To everything there is a season, and my Dad’s season has come to an end. That is SO hard to write. On Wednesday, April 10th, he was the victim of what honestly felt like the plot to a bad movie of the week. He, my bonus (step) mom, and my sister were all poisoned by carbon monoxide in my parent’s home. The culprit was a corroded pipe on the tankless hot water heater that was venting into the basement. My Dad did not make it. Thank God that the others did. My bonus mom is in good shape and fully recovered, although emotionally struggling. My sister is still being evaluated by her doctors for long-term effects, but has been released from the hospital. She, too, is struggling to come to grips with what happened while she was asleep. Had it not been for my Dad’s advanced age and prior heart issues, his story might have ended differently, but it was not to be.
For years I’ve expected to get a call saying he had a bad heart attack (he had 13 stints in his heart) or a stroke. My biggest fear, for all of my parents has always been them suffering in their final moments on this orb. Thankfully, he did not. He went to sleep unaware and just never woke up. I believe that is a true blessing.
William Reese Guillebeau was a complicated man. He was rarely easy as a son, husband, or father. In fact, as we all are, sometimes he was a pain in the a**. Despite that, my sisters and I were proud to be his daughters. As young children he made us toe the line, but never limited us to “girl” things (probably because he always wanted a son). We all became strong, independent women, which has to be partly from him, although Mom played a huge part there, too. He had a raunchy sense of humor and could probably remember every joke he ever heard. He was generous, sometimes to a fault, giving away things that he might need just because someone else said they needed them. He was devoted to his brothers Roy and Tommy, and was devastated when the latter died at age 59. He was a gifted orator and never missed an opportunity to expound on any number of topics, with aviation and any war being among his favorites. (The last time I spent with him the topic was Pershing and WWI.) He was truly the smartest person I’ve ever known, and I know a LOT of people who are not slouches in the brains department. (If you asked him, though, he would say his older brother is smarter. I cannot count the number of times he repeated stories about Uncle Roy being “in charge of the whole group” at 19 years old in the Navy.) Though it was beginning to fail him some, he had a phenomenal, photographic memory. I can picture things I read by their placement on the page or in the book. With him it often seemed as if he was actually reading from a page he previously saw.
Dad spent 34 years working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in control towers and flight service stations. He was once an officer in the Southern Region of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS) and had some pretty fierce negotiating skills. His last post was as Chief of the Automated Flight Service Station at Macon, Georgia. He was responsible for me later becoming an Air Traffic Controller. In fact, he is the one who sent the application in for me to take the test (a bit manipulative, but it worked out). Over the course of my FAA career, I met many people who worked with or for him. By all accounts he was a great manager who taught his people to lead and grow.
Many years ago I was stationed at FAA Headquarters in Washington, DC. My Dad had worked there several years prior, and the crew he worked with (the Animal House) was pretty much still intact. I heard many terrific stories in the four years I spent in the building. My favorite was about when his buddies got tired of him always spouting facts on any topic they discussed and felt that he was full of crap and just making stuff up. Attempting to prove it, each looked up interesting, remote topics in the evenings (before we had Google at our fingertips) to bring up in the office the next day. This went on for weeks, and their hopes of finding something that he didn’t know anything about faded. (The one topic I remember them telling me about was the mating habits of the Dodo bird.) Finally, they gave up and told Dad “Guillebeau we have decided that you are not full of sh*t, and from now on we are just going to assume that, if you say it, it’s true.” Dad hadn’t even known they were testing him.
Our parents divorced when I was in my teens, and we were lucky on both sides to end up with terrific bonus parents. Dad was married to Satilla (aka Billie) for a little more than 35 years, and we couldn’t have been happier with that choice. She is sweet and has an amazing way with animals and little kids, although I’m not sure she realizes the latter. Though he wasn’t always quick to say it, I know he realized how lucky he was and loved her truly.
You don’t get around the pain of losing a parent; you have to work through it. There is no “wrong” way, and each person handles grief differently. For me, focusing on all of the things that need to be done has helped. At the same time that I am truly sad at his passing, though, I’m also very grateful. If any of us could choose our end, going to sleep and just not waking up would be on top of the list. In his case, the potential options were MUCH worse. My sister should not be alive right now, but she is. My bonus Mom also made it through. Had Mr. Wonderful not jumped into the car to make the trip with me, I would have been at Dad’s house, too. Then who would have found us??? What if we had decided to go home instead of popping in to visit on our way out of town??? Billie said that it’s all in the way you look at things. I think that’s true, so I will continue to mourn the great loss while also counting the blessings with full knowledge that miracles truly do happen.
I want to end this post, not about my Dad, but about YOU! Do you have a fireplace in your home? Do you have any gas appliances (hot water heater, heater, stove, oven)? If the answer to either question is yes, you MUST, MUST, MUST have carbon monoxide detectors. Not maybe. Not when you get around to it. Immediately! Go now…I’m sure there is someplace open. If you already have them, stop right now and give them a test. If they are older than 7 years, replace them. Now! It is critical! I spent 45 minutes the night before and about an hour the day I found my family in a house that was flooded with carbon monoxide. There was nothing to see! There was no smell! We did not know what the issue was until later. Should this insidious gas invade your home, you will not know it is there until, tragically in a lot of cases, it is TOO LATE!
Us RVers are not immune either. Propane appliances can throw off carbon monoxide with dire consequences if not venting properly. We are careful to run the vent fan whenever we use the gas stove or oven. Our Grand Design came with propane, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors. If yours does not have a CO detector, install one right away. Also remember that they need to be replaced every 7 years or so.
Now, please do your part. E-mail, text, or call everyone you know and ask if they have CO detectors. Share this post on any social media outlets you participate in. Let’s get the word out and make something good come out of this tragedy.