Mike Fleming

As I start back after two weeks of leave following the death of my father during Hurricane Sandy, I want to first express how thankful I am for the outpouring of prayers and encouragement from my colleagues, industry insiders, competitors and Deadline readers. They’ll probably not like me mentioning this, but: Nikki Finke was incredibly gracious and supportive, and among other things came up with the idea of designating Long Island Cares as a place for donations, which meant much-needed food for those whose homes were flooded and rendered powerless by the storm; Jay Penske flew in, got rerouted to New Jersey and still drove all the way to my Long Island home on the night following the funeral to give my grieving mother a hug and lend support; David Lieberman drove out from Manhattan to Long Island to represent Deadline at my dad’s wake, on a night when trees were still down and it was impossible to get gas. And the whole staff kept up the quality of the film coverage while I struggled through a dark period.

What happened to my 80-year old dad was this: On Monday night at the height of Hurricane Sandy, the power went out in his house, and he chose the worst possible moment to open his storm door and see what was happening outside. A gust of wind tore open the door, and launched him off the stoop. His head hit the concrete landing in front of the stoop and he never regained consciousness. I had come to think of my dad as indestructible. This is a guy who quit drinking one day over 30 years ago, and never again touched a drop; who during his career called the shots as a superintendent in the power department of the New York City Transit Authority and knew everything about electricity; and who bounced back from double bypass surgery, prostate cancer and a stroke he didn’t even know he’d suffered until a doctor told him. Even though I had only recently threatened to remove the ladders from his home after he fell in the soft grass while waging battle with a swarm of bees that built a nest under the shingles of his roof, my dad loved his independence. He still lifted weights, had a full head of hair and was as vibrant as any 80-year old I’ve met.

But he was also taking Plavix, and that kept his blood from clotting when the tumble caused bleeding in his brain. I arrived at the hospital in Bay Shore—the storm was surging, trees were down and the hospital was running on generators—in time to see my dad wheeled past us into emergency surgery. His eyes were wide open, the most brilliant blue I’d ever seen them. But there was no recognition in them. While the doctors tried to relieve the pressure all that bleeding placed on his brain, it was all just too much trauma for him. Some 16 bags of blood and eight hours later, all that was left was for me, my mother and sisters to hold his hand and see him off after they disconnected the respirator.

I spent the next two weeks struggling with guilt. Before the storm, I’d arranged to have a mason widen the front stoop of my parents’ house and put up railings, work that was supposed to begin the day my father died. Why hadn’t I pushed for it sooner? Would it have made a difference? I’d spoken to my father twice on the day of the storm, and while he told me to gas up the cars, I told him to stay inside and call me if problems arose. Why did he open that damn door? I am now on a better road. I appreciate the time I spent and the love I had for this Irishman with a generous spirit and rich sense of humor, who was proud he’d reached 80 and was eager to celebrate his 55th wedding anniversary with my mom next April. And who was so meticulously organized in his own affairs that he actually had sent in his absentee ballot, casting a vote for President Obama even though he was dead one week by the time the polls opened.

I won’t belabor this any longer because it seems needy and my father would hate that; I recall vividly how much my dad loathed that drunken Irish father from Angela’s Ashes, who brought the coffins of his dead kids to bars to get sympathy free drinks. But there is one more thing. Many who wrote asked if there was anything they could do. There is something. If you are lucky enough to still have parents alive, or siblings or other relatives you’ve lost touch with, please make time to call them. See them if you can. Life is so fragile, and at times like this you realize that family, friends, and faith are the only permanent things. I’ve learned I have those in abundance, and in places I had not anticipated.

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