How a Torn Heart Brought Me Closer to My Family

I received the text message that changed the rest of my life at 1:30 p.m. on November 12, 2015. I was sitting at work, excited about the recent writing accomplishments I had been having lately. I was on a high and it felt like nothing could possibly bring me down.

Nothing -- but a text message.

I was just sitting down to eat lunch at my desk when my iPhone screen lit up with a text message from my mother.

"Your dad is in an ambulance on the way to the ER. He might have had a heart attack."

I slowly lowered the fork from my mouth, letting vegetables fall clumsily on my plate. My all-time high suddenly sank to a panicked low. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to feel. I felt confused, lost and very far away from my loved ones.

I immediately wanted to buy a plane ticket from San Francisco to my home in Dallas, but my mother advised me otherwise.

"Your father will be fine," she "calmly" stated in her next text message.

"Fine?" I thought to myself. "How is that so? People don't just go to the ER suddenly and remain fine."

I was weary, but trusted my mother's written words.

The day continued to drag on in what seemed like a blur. I sat in front of my computer trying my best to continue writing an article on machine learning for work. The words blurred together. I could only stare at my screen, worried sick.

I went with my co-workers on a coffee run to Starbucks to get the two-for-one holiday deal. It took my mind off the text messages my mother had sent, yet those written words still lingered -- "Your father is sick. He may have had a heart attack."

His Torn Heart Tore Mine

At 28 years old, I have never experienced the sudden loss or sickness of a parent or sibling. I've always considered myself blessed because my immediate family was relatively "healthy." Now, in a moment, everything seemed to change. My father was sick -- suddenly.

I received more text messages throughout the day, but still no phone calls.

"We've been told your father actually has an infection. He is being treated in the ICU," my mother updated me.

I.C.U. Those three letters lumped together in the center of my throat.

"Will he be OK?" I wrote.

No response.

"I bought a plane ticket home. I will arrive in the morning," I wrote back.

My mother finally called me. Now, it was a phone call that would change the rest of my life forever.

"Your father has a tear in his aorta. He is having a high-risk surgery immediately. Without the surgery, he will die tomorrow. We aren't sure what will happen."

Those words pained me -- "He could die tomorrow... We aren't sure what will happen."

My Dose of Reality

At that moment, nothing else mattered in my life but my family. I felt guilty for not living in Dallas with them. I wondered why I had moved to San Francisco in the first place. Was building my career more important than living near my family?

I'm still not sure of the answer, but one thing is clear. I will never take the people in my life for granted again. One text message can change someone's life forever. One phone call can alter our perception of reality entirely.

Knowing that you might not see someone you love so much ever again is terrifying. The feeling we get before we lose something forever is gut-wrenching. I never had to experience this before, but I now understand that life really is unpredictable.

My father's torn heart was a wake-up call. The phone calls I had declined in the past, the flight tickets I hadn't yet purchased, the holidays I celebrated with them over Skype -- I told myself, never again. I made the choice to live away from my loved ones, and now I was confronted with the potential loss of the man who raised me. My father's torn heart ultimately taught me that we must always keep our loved ones close to our hearts, because you never know when theirs might come undone.

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