To the outside world my dad was on fleek :). See I’m still hip with the youngins. It made me proud that his persona was a cool cat. Ok, I’ll admit, I’m not hip. My parents were young and cool. My Dad had long hair and beard. I don’t recall what he looks like without it. He wore a feather earring for God’s sake. He rode a Harley and had cool cars. Growing up, my friends would come over and he had an ease and friendliness with everyone. I’d have boyfriends come by that I’m sure were slightly terrified (refer back to beard and Harley) but they would become instant friends. They would talk about how they will come by and shoot the shit again. I’d have to pull them away and remind them they were her for me. Hellooo?? Remember, I am the awesome one here, not my Dad?
On the flip side, I spent so many years furious at my Dad. I now know so many reasons why he reacted the way he did. He was a product of his broken parents. He was a product of Vietnam and later we learned his subsequent exposure to Agent Orange. I spent a lot of time angry that my mom, my sister and I were the recipient of his frequent outbursts. Throughout childhood, many days we walked on eggshells, never quite sure which movement would cause an angry explosion. This is all I will state on this topic today, because all the anger, all the wasted time, all the bullshit. It doesn’t matter. Right now, it doesn’t matter.
This past Sunday morning was a day like any other. It’s wintertime, it’s Chicago, it’s cold. I’m in a great mood, my birthday is in a couple days. I like birthdays. I woke up and ran to church, arriving fashionably late. There are just sooo many songs. Uggh, I just can’t do so many songs. I try to get there on time. I really do try, but I just don’t succeed. I try to give myself grace, but at the same time I think I’m such an asshole for arriving at church late. Sorry God, thou shall not swear. I used to pride myself arriving on time everywhere “bk” (before kids). I was looking forward to my neighbor’s get-together later that day to watch the Packers play the 49ers. I don’t really watch. I chat and drink wine. My sister texted me about 11:00 am asking if I had heard from Dad. No, why? She said she texted him and called him last night and then again, this morning. Hmm, I thought. That’s kind of strange. I wasn’t too worried, but at the same time, the worst scenario flashes in your head. Last time this happened he was out with his friends. I laughed that time realizing I didn’t have to worry so much. He has a social life and he is doing pretty well since our Mom passed two and half years ago, to the date. It also just happened to be 11 years ago, on this date, she was diagnosed with cancer. I told my sister I would run over there and check on him. My 16-year-old son came along to help shovel if we needed to. He’s a great kid. His Mom is also awesome. (Hint: My apologies ahead of time, I use humor to cope, better than crack I guess)
We pulled into the driveway immediately noticing that for the first time in 45 years of winters, not only had we had convinced my Dad that he should not snow blow or if he did, do a little at a time, but he had actually listened. He suffered from really bad acid reflux and the cold exacerbated it. You don’t understand, the fact that he had only snow-blowed from the garage out to the street on one side of the circle drive was mind blowing and I knew then, something is wrong. We rang the doorbell and no answer. Panic sets in and then a flash; Oh, I thought, we can check the garage and I bet his truck isn’t there and he is just out somewhere. His truck was there. Oh my God. We went around the back and I looked in the kitchen window. Fox news was on in the kitchen, ha I thought, that’s a good sign. Then I looked down to the floor and could see my Dad’s legs. I screamed to Brendan to call 911. I didn’t have a key anymore, I have never had to go to the house and open it, my Dad was ALWAYS there. I knew there was a hidden key, but my mind couldn’t grasp where it was. We called my sister and she reminded me the hiding place. All the time I was panicking that I have to get in there immediately because I can do CPR. If I waste time looking for the key this is all my fault. I was the one who didn’t save him. If I get in there immediately, I can try to save him. I tried the back door; the screen was locked. I ran to the front and unlocked the door. I flew into the kitchen and immediately new it didn’t matter if I had a key or if I was a minute faster. My Dad had been gone for a while. My son is seeing this. I can’t comprehend what is happening right now. My husband is on his way. My sister and husband are on their way. The paramedics are on their way. I run out to the driveway and calmly tell them. It’s too late. It’s just too late. He’s gone. It’s too late. My mind was reeling, I couldn’t focus. This….. is….. not…… happening.
We knew this would happen one day. According to our plans it would be in about 10 years or so. My mind recalls the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I had no idea it was a quote by Woody Allen. My dad hated him. Not sure why. His Dad, my grandpa, lived into his 80’s, so that is what we had in our silly misguided plans. The next 10 years would give us time to comprehend the inevitable. We had 9 years to say goodbye to our Mom who valiantly fought stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. At the time of her death, her suffering had been so long, it just couldn’t last another second. It wasn’t easier per say, but it was gradual. We had so much time to come to terms with what was inevitably going to happen. We grappled with the fact that we would have to help our Dad. We couldn’t believe that she went first. We prepared ourselves for the agony of not having our Mom on earth. She was the rock of the family. She was the glue. Selfishly we thought, there would be no buffer between us and our Dad. Little did we know in her always unselfish ways and concern for her two baby girls, she probably planned all of this. She planned to go first so that we would be forced to mend our relationship with our Dad.
Mending is exactly what we unconsciously did. My sister and I spent the last two and a half years helping my Dad figure out the ins and outs of how to live on your own. We taught him computer lessons. On Wednesday I helped him place an order on Amazon with a gift card we gave him for Christmas. Monday, I found a copy of a practice withdrawal slip he saved in a folder. We met him for dinner. We listened to his problems. We listened to him talk about how much he missed our Mom. We listened to his dreams and hopes for the future. We listened to his endless Trump talk and complaints about “liberal snowflakes”. He missed Mom so much, but I don’t know that he was ready to go. We listened to his worries. He just visited the VA and they asked him to schedule tests to look at his heart and esophagus. He talked through how he would just do better. He would just eat better and then he wouldn’t have to do anything. He reluctantly agreed to do the recommended stress test. He conceded to an EKG. He adamantly told me there was no way in hell he would do an endoscopy. That’s too invasive he would say. 30 years ago, he had a heart attack. Well, the doctors told him he did, and he said they were incorrect. He refused to let them do anything. To his absolutely aggravating stubbornness credit, he immediately changed his life. His focus and work ethic were beyond anything I have ever seen. He quit smoking. He changed his diet. He began working out. We had him another 30 years. That is pretty incredible. Did I tell you was stubborn?
He didn’t trust doctors. He didn’t trust the government (meaning democrats) CNN and the liberal media. I think in part he had a great life. He had a great wife and kids (if I don’t say so myself :). I worked at my Moms company and brought the kids with me every day. He loved being a grandpa. He was the best grandpa. My middle daughter found the pacifier he made of an eye bolt and a washer for her doll because we lost the one that came with it. We now find that hilarious. He built them horses and bought them real saddles. They played “The Saddle Club” and pretended to run a company in the basement. For the life of me he probably did the same for my sister and I when were kids, but I tend to remember the crappy stuff. Ugg, my damn brain. He and his Dad built a playhouse for us in the basement in the 70’s. It gave our family millions of memories. To this day, my childhood friends will talk about it. He continuously and meticulously refurbished our childhood home. He had so much pride in that house. He made many pieces of Early American furniture. He cherished antiques. He built the entire kitchen by himself. He built my bedroom in the basement. He worked with my Moms business and did anything she asked. He did anything she needed and was forever loyal. He had a garage so clean you could eat off the floor. He also struggled. He had a lifetime of struggle with anxiety. (refer to garage floor) My unschooled, but knowledgeable self, had diagnosed him over the years. You’re bound to learn some things after 25 years of therapy. He joked with me on Wednesday. You know I think I have OCD about this whole heart and Acid Reflux thing. Really dad? THAT’S BECAUSE YOU HAVE OCD. THAT IS WHY YOU ARE OBSESSING OVER THIS! THAT IS WHY YOU SUFFER ALL THE TIME!!! He suffered in silence. He suffered out of denial and out of pride. He suffered because he should be able to handle it himself. He wasn’t weak. He suffered because his entire generation didn’t believe in mental health. You just suck it up. You move forward and you suck it up. He suffered because he thought psychologists were idiots. He thought the whole medical field was a bunch of clowns. He successfully took Prozac a couple of times but would talk about feeling so much better and the fact that meant he didn’t need it anymore. Remember that devil called OCD that lies to you and says you are fine. It lies and says you don’t need medicine anymore. You can do this yourself. I would try to convince him that he feels better because he is on Prozac. He would chuckle and then not take it. Right before I went to my Dad’s on Sunday I started crying to my husband. As he hugged me and talked me through it, I was telling him this blog is so hard. It’s so hard to spill my guts. It’s so hard to make it all more real, to drudge up a painful past and air my dirty laundry. This next sentence breaks my heart. As I sit here typing with tears dripping down my face, I said to him, well, at least I don’t have to talk about everything. I can gloss over some parts for now. You know I can’t talk about everything until my Dad is no longer here on this earth.