Words by Katie Faulk
On September 19th, 2015, my father died. He had a heart attack while driving a tractor down a backroad outside a small central Illinois town. It was some of the best harvest weather in years, and farmers make the most of good weather, even on a Saturday.
It hadn’t even made it to 9 AM before the first person called 911. I was almost certainly trying to convince my one-year-old daughter to just put her arms into her sleeves already at the time. I say “almost certainly” because it took me so long to accomplish that single task that it actually leaves a pretty big window for these things to match up.
A couple hours later, I headed downtown to meet up with a friend with my daughter in tow. I missed a call from my brother, checked my cell phone and listened to his cheerful voicemail. It took me ten or fifteen minutes to remember to call him back.
When I did, his voice when he answered was full of fog. He told me that there had been some kind of accident, that it sounded like Dad didn’t make it.
“My dad is dead?” I asked, and my own voice seemed very small and far away, but also improbably, impossibly loud.
My daughter, from the backseat, chimed in: “Da-da?”
September 19th is the worst day of my life.
After four months of crying - in the shower, in the car, at 2 AM when I would creep out into the living room to cry into our dog’s fur while everyone else slept - my husband and I decided to talk about having another baby.
I charted my year in three things: cravings I had for gas station food, my growing belly, and the countdown to the anniversary of dad’s death.
I decided to take control of the day the only way I knew how. I made plans.
I scheduled myself a day off, told Jason I would curl up at a table in the Barnes & Noble cafe with coffee and books and hide from the day entirely. They were really good plans.
On September 19th, 2016, I woke up 36 weeks pregnant at 3 AM with sharp, stabbing back pain. I’d been induced with my first daughter, with an epidural in full effect before labor even began, so I had no idea what natural labor even felt like. Well, now I did. Now I knew excruciatingly well what natural labor felt like.
It took me approximately five hours, four times I woke my husband up just to complain about my back pain, three “my contraction-timing app is shouting at me to go to Labor & Delivery now now now” moments, two pretty well-earned “I told you so’s” from Jason, plus one frantic visit to my OB/GYN to realize I was having this baby today.
I was furious. I had made plans. I was going to idle away the worst day of my life. I was going to do nothing, and I was going to mope about how much I missed my father, how much it still hurt, how often I still cried when no one was around me.
I was going to spend my day regretting every phone call I hadn’t made and counting up all the moments of my life that my dad would never get to see.
Instead, I had a baby.
Instead of reading a devotional I’d seen online, I spent the morning fervently praying for the emotional strength not to punch in the face the nurse who denied my epidural until it was too late.
Instead of my hand-crafted half-caf latte, I had burnt decaf sometime around sundown.
Instead of looking through magazines, I was staring into the eyes of a doctor murmuring that I was doing great, just great, we can see her little head, Mama, she’s ready to come out, it’s time to push!
Instead of a quiet bookstore cafe, my morning was spent trying not to scream even louder every time the nurse snapped at me to stop making noise and have a baby more quietly. Same nurse.
That time I had so carefully scheduled for crying in my car on my way back from the bookstore, I was instead holding my second daughter in my arms, whispering hello to her teeny, perfectly serious little face.
September 19th is one of the happiest days of my life.
I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I think that’s just something we say to try and make sense of the immensity of Creation.
Still, that these two days overlap felt like my father was tired of me obsessing over his death and would like me to get on with living, already. My children redeem dark days with joy, no matter how intent I am on moping my way through them.
September 19th is the day my heart breaks.
September 19th is the day my heart is made whole again.
Katie is a born-and-bred Midwestern girl living in South Carolina with her Southern gentleman, two daughters made of thunderous magic and a thousand half-eaten crackers, and an enthusiastic dog named Indiana Jones. She basically started her life by napping under church pews and currently spends her time drinking too much coffee and trying to remember not to swear in front of the kids. She routinely forgets that. She blogs (whenever she finds ten minutes to herself) at Stress and Stars.