The Day That Changed Everything

By Denise Walker

“When someone has experienced a traumatic loss I will love harder, protect harder, fight harder and do everything in their power to never experience that lost again they. Theywill never take love for granted” this is a quote from a friend who posted this yesterday… In August of 1977 we took what would be our last family vacation together. On the way home from that trip to Kings Dominion it was announced on the radio that Elvis died. He was so young. Only 42. And I remember thinking how very sad I was for his young daughter. September came beyond I started school. I was 10 1/2 years old and starting fifth grade. It was a new school and while I’m a very outgoing person there have been times that I was very shy. I made new friends and school was going along pretty good.

I remember November 19th like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday morning. I had a new puppy. It was an aggravating little thing. I had named her Coquette (my mom is a French Canadian and I thought a French name would be pretty cool… Also literally every other dog we owned had been named Tippy… It was time for a change) so I have been starting out the day by making sure coquette went outside to go to the bathroom because she was having issues with that. We had breakfast that morning together as a family and my dad headed out to conduct a Bible group.

Normally our family would all go together. I’m not quite sure why we didn’t this morning but I think it was probably for the best now that I look back on it. Another note…I was being punished for something. Interestingly, I don’t remember exactly what that was… Probably something I said to my little brother. But, when my dad left I have been told that I needed to write sentences: I will not (do the thing that I had done ) anymore… I was writing those sentences (using two pencils ,of course,so that I can write two lines at a time) Not too long after my dad left, we got a phone call. I imagine it was about 20 or 30 minutes. (I must have had a lot of sentences to write because I was still writing) My mom got off the phone and said she had to go to our friend’s house where my dad was. Apparently, my friend had told my mom that my dad fell. My mom asked if he was okay and was just told that the ambulance had been called.

I can’t exactly remember how long it was before she came back. But when she drove into the driveway I saw a police car pull up along the curb in front of our house on Heritage Street in Kinston. I knew something was wrong. Mom came inside and gathered my brother and I to her, and told us “children, you don’t have a father anymore”

I’m not sure what I would say to my children if that would have happened to me as a wife and as a mom. It is a very hard thing to process. I picked up Coquette I went to my room and cried. Soon people started coming over but I knew I had to do the last thing that my dad had asked me to do… And so I finished those sentences. Daddy had fallen over with a heart attack after saying a prayer for the Bible study group. I am sure that those there we’re in complete shock. I can’t imagine being there. And I’m glad that for whatever reason it was we were not there that day. I think that would have been too much.

I remember one young girl coming over to the house… she was 16 at the time and she was standing in the door frame and all I could see was one tear on her cheek. My dad had such an awesome personality. Everyone loved him. At his funeral they were over 500 people. And his funeral was in Virginia. So people had to travel a ways to get there. No, he wasn’t perfect. He had a temper. But hey, we all have something. As the next couple of days went on, my dad’s best friend and his family were there. There were three kids around our age that I would not have gotten through any of it without them. We talked about my dad, we played outside.. and we listen to his tapes that he made for us when he was in Vietnam. He would talk to us and I could listen to all of it until he started talking to me personally. I cried when I listen to that. It was hard to eat anything for breakfast the next few days. Hard to eat a whole lot at all. And I kept thinking he would come back. In fact it was a recurring dream that I would have that my dad would walk back into the house and I remember being so mad at him. Thinking why did you leave us? where did you go? We are your family!! And then I would wake up and reality would set in. at the funeral, there were many kind words spoken.

At the gravesite it rained. And I had the brief thought that maybe I wasn’t the only one shedding tears. After the funeral, I went downstairs and to my grandmother’s basement I myself and I cried. And that was literally the last time I cried about that until I was sixteen. My report cards until that year had all been A’s. But I had some difficulty the next year. Still did fine but it didn’t dawn on me then as to why maybe my grades weren’t so great. We didn’t really talk about it a whole lot.

There was no counseling. And my mom did the best she could. When I was 16 I went to see his grave site for the first time since he had been buried. I sat down and just talked to him. I told him about everything that had gone on in my life up until that point. I often wonder how different things may have been for me if he would have lived. I wonder if I would have made different choices, and in some cases better choices? I was a daddy’s girl. I had a shirt that said so! And we would always talk about things. My dad would talk to me about things that were important things and fun things. We had dates where we would go out and do things just he and I. Ken’s grill was a favorite. I love all the yummy southern foods due to this man! in some ways, I never thought of him as being gone.

I remember years later someone mentioned something about having a dysfunctional family and it was then that it dawned on me that I was part of A dysfunctional family. I hadn’t thought about it that way because my dad was always there to me even though he wasn’t. Losing a parent at any age is so very hard. At 10 and 1/2 years of age I didn’t have much time with him. It so I can’t say what is worse. Not getting to have as much time or having so much time and then missing all of those memories. I miss memories of things that I didn’t get to have with him. Like getting my license and graduating and getting married and giving him grandchildren. He would have been the best grandfather… I just know it.. Just like I had not thought that I was part of a dysfunctional family, I had also not processed that I had experienced a traumatic loss. I guess I had just not put it in those words.

So, I would say love hard and hug tight.. Because you never know when it will be the last time…

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