My heart is heavy tonight.
This silent, invasive enemy that I’ve battled for the past three years took my father, Doy Wheaton Cave, Jr., from me this week. Sometime between Monday and today, he dressed himself for bed, lay down and fell asleep for the last time. He was 66 years old.
As I turn it over and over in my mind, I wish for him what I’ve wished for myself: that we could both rewind time and discover the many ways to defeat this previously unassailable foe called heart disease, which slowly gathers strength as it lies in wait along our arterial walls, choking the life out of us. I wish he’d found this solution sooner: before his quintuple bypass surgery in 2000, before his heart attack in 1990, before he picked up a smoking habit as a teenager. I wanted to keep him around much longer than this.
I don’t think I got to tell him how he saved my life once.
When I first began to experience my heart problems, my father told me the story of his first heart attack. It wasn’t the harrowing, frightening experience I envisioned it to be. It was more frightening than that, because it was painless.
He said the problem started as a slight pressure in his shoulder, not really painful at all, just something he noticed. As the day went on, the pressure became more of a throbbing, but didn’t hurt enough to make him concerned — certainly nothing that would’ve sent him to the hospital. As he lay down that night, he said the throbbing continued, so he decided he would see the doctor in the morning.
When he arrived at the doctor’s office and explained his symptoms, the doctor decided to get an EKG. He tore the sheet from the machine, gasped and said, “Oh, my gosh! You’re having a heart attack!” He was rushed to the hospital where they saved his life. Had he ignored the pressure or prolonged the doctor visit, he would’ve died that day…at age 42, the age I am today.
On New Year’s Eve 2012, I experienced a slight pain in my shoulder. I was shopping with my kids, running errands and driving around. The pain wasn’t intense, but it was noticeable, and the longer it wore on, the more I thought about my father’s story. Could this be a heart attack like his? After a few waves of tight, squeezing pressure in my shoulder, I decided to go to the emergency room. I’m glad I did. It turned out I needed two more stents in my heart that day and had I waited, I’m not sure I would’ve lived to tell the tale. Thanks, Dad.
My father and I often checked on each other over the last couple of years. We shared this common enemy in heart disease, and we were both keenly interested in how the other battled it from day to day, sharing medications and nutrition advice. I’m thankful for that time, and I’m thankful he battled so valiantly for so long.
My father was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. His house, his cars, his yard were all immaculate. He found great joy in a job well done and valued this quality in others. I always admired that in him and wish I possessed it more.
He was devoted to his family and to the preservation of its history. We would often visit our relatives, and he would make sure we understood where we came from. The Cave name truly inspired a deep pride and reverence in him, and he wanted us to feel it, too. I hope I can live up to that expectation.
I want to call him and have him tell me it was just a hiccup, just a mistake someone made. I want to hear him say that he’s fine, laugh and tell me I shouldn’t worry about him so much. My mind won’t accept my inability to do that.
Every year, 600,000 Americans die of heart disease — a disease that’s preventable, beatable and fallible! I know this can seem like a remote number, so large it never touches the door of your own home. That number is infinitely more personal for me today, the fight more real.
I want everyone to stop, I want to make time stop, I want to make all noises stop to remember this person I loved, taken from me without warning.
Here’s to my father, a fallen soldier who fought the good fight. Rest in peace tonight, Dad. I love you and will miss you terribly.