We were stopped at the traffic light at the corner of Wildwood and Cherry Hill Road. My Dad turned to me and said, "Don't worry about your mother. I will handle her. You just focus on your music."
Dad worked the midnight shift at the Ford Livonia Transmission Plant. Nearly every morning, he would hurry home after work to get me to school on time. We had moved the summer prior to my senior year of high school. Before we moved, Dad made arrangements for me to complete my senior year at Wayne Memorial High School so I wouldn't be forced to attend our rival high school across town. This morning's trip seemed like nearly every other - except the subject.
I had just received a letter announcing my acceptance to one of the finest music conservatories in the Midwest. I was beyond elated until my mother announced there was "no way in hell," I was going to study music let alone...out of state. I was devastated. Dad knew what I was feeling but he was never willing to argue with my mother in front of me. He waited until we were alone to let me know he would take up my battle and all would be well. You can imagine my relief.
On Saturday night, my parents attended his brother's wedding. Shortly after midnight, my mother came home and woke me up. Two of my uncles had taken Dad to the hospital. I hurried and got dressed so I could go with her. We left my younger brother asleep at home. We drove to Annapolis Hospital. When we arrived, the two uncles were gone. It left me and my mother in the Emergency Waiting Room. A short time after we had arrived, a Doctor came out, took my mother down the hall. He told her what was going on. When they came back, Mother went into the treatment area. When she returned to the waiting room, she told me Dad had suffered a heart attack. They were working on stabilizing him so he could be moved to Intensive Care. Mom told me to go the payphone and call my grandmothers and tell them what was going on.
In what seemed like an eternity, the Doctor and some nurses came from behind the curtains. Dad was on a gurney. They were rolling him toward the elevator. The Doctor said they were taking Dad up to Intensive Care and to meet him upstairs. Mom told me to call to my grandmothers and my uncle, her brother, and see if he would come to the hospital and sit with us. I waited for my uncle and then joined my mother on the Intensive Care floor.
Uncle Bill arrived pretty quickly. When we reached the Intensive Care floor, we saw my mother standing outside of a room. We joined her. Just then, the Doctor came out and told my mother, "the move to Intensive Care was more difficult than we anticipated. I'm sorry to tell you that your husband has died. Would you like to see him?" Thank goodness my Uncle was there. He was much better at consoling my mother. I was in shock. I don't remember what I was thinking other than I remember telling my mother, "I can't go in there." As she and my uncle entered the room, my Mother turned and told me to go call my grandmothers. Tell them Dad has died.
Stuart Gross had just celebrated his 35th birthday eleven days ago.
Needless to say, my life changed dramatically when my father died. A music conservatory was completely out of the question. Moving out of state was never going to happen. Saddest of all, I had lost my biggest fan. The one person who believed in me and the power of hope and hard work.
As I reflect back on that early morning, many years have passed. I have come to realize how Dad's death has ultimately and positively impacted my life. I see students and those with whom I create art through the eyes of my father – wanting to help foster and develop talent. Perhaps most important; help others see their potential, express themselves and fulfill their dreams.
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