I actually wrote this last year ago but didn’t post it because I wanted to respect my brother’s privacy. I’m really trying to show how strong he is. This is a tribute to his grit and will power.
We’ve all had a time in our lives that are beyond difficult to cope. When you wonder when you’re going to become the butterfly cause being the caterpillar sucks. When you wonder which day you become the pigeon, cause you’re sick of being the statue.
This particular journey began on May 27, 2014, my brother’s cell came up on my call display, not once but 4 times, in a row. I wasn’t able to take it, I let it go to voice mail I’d call him back once I finished my work call. As if by some weird force, I felt compelled to check Facebook (not something I would normally do while on a work call, since I’m not that multi-talented to be checking online and carry an important conversation) and there it was … a message from a family member telling me to call my mom, there was an emergency with Darryl. I immediately called my brother’s cell back – no answer.
I called a total of 4 times. Maybe there was a voice mail? “Tina, it’s mom, I’m at the hospital with your brother, he’s been rushed in for emergency surgery, I don’t know what exactly, but there was a problem with his heart, it doesn’t look good – if you want to say good bye to your brother you need to come home now”. I’m sorry, WHAT? Did she just say that my brother was most likely going to die? In complete and utter shock, I crumbled against the wall.
An aortic dissection, a serious condition in which the inner layer of the aorta tears. Blood surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate, an aortic dissection is often fatal and is relatively uncommon, occurring most frequently in men in their 60s and 70s. How? My brother was only 2 days post celebrating his 37th birthday a far cry from 60-70! It is the same thing that both John Ritter and Alan Thicke passed away from.
By the time I showed up (I lived in Toronto and my family were in Kitchener), he had been in surgery nearly 2 hours already. On my way out the door, I called my dad to let him know that he needed to make his way down. I mean how do you tell your father that he needs to drive all of the way from Quebec and try not scare him that his only son may not be alive when he got there?
“The family of Darryl Richards?” Dr. Ash (shout out to Dr. Ash, an amazing thoracic cardiac surgeon at St. Mary’s General) says. In all honesty, hearing that brought me back to a Grey’s Anatomy episode when you’re about to get bad news. He shocks us and says “ he’s made it, I don’t know how but he’s made it. Most people don’t make it to the hospital or make it off the table. He’s in a coma, on life support and in critical condition, but he’s alive and he’s made it this far. The next 24-48 hours are critical”.
The tubes, all I remember are the copious amounts of tubes going into and out of his body. Heart monitors, intubation tubes, chest tubes, catheters and the repetitious pace of the ventilation machine keeping him alive and breathing for him in interval.
It felt surreal, the whole immediate family around his hospital bed and hoping for the best outcome. Would he come out well from the coma? Would he have complications? Would he have renal failure? Would he stroke out? So many things! I’ve seen my dad cry twice in my whole life. The third was seeing my brother in this condition, I knew he’d do anything to change places with him. My mom, obviously, was equally as distraught. I’ll take a moment to mention that my mom saved my brother’s life. Those maternal instincts are a real thing! My brother had called her in the morning saying that he wasn’t feeling well. After describing his symptoms, my mom told him to rush to the hospital – typical man, “I’ll be ok, I’ll sleep it off”, he ended up going to the hospital after my mom said she’d meet him there and he’d better be there or else lol. After that, things played out in fast-forward. He was rushed in, assessed and they called for a thoracic cardiac surgeon. Darryl tells me his last memories before waking up 4 days later was being told that his odds for survival were not in his favour, a priest was administering his last rights and my mom in hysterics, then as the anesthesia kicked it, hearing the sound of the saw.
Things were really hard on all of us at this time, but things were particularly hard for my mom, I think. She seemed to spend the majority of her time between two hospitals – caring for her son and for her ailing dad, in palliative care from cancer. My dad and I would go up to the hospital in the mornings to check in on Darryl … on how he’d faired the night, his vitals, and when when they anticipated bringing him out of the induced coma. Without getting too much into the specifics of next days where he realized after 4 days that he had made it and he was alive – they brought him out of the induced coma, and slowly started getting him to sit upright, then take a step or two and then talk … after about 1 week he was transferred out of cardiac ICU and into the cardiac recovery ward.
June 15 2014 – Our Mending Faces
While Darryl remained in hospital, I returned to Toronto to get back to work and cared for Nash (Darryl’s dog and best bud). Dad built a gate so he could have a big backyard to play in. Dad also spent a lot of time with Darryl, in Kitchener, during his recovery. He was his friend, his confidant, he would work Darryl through some of his post-op anxieties/fears (I mean, I’d be having anxiety too if I almost died!), he was his very own support and I get the sense that dad was really significant in how well Darryl pulled through this.
You know how they say things happen for a reason? I’m a believer in the power positive thinking, in serendipity, but sometimes even I just can’t make sense and I don’t particularly get why things happen.
My grand father passed away in July, my mom mourned the passing of her dad and my heart bled for my gramma who lost her husband of 60 years. She hadn’t known anyone else, they stood the test of time.
Darryl, never married and has no biological children, but, he does have Nash. Nash is his best buddy, his best friend and for all intents and purposes his son. A brindle Olde English Bulldogge, a loving, loyal companion. Nash was initially my dog, however, as a puppy he was showing signs of dominance and growing up in a house run by three women, he definitely needed some male influence – so Darryl and I made a temporary trade. He took Nash and I took his cat, Layla (who just passed away couple of weeks ago – see below for a pic of this super cutie). That temporary trade has lasted 9 years. Nash got sick in July, really sick, he had contracted leptospirosis and went into renal failure.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection. It spreads throughout the entire body, reproducing in the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system. Soon after initial infection, fever and bacterial infection of the blood develop. Infection of the liver or kidneys can be fatal for animals if the infection progresses, causing severe damage to these organs. The Leptospira spirochete bacteria is zoonotic, meaning that it can be transmitted to humans and other animals.
Now, if you love your pets, as we do, you know you, that they’re not just an animal but a member of your family. Their lives matter just as much as anyone else’s. Darryl is now only 2 months post-near dying himself, he now having to deal with potentially losing his best bud, his amigo, his Nash – was crazy!
Daily we had to take Nash from the animal hospital to the vet for overnight stays and then due to mounting vet bills they suggested that we take him home at nights. Oh sure! No problem! Don’t mind if we do! Every night for about a week, we had to cart Nash home from the vet (where he was receiving treatment) home, in the back of my SUV, hooked to IVs and catheters and dead weight cause he was so weak. Not to mention, Darryl couldn’t lift, he had chest full of healing staples from his large incision. I didn’t realize how strong you can get when you run on pure adrenaline . But I did, I got Nashy in and out of the back of the truck for as long as I had to, to save his life and ultimately that of my brother’s. Did I mention, that Darryl had renal failure and had a compromised immune system and was susceptible to infection – remember Lepto is zoonotic and is transmittable to humans. Yes, to make matters worse, he had to be hyper-vigilant around Nash. I know he would’ve had really hard time recovering if Nash would have died. He was his companion, he walked with Darryl during his recovery, he brought him calmness and most of all snuggles 🙏🏻. To the tune of about $7k Nash survived the lepto scare.
2014: Emma teaching her Papa to use the new tablet I had just bought for him. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Over the course of September and October things slowly calmed and returned to a more normal pace (or whatever our new normal was by this point). The kids went back to school, we celebrated Thanksgiving, birthdays and we made plans for Christmas. Dad had retired about half a year earlier and usually worked over the Christmas holidays, this year he didn’t have to, so for the first time in about 30 years, we were going to get to spend Christmas with our ol’ man and step-mom in Quebec. I always called my dad ol’ man, I don’t know why – I just did, he didn’t seem to mind it. Things were finally on even keel and for a long time in a while, we had something positive to look forward to.
For having a very strong hate on for Toronto, Dad had been helping me finish my basement over the course of the year. He was spending weeks on end there with us. I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with him, but, it wasn’t for the conversation – my dad is a man of few words (unless he has a few wiggly pops, then you can’t shut him up lol). Life can get busy for stupid reasons and living in different provinces it can be hard to spend as much time as you want with people. Dad’s a simple, salt of the earth, no stress, kinda guy. 6 shirts, 2 pair of shoes, 3 pair of jeans and a few plaid/lumber jackets. And a ball cap, I rarely saw him without a cap on his noggin. Dad was very skilled, I always called him McGiver, he could fix anything. Give him two wires and four toilet paper rolls, some floss and a battery and somehow he’d get your engine to turn over (ok, not really with that example, but it serves to show that he was skilled).
Dad was coming down to help me finish the last few things in the basement, this would be it, then we’d be done! Yay! And it looked great! And I was excited to spend more time with him, plus Emma missed her homie. My cell phone is ringing, it’s “Dad & Linda calling”. But, I’m on the phone for work and I couldn’t take the call. I assumed dad was calling to confirm the time his bus was pulling into Yorkdale Mall on Friday, it was Tuesday.
10 minutes later, Darryl calls – “that’s weird” I think to myself “why the heck are they calling so close together”? I texted Darryl “On the phone, call you in 5”. “No now” is his response. I get that same deep, sickening pit in the bottom of my stomach.
“Are you sitting down?” He doesn’t even have to say the words and I know what he’s gonna say next … “dad’s gone Tina”. As I did only but 5 months earlier, I crumpled to the floor and cried in hysterics. How the hell could this be happening? Anger shot straight at God (then asking for His love). I’m crying now, as I write this, I still think it’s not fair. He had just retired, he had just started living his life, we were getting to spend more time with him then ever, we had Christmas plans … and he was only 60! That morning, he got up to live his life and died on his kitchen floor … how was that even fair?
“The rain’s gonna fall on us all
Your heart’s gonna break sometimes
But there’s no way around it, life’s full of mountains
You’re gonna have to climb
But there ain’t no crime in crying
You just gotta keep on trying
So remember, no matter what you’re going through
Tough times don’t last …
Tough people do” ~ Brett Kissell
I try to take something positive out of something negative. But in those months following dad’s passing, I couldn’t. I still can’t. There’s nothing positive about someone being taken from you way too soon when there are so many horrible, pathetic people in the world and someone who did nothing but contribute to society and was a solid individual’s was snuffed out. When my father passed and my family struggled, I was more lost than I had ever been in my entire life.
Losing a loved one is a painful reminder that life is way. too. short! Dad would want nothing more than for us to be happy — not the watered-down, half smile, day-to-day getting by content happy, but truly happy. I realize that my dad will never truly be gone. He is still here with me in spirit. Now, instead of mourning his loss, I celebrate his life. I miss him, I’ll always miss him and I think about him every single day. I use this as motivation, as a reminder, to live my best life and that we can still make him proud from up there – that he wants us to live big. I know he sees us, I know he hears us …. see blog titled “Messages from Beyond: How My Dad Connects With Me”.
I post this on the 3 year anniversary of my dad’s passing (Nov 18th). Love and miss you ol’ man – til we meet again on Heaven’s highest hill xo
PS: I’m not strong, my brother is 💙. To go through what he did in such a short period of time and come out the other end is inspiring.