Early last Sunday morning, February 28, I got a call from my mom. "Cortney, your father is dead," I heard her say with a shaky voice from 300 miles away. She had found him on the bedroom floor, clutching a library book (he was a voracious reader).
It was most likely a heart attack - sudden and unexpected. He'd had a valve replacement (brutal surgery) two years prior, but at 78 years old, he was doing great. No one saw this coming. He was a regular at the cardiac rehab gym at St. Clair Hospital, was faithful to his walks, had retired but worked part-time as an equipment appraiser (J.D. Balsarini and Associates), and was so active and vibrant! My parents had been married 55 years.
I hopped in the car and headed home to meet up with my sister Kristen at my parent's house. It's been a tough, tough week. But death, loss, grief - it's a shared experience with no playbook and no way around but through.
My dad was universally loved. He just had a way with people, borne of his genuine interest in others, and his humble desire to serve. He was a "rising tide lifts all boats" kind of guy who could solve/fix/paint/refinish/sort through anything. He could strike up a conversation with anyone and went the extra mile on relationships and helping others.
Cort the Sport - it's what my dad called me as a kid. He became my horse show dad, then co-District Commissioner of our Pony Club, and ran our summer Pony Club camp. He was the guy who drove me many, many times 5-1/2 hours to college and then 5-1/2 hours back home the same day to get back to my mom. He didn't get upset when I drove over a paint can in the driveway and it splattered all over the car. He spent his visits repairing, painting, and cleaning things at my house - anything to make my life a little easier.
He was a big fan of my triathlon racing. If he could come to a race, track me online, or stream a race, he did. Post-race, my first call was to my parents.
I've really appreciated hearing from so many people about how wonderful my dad was. I heard time and time again that he was one of their "favorite people." He sure was mine.
I truly think that being a triathlete has helped me through this tough time. We see examples all the time of athletes overcoming challenges, setbacks, and emotionally difficult times. We know that in every race, the dark moments come, but they don't last forever. We can and do get through them!
In the fog of my grief last Sunday, I packed my bike and trainer, running shoes, clothes, goggles, and swimsuit to take to Pittsburgh. Even in the midst of very troubling times, my dad was faithful to his walks and gym workouts. I wanted to follow his example...and I did. A good sweat untangles the brain and releases emotion. I cried on the bike, treadmill, and in the pool. But as the week progressed I felt the sorrow begin to make way for gratefulness for having the attentive, loving, positive, dependable, amazing father I had.
Goodbye, Dad. You left us too soon, but it was a great ride!
You are forever in my heart and memories. I love you.