Thursday, February 9, 2012

Year One

A year ago just now, my father turned the corner.

We knew that it was really time.

I'm grateful that the time spent there was short, that it wasn't long and drawn out.  That he was able to be up and going, alert and aware almost right up until the end.

He was still him even that night and morning, stubborn and brave.

A wise friend told me today that as hard as it will be to get through this time right now, I will never have to be in this place ever again.

A glance across the room, and an understanding.

She's walked this path.

She's been here.

I have to trust that she is right.

I also have to be better about listening to the advice of the first most important man in my life.

It doesn't matter if you succeed, just do your best.

Take care of yourself or you're no good to anyone else.

Do what you love.

Hug those babies every single day.

Keep writing.

I miss him, and I know that I always will.  I also know that I will be forever grateful that I was his little girl.  And when I look up to the sky, he'll know that I'm thinking of him.

I know he wouldn't want me to be sad, he wouldn't want me writing much about how things were for him at the end.  So, instead, I will share the words I spoke at his funeral again.  These words flowed directly from my soul onto the paper effortlessly for one reason only.  This is the way he wanted us to remember him.

Before I begin, let me say thank you to everyone for all your help, thoughts, prayers and more over the last year and a half. Each and every one of you has touched our lives in a way that we will never be fully able to express our gratitude for. Thank you.

We are here today, again in the middle of February, the hardest month for our family. 11 years ago, my Uncle Donnie passed, and it’s been 24 years for my grandfather, all within the same week. And again, we are here to celebrate the life of a man, gone too soon.

He was the third in a family of seven children, born to a man who believed that we could one day fly to the moon. He was a high school track star, one who held onto some of his records for decades. He was a guy who always loved a fast car. He was a business owner for over 35 years and took great pride in his work.

He was a son, a brother, a husband, a friend, a father and a grandfather. But he was so much more than that. He was his sister’s dance partner. He was his nieces’ godfather. He was the love of my mom’s life. He was my brother’s best friend. He was and still is the tooth fairy. And he was my Daddy.

He lived and he died on his own terms, that’s just how he was. Never one to let anyone or anything dictate things for him. Even in his final weeks, he defied the conventional wisdom of hospice. He refused every increase in pain medications, it always took some amount of convincing. He had to make his own choices, all of them. He wanted to be in control of his thoughts, and he was willing to sacrifice bodily pain to do it.

I could stand before you today and speak about his strength and resolve in his last year, but I won’t. He wouldn’t want it that way. He hardly wanted anyone to know he was sick at all. He didn’t want people to know how bad it was. He didn’t want or need anyone’s sympathy. And as much as I have spent the last month trying to honor his wishes, I will continue to do so now.

Instead, I will tell you stories. Stories about him and his life and the things that he loved.

Mom and Dad met and fell in love in high school. They broke up around the time that they graduated, Dad headed to trade school and Mom to college. It wasn’t until a chance meeting between Mom and Grandma Helen in a department store four years later that they both realized how much love they still had for one another. Mom had just called off a wedding weeks before, and was set to go on the trip that was supposed to be her honeymoon with a girlfriend. When she stepped off that plane, Dad was there. He told her that he was never going to let go of her again, and they immediately drove to her parents’ house to tell them that they were getting married. They have been together ever since.

When I was a rebellious teenager on a boy crazy streak, rather than express his ever-mounting frustration with me, Dad tried the reverse psychology of parenting. He pretended to like the guy I was dating at the time even though he couldn’t stand him. Dad came home from work one day and told me about some young man he’d seen in the waiting room of one of the dental offices that afternoon. Then he thought out loud, wondering why I couldn’t just pick nice boys like that. A few hours later, the doorbell rang, and it was the same young man who had been sitting in the waiting room. Dad knew then that he could never again complain about who I chose to love, and that young man became my husband. Be careful what you wish for, Dad.

When my son Aidan was in preschool, the kids were learning about the jobs that grown ups have. One day in the car, he started asking me what everyone in our family did. Some were easy, my brother in law is a firefighter, my father in law a policeman. I tried to find words to describe each job so that Aidan could understand. When I got to Dad, I wasn’t quite sure how to explain what a dental technician did, so I just said that Grandpa made new teeth for people who lost theirs. Aidan sat in the back seat of the car quiet for a few minutes, then asked in complete seriousness if Grandpa was the tooth fairy. My immediate response was yes. Of course Grandpa is the tooth fairy. I’ve never heard my Dad laugh as hard as he did that evening when I called to inform him of his new duties. It is a job that Grandpa still has today, he just has a halo to go with his wings now.

When Dad was first diagnosed with cancer, he started to assemble a bucket list. His list wasn’t like the ones in the movies, there were no trips planned, sights he needed to see. The only things on his list had to do with us, the people he loved. The first item on that list, he wanted to see the baby that my sister in law was pregnant with at the time born. It was put in jeopardy there for a bit when he fell ill last February and ended up in the ICU, but he fought his way back and greeted his fifth grandchild with joy just a few weeks later. The second item on his list was something he hadn’t been able to experience in too long. He wanted all of us to be together, at home, on Christmas. And he wanted a real tree. Though it was a complicated journey we will never forget, my husband and I got the kids here from Colorado just in time. The final item on Dad’s list, yes there were only three, was a late addition. Once he’d met Riley, he knew that he needed to be here long enough to see Riley walk. Riley took his first steps just days before Dad was placed on hospice. His list was complete, and just in time. 

A few nights ago, Mom found a letter that Dad had written to her the night before he was sure his draft number would be pulled, in the spring of 1971. It’s two pages of hand written beauty, and I will share with you some of the words he wrote.

Keep your chin up, little darling
Keep your pretty head held high.
Things will work out as we planned, dear.
So sweetheart, please don’t cry.
As the tears begin to fall,
And she looks up towards the sky
There’s a face upon the clouds
And he’s saying please don’t cry
Though I must leave you now
It’s only just a little while
She beheld his dear sweet face
And upon it was a smile
There were angels all around him
They all sang a heavenly tune
And as he faded away he said
Keep your chin up little darling
We’ll be together someday soon

I find myself looking up at the sky almost constantly since he left us. I know that’s where he is. When I was a little girl, he used to tell me how much he envied the birds for their ability to fly.

I know you are up there now Daddy, enjoy the view.

Daddy, you were never one for long goodbyes, you would just get up and leave all of a sudden. You left us the last time the same way, and I’m going to do it here too.

Keep an eye on us all, we’ll still be needing you from time to time. Especially when someone has a wiggly tooth.

I love you.

2 comments:

  1. When you and your family find yourselves in a place to remember the good times, the funny times...LAUGH. It is one of the most important things you can do through this. It's o.k. to laugh. It's o.k. to celebrate those times. Wouldn't you want your kids to remember the good? Yes! If you let yourself laugh just once today while remembering him.....<3

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  2. I think I've said it before, The "firsts" of EVERYTHING are always the hardest, the first Tuesday, the first birthday (of each person) all the first holidays... they are all so very hard. Today, the first anniversary might be the hardest.
    I prepared myself for the first anniversary of my husbands death for WEEKS! Psyching myself up to the point that on THE DAY, I was "okay"... I was surprised by this. The next day though, KICKED MY ASS! I had prepared for the one day, not the next (lesson learned) I had just delayed the feelings, something my therapist says I'm really REALLY good at LOL. So now I try to not prepare for those things, I just let them come and I allow myself to feel whatever I feel. It's been three and a half years since my Tony died, so things are much easier - many more laughs and smiles than tears and red eyes. You will all do this, and each in your own time and in your own way, but your friend is VERY right... you will never have to be right HERE, again. Much love, and huge hugs.
    P.S. a couple weeks ago, I was asked to design our Relay Teams T-shirts (we Relay March 31) and I included your dads name to our reasons for walking. ♥

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