part with any of these things.
I still walk by his door every morning, looking inside–hoping in vain to see him smiling and waving back. Every time I walk past the sofa and the TV in the loft, I expect to see him lying on the sofa with his headset on, talking to someone on the other end of his Xbox game. But I know none of these things will happen.
None of these things.
I tried to stay involved with youth hockey–even without Micah here. I found that some things (announcing games) are relatively easy to still do–maybe because I know Micah loved how happy that made me, whereas other things are nearly impossible without getting choked up, without expecting to see Micah diving for a puck, or making his kick-step-glide start from the bench to his net. I see my time with youth hockey morphing into something slightly different in the near future–partially because I still love helping kids play this great sport, and partially because I’ve found new family within the hockey family that continue to support me, and I, in turn, support them.
I also tried to stay involved with Micah’s school choir. For some reason though, the choir room was more painful than the rink. Maybe it’s because I knew, deep down, that Micah may have enjoyed playing hockey, but his heart was more in his music. The choir room without Micah became unbearable. I would go to choir board meetings, only to leave and sob in my car for 10 minutes. Between that pain and mounting conflicts for my time, I had to bid the choir group adieu. Perhaps I’ll be back in a couple years, if Avi gets her wish and is given a boundary exception to attend the same high school her brother attended–because she desperately wants to sing for Mr. Flora, Micah’s choir director.
Some people may wonder, “Why is today tough? The anniversary of his death is on Sunday (January 15th).” I’m sure Sunday will be tough too…as will Saturday, the anniversary of that final night of laughter and singing. But Micah’s death will always be connected–for me–to this holiday weekend. Tonight–the Thursday before the weekend when he last spoke to me. Tomorrow night–the Friday night we had to say goodbye. The actual anniversary of his death on January 15th…even the Yahrzeit is a different day–the day on the Hebrew calendar that he died (this year, February 2nd).
How will I cope this weekend? The same way I’ve coped over the past year–keeping myself insanely busy doing things I love, surrounding myself with people that care about me–and that I care about, both at home and away from home. Helping others that need my help–listening to others that need to get out their thoughts and emotions–because, as I say to many, it’s just what I do.
And cry. Whenever the need arises–cry. Sob. Lower my head a bit.
Write. I’m a writer. When I have a keyboard in front of me and a thought to share, I will write about it.
And remember his laugh, his smile, and his voice…and know that one day, I will hopefully get to hear that laugh and see his smile again.