Before continuing my adoption story, I want to take a moment and reflect on my dad, Jim Jackson. Four years ago, on this day, my dad had a massive heart attack. He was “gone” for about 12 minutes and somehow “came back.” But the man I’ve always know as my father wasn’t there anymore. My dad’s dramatic exit from Earth lasted for another month on 02/04/17 where my mother had to “pull the plug.”
My dad’s life was always filled with monumental moments. My father came from humble means. As the son of a steel-mill worker and a housekeeper in Pittsburg, PA, my dad was the first in his family to go to college—an HBCU, Lincoln University. My dad was the first in his family to get a high ranking position (for a man of color) in the government. He designed an elementary school in Washington, D.C., was the first of his brothers to get married, have a baby, and divorce, and then remarried (to my mom). My dad was the first to own a yacht, own a home, purchase a pool and a car. I’m only naming a tiny amount of things my father was the 1st at among his family and friends. He
was the life of the party, the advisor for many, love and hated by many. My mom and dad made a great team, and they lived life big and to the fullest. So, I’m not the least surprised by the way he died. It would not be a Jim Jackson moment if he had just flatlined with no one around him. However, when I reflect on all of the things my father did in life, I think the most dynamic act he did was agreeing with my mother to adopt me.
The night before my father died, I had the strangest dream about him. All I can remember is that my mother was trying on dresses and asking my dad how she looked in them. His response was utterly disrespectful and venomous. I remember giving my dad a piece of my mind while comforting my mom. When I woke the next morning, I had the strongest conviction to call him.
It was Monday, January 9, 2017, a day before Phoenix’s 4 birthday. I was busy at work while trying to organize a small at home, “Bob the Builder” birthday party. In between emails and looking at decorations online, I called my mom to tell her about my weird dream. However, before I could tell her, I could sense in her voice that she was highly stressed. I asked her if she was okay, and she proceeded to tell me my dad had been sleeping all day.
As my dad got older (he was 74), he had become a late sleeper because he’d stay up to 3 a.m. watching television. This irritated me because he’d then force himself to get up at 9 a.m. He wasn’t getting enough sleep. On his “sleep in” days, he’d wake around 10:30. However, this day, it was nearing 1 p.m. EST…unusual.
My mom said that my dad didn’t feel well and that he hadn’t eaten in the past week because he couldn’t smell anything. I was stunned as this was a terrible sign. I asked her if he’s been sick, and she said, “Well, you know. It’s always something with your father.” I signed, told her I loved her, and that I’d call back later.
Around 2 p.m. PST, I felt as if something tapped me on my shoulder, and I heard a voice whisper, “Call your father.” I was at my desk and I sat up, and called my parents immediately.
Hey Mom. Is Dad there?
- Hey, Janeen. He’s finally up. Hold on. Jimmy! Jiiiimmeee! It’s Janeen! Pick up the phone!
- Hi baby, how are you?
I’m good. How are YOU?
- Well, not so good.
I know that’s why I called. Mom said, you’re not eating…
- Yeah, I can’t taste anything, so I can’t eat. But your mother cooked some pork chops, mashed potatoes, and greens beans, and I ate all of it but one bite. I could taste the pork chop but not the potatoes or green beans. But I ate it anyway because I know I’ve got to eat. You know?
Yeah, I know! I heard you haven’t been eating for a while.
- Yeah, I can’t taste a damn thing!
How are you with you’re sleeping? Are you sticking to your plan?
- Well, last night, you know, I had the best sleep I’ve had in years!
I thought you said you had the best sleep in the hospital? (a month ago)
- Not like this! I slept from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. – twelve hours! And I feel good! Now, if I could only eat.
Yeah, dad, you’ve gotta eat.
- I’m down to 160 lbs.
- I haven’t been 160 lbs since college.
Wow, Dad! But losing weight like that shouldn’t be a good thing.
- Yeah… I’m weak…
Dad, you know, one of the things I admire and love so much about our relationship is that we can always keep it real with each other. So, Dad, I’m gonna just keep it real. Okay?
Dad, are you ready to go? Because if you are, let me know and I’ll come and be with you while you get your wings on.
- Oh no! I have a lot to live for! You, your brothers, the boys, my grandkids, your bothers, your mother. I’m so proud of you all, and I’m living for you! You’ve made me proud! Now, if I didn’t have you all…then no (I’d be ready to go)! So don’t worry about me. I’m a fighter. I want you to focus on Tyson and Phoenix.
I’m not sure what made me ask my father if he was ready for the “better by and by”. However, we continued to talk about me coming out to Virginia, possibly on his birthday or Spring Break in March. He also spoke about working out in their home gym to get his strength back. I laughed and told him to focus on getting some food down. We said our goodbyes, and he promised me he’d eat. I told him how much I loved him.
That was the last conversation we ever had. My dad had a heart attack 2 hours later.
That evening, I wept in a way I had never wept in my life. I felt winded and dizzy. I knew he was gone. My husband held me as every cell in my body became numb. I don’t remember anything else that evening except that I was looking for the next redeye to D.C. My husband told me not to worry about Phoenix’s birthday. But I knew if my dad knew I missed Phoenix’s birthday on his behalf, he’d haunt me–forever.
5:30 a.m. PST on January 11. I flew out to be with my family and documented Dad’s and my final conversation on my iPad. As I looked out of the window. A sense of gladness overcame me. I was satisfied with our last conversation and said everything I wanted to say. He knew how I felt about him, and I had no burning unanswered questions. I felt complete. Little did I know that day that about 1 1/2 years later, after the discovery of my adoption, that anger would replace satisfaction, and I’d have more questions than I’d ever imagine.
Thank goodness for my fantastic therapist! She’s helped me wade to my
anger and replace it with love. And as for those unanswered questions? Well, I really don’t need to hear the answers from him because I already know. But there is a question I wish I could hear directly from him. Which is, what did he see in me on the day the adoption agency placed me in his arms? My mom told me what he said that day and the chaos he caused to “get his damn daughter home today!”. (I’ll share that funny story later). But it would have been nice to hear the story directly from him. Oh well… I’ll just relish the fact that my adoption was on his life’s list of firsts and an inspiration to many. A few of my parents’ friends and family decided to adopt children after seeing Jim and Jay do it.
- It there anything you wish you could have asked a love one before they passed away? If so what was it?
- Why do you think my parents decided not to tell me about my adoption?
- Is there a secret you are keeping from your child? If so, how does it make you feel to keep the secret?