I have been recently introduced to the term “hypoxia” by a good friend of mine who is a surgeon. In a nutshell, it is when there is an excess of carbon dioxide and a lack of oxygen in the brain. At least, that’s what I understood.
My friend said that many people who experience hypoxia are dying. He also said those who are revived wake up and tell stories of a light at the end of a tunnel, angels, beloved dead people, God, and more. He said hypoxia can cause hallucinations that make the shutdown of your brain and heart more pleasant. It’s a natural final defense against fear and the terror of dying.
I was 21 when I lost my father. I was the family member who slept in the patient family waiting room in the hospital where he was recovering from a cardiac bypass surgery that went wrong. He was only 51, but inside that body of his, there was a brain that contained several lifetimes worth of knowledge and wisdom. He always had an answer for anything, and he always lived in peace – he emitted peace.
At 2:15 a.m., a nurse woke me up and held my hands to give me the news. She asked if I wanted to see him before they went on with their postmortem procedures. I remember her giving me two little stacks of medical gauze and pointing to my face. I had not realized that my nose had been running and my tears had drenched my cheeks.
I still don’t know if that was because, unconsciously, I was trying to be the strong man my father had raised me to be or the sadness and shock had paralyzed my senses, rendering the nerves of my face numb.
The medical crew gave me five minutes with my father before they walked me to an office and made me drink orange juice while waiting for a friend to come pick me up. My father’s face was a happy one. I looked at an array of machines next to his bed. They were turned off now. There was no beeping. I knew he was gone.
I kissed him on the forehead and placed my chest upon his. I wished my beating heart would somehow jump-start his, even if it meant mine would die in the process. Nothing worked. My father was gone. I kissed him again on the forehead and told him I loved him before being escorted out.
In the two years that followed, what must have been a depression took over my life. I dropped out of college and did nothing constructive. I sometimes went camping alone in cold valleys, sometimes sat on rocks on the beach for hours. I attended religious guidance lectures during the day and drank vodka orange on dates with women whose names weren’t important to remember at night.
I was lost in the misery of knowing my dad wouldn’t come through the door of our home anymore.
One day, I saw him in a dream. It was one of those dreams that you don’t forget after waking up. He asked me to go on with life and make him proud. I was sure that was my brain manifesting what my conscience needed of me, but still, seeing Dad again was beautiful. The same day, in the afternoon, a friend of his visited us and asked me to go work with him. My mother begged me to do it.
I took up the offer and went back to college and graduated. He then introduced me to a friend of his who worked in the aviation industry. From there, things just got better and better for me. I got married and had my first child, whom I named after my father so I could hear his name echoing in my home again. As she grew, I made sure she knew who her grandfather was. I showed her pictures and told her stories.
When I was 29, I saw my father again – another unforgettable dream. We walked on the beach and I told him about my life and his grandchild. He asked me if I wanted to go to him, and I said no because I had a child to raise.
At the age of 32, a car bomb exploded close to where I was walking. I lost consciousness and woke up several hours later. During those hours, I saw Dad again. He was riding with me in a car and asked me if I wanted to go to him. I refused again, telling him that my family couldn’t do without me.
Similar visions of my father occurred when I nearly died of anaphylaxis at the age of 40, then again when I fell into a coma at the age of 44, and when I had a massive heart attack at the age of 46. Every time, my father asked if I wanted to go with him, and every time, I refused on account of my children needing me.
Could those instances and visions had been hypoxia of some sort? Did my mind refuse to let go of my brain because of the love I have for my children? Subconsciously, I must be more attached to my duty to my children than my longing to be with my father again.
Now, my daughter will be off to college and my son to follow in five years. My wife, their mother, left us a long time ago. Any loving parent knows that it’s not just a cliché – they do grow up too fast. Time will run quickly, and before I know it, they will be professional members of society with families of their own.
They will always love me, and they will always want me close. But they will need to concentrate on their children and maybe want to tell them how their grandfather abandoned his love for motorcycles, fast cars, hunting, diving, and travel in order to tutor, wash clothes, and cook for his children while keeping a full-time job.
One thing I do not want my children to tell my grandchildren is that, even after 25 years of losing my father, I still cry a little every time I look at the picture I keep tucked inside his favorite book of poems by Omar Khayyam, which I keep near my bed. I don’t want my babies to go through what I did. I want them to move on and be happy.
I hope my father comes back and asks me his question again in five years. This time, I will hold his hand and ask him to lead the way. I want to be his little 12-year-old son once more, just like in that photograph I keep inside his favorite book, joyfully playing with snow beside him – but this time around, in a land where time is limitless.