I haven’t updated my CPR training since high school.

I got to thinking about this because I was asked to make a new canvas bag for a “Lifesling” which is a rescue device used on boats when someone goes overboard. The original bag has the instructions printed on the outside and I was trying to decide if I needed to have a place for instructions. Then I realized that if you haven’t practiced and gotten the routine down before the emergency happens, those instructions won’t help much.

When I was 23 years old, my father collapsed from a massive heart attack. It was the second time his heart had failed him. We were taking turns sailing a small laser sailboat in Vaughan Bay. The sun was out, the wind was fierce and the church bells across the harbor had just called the locals to worship.

I was the second one to sail and when I returned to the raft exhausted, I found my father splayed out, eyes open, a touch of blood at his lips. I did what I knew how to do which was to breathe into his mouth with my fingers on his nostrils, his neck tilted back. Breathe and breathe and breathe. It wasn’t enough. He was already gone.

The sirens took forever to arrive at the beach where my mother stood waiting. A neighbor brought the medics out to the raft and took me to shore where we watched as they attempted to revive my father. I’m sure they knew what I did.

And what I know now is that the techniques for CPR have changed since then. Now they focus less on the breathing and more on the heart. The broken heart.

Which is why I haven’t updated my training.

That memory lives with me daily and I am afraid to revisit the motions that I made that day… 39 years ago today. Here is my remembering.

I remember
three days before
he said
that if he died tomorrow
he would die a happy man
and then there he was
letting the fierce wind
tussle his thin gray hair…
his heart surrendered
to that happiness.

Then there was his friend Mac
telling my father’s stories
ending with the eight bells
of navy tradition

**     **     **     **

and into the silence,
“he stood a good watch.”

The music
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
filled the chapel
while people rose
and filed by
the special room
where we sat
mother, brother and I
and I remember thinking
that these were his people
and that now they were mine
but I didn’t want them
I only wanted him
to be my bridge
across these troubled waters
these torrents
of salt filled memories
tumbling from cheek to chin

**      **      **      **

White amongst the deep blue
summer’s air of memory
White is the deck of that sailboat
that I brought
that we sailed
White is the tips of waves
sweeping the raft
where he lay
where I found
and lost him
White were the love letters
she took down from the shelf
and one by one
threw into the fire
White is the box of ashes
his…then hers.

**     **     **    **

They stood a good watch.

Mom and Dad 1945

5 Thoughts

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