Ruminations on a Decade

Graduation from college.  You KNOW it's the early 1990's by the teal necktie.  You just can't get a good teal necktie anymore...:)
College graduation. A proud day for the both of us.

Ten years ago this evening, I was on my way home from having beared witness to my father’s passing. Lost, and more than a little alone, the drive home from my sister’s was surreal.  I honestly can’t remember much of the half-hour drive. Even today, ten years later, I still goof the details.  Like scheduling my remembrance on July 1 instead of July 6 for some reason.

I could get maudlin and tell you about how that flub fits in with just about everything about my dad – despite my best efforts, I always let circumstances get away from me instead of taking control of them. Even at his funeral, the priest almost forgot to let me deliver the eulogy and I didn’t stand up vociferously enough.

Instead, I’m going to choose to focus on what I did do, because I’m pretty sure that’s what he would have chosen to see – effortlessly, doubtless – because he didn’t spend too much time on himself, he did however spend a lot of time on his family.  On duty, and on love.

When I had the opportunity, I asked him to be my best man. I wanted him to be beside me at my wedding.

Honestly, that’s the only thing I can think of. Literally the only thing. Everything else seems disappointing. I didn’t make the speech for him that I wanted to because I let the coked-out wedding DJ blow past it.

I didn’t spend the time with him that I needed to. I don’t think I ever really showed him how much I wanted to be like him from the time I was 12. I don’t know that he ever really understood just how important he was to me. Christ, 24-hours before he died I was telling him that I had something else to do other than seeing him. Why is it that everything I can think of has me failing, why can’t I seem to match up? I’m not at all sure that he held me to that standard, why am I holding myself to that?

So, here I am, ten years to the day, perhaps even to the hour, that I’m ruminating on my relationship with my father on the day he passed. Holding myself to a standard that I’m not sure he held me to. I’m sure he didn’t see his value: his brothers both fought in World War II, he spent the Korean War in military school. He chose a cemetery plot in a direct line from his father’s. He spent a life time trying to live up to his father and brothers and I wonder if because of that he let me off the hook. Perhaps I was the beneficiary of low expectations.

He was a good man, and he deserved so much more from life. I’m proud he was my father, I just hope he knew that. I loved the man and I’m sure he knew that, so perhaps I wasn’t as big a failure as I fear. I just wish I knew for sure.



Looking for a Connection

Foreward: I wrote this March 29, 2009.  Nine years ago, and one of the first lines is “where does the time go?” Indeed. Where does it go?  I’d forgotten about this interaction, forgotten about that feeling of being alone in the world: I never once really, truly thought about what life would be like without both my parents.  Someone who has known you your entire life, who loves you unconditionally and then to be without them feels like an existential void. 

Quite a bit has changed in my world since March 2009, quite a bit has not. I still own the house I discuss, but the neighbors I talk about have since passed on – Rudy, the gentleman who was sick, passed away a month later on April 30. I imagine Elaine, who was so upset the doctors gave him perhaps 2-months, would have been happy with that in retrospect.  Who were those doctors to give him only 2 months?  She, herself, passed away in January 2017.

Reading this, I must have been such a difficult, lousy person to be around, so wrapped up in my own sadness and loss. At least I seem to have had a modicum of understanding that I was awful to be around, but I know from my own experience of these people, knowing you’re a jerk really doesn’t help the people around you, it just means you’re a self-aware jerk. 

So, to anyone who had to deal with me, my wife specifically and in particular, I am truly sorry.  I couldn’t have been easy to be around, couldn’t have been easy to live with. There remains not a day that I don’t think about my dad, but I like to think I comport myself with a little more aplomb. There’s so much self-loathing and anger in this that I think I’ve overcome – forgiven myself, and making amends.  

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My dad and the boy, July 2005

It’s the end of March 2009.  Where does the time go?  Back in July, I lost my dad.  Not unexpectedly, but it was a hard journey for him and for us.  He was so sick and he was really ready to take that next step.  Try as we might, I just don’t think despite all the preparation we had done mentally and spiritually that we were really ready for him to take that next step.  A little less than 2 weeks before he passed away, he was really sick…I sat with him that night, fearing, dreading.  I knew he was ready, but I wasn’t.  My sister wasn’t.  We called the Ambulance and he was whisked away.  After a sleepless night in the ER waiting room for us, and a night filled with massive doses of antibiotics he was awake, alert, shaven, almost shiny and new.

BUT, we knew it was temporary.  It was only a matter of time until his body would process out those antibiotics – his immune system incapable of helping him – and we would again find ourselves there.  Those two weeks allowed us to work with him to clear up those things of this world that would have been nightmarish to try to do without him.  On the night he died, I missed him by 15 minutes.  10-years previous, I had missed my grandmother by maybe a half hour.

It was a prolonged illness, which in some ways allowed us to say what we needed to say and do what we needed to do, but it took a toll on him.  In the end analysis, I couldn’t help but to process over and over how much time I had squandered with him.  All those things that I could have done differently.  Personally, it gave me a head start on some of those stages of grief: denial, bargaining.  I don’t recall having been angry, but definitely bargaining with whatever great spirit there may have been.  Doing the things he’d asked me to do kept me reasonably busy tending to making sure things were as he would have wanted.  There was nothing more surreal to me than to be in the basement of the funeral home – the funeral home his father had expanded years before – choosing the casket in which he would be interred.  I was choosing my fathers’ casket.  It’s such a blur to me now.  The only thing I remember was choosing the cherry casket – even though the maple was far more his style – because I had bought him a nice dark suit, probably his first new suit in at least 20 years, which simply wouldn’t have coordinated with the lighter maple wood.

Nine months later, I still haven’t been able to get myself out of that last stage before acceptance.  I guess I just haven’t been able to move forward.  In some ways I just haven’t been able to grieve his loss for so many different reasons.  It comes in spurts and lasts for intermittent periods of time before it gets shoved back away.  Sometimes I find myself alone and something will catch my attention, “gee, Dad would have loved that…”  It doesn’t take very much to set me off.

Sometimes it comes and goes that easily.  Sometimes it stays.  Sometimes I’m quiet and sullen.  Sometimes I’m a complete jerk.  Mostly though, I just think I want to be left alone.

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My dad and me, 1972

Part of what has set me off this time isn’t that easily shaken.  Last week, as I was out and about doing my lumberjack thing – taking apart the trees I’ve been taking down for well over a month now – my elderly neighbor approached me.  A lovely woman.  I’ve lived in this house for 6-odd years – April 1, 2003 we bought this place – and really only within the past couple of years have we actually started talking to them, and then only sporadically .  Her husband has progressed through the disease my dad had, MDS , and into lymphoma; a notoriously difficult variation of the disease to combat.  Last week they were told that if they continued his current treatment – transfusions and antibiotics – he could have 2-months; if they went with chemo, he could have as much as 9-months.

Despite his having been living with this disease for at least the last nine months – she and I spoke just before Dad passed away – she seems to have been in denial about it, asking me who those doctors thought they were only giving him 2-months, like they’re God or something.  I felt so badly for her.  Her life partner of some 50-odd years is dying, and she looks to the doctors treating him with scorn: who are they to pronounce him with only 2-more months?  It’s at this point that I think about Dad.  How differently he accepted it, and how that quiet dignity allowed us to move forward – if not fully, at least gave us a head start.  Sadly though, I just find myself at depression.  I just couldn’t give her any sort of real support – I was just mired in my own sadness.  I don’t think she noticed, because she was too busy being angry.

So she goes away angry, scared, and probably feeling quite alone.  I go away sad, kind of scared, and definitely feeling quite alone.  Two people asking for some connection, yet unable to do so.  I can only hope for her that she can take the time she has been given and use it more wisely and carefully than I believe I did and that she finds some love and support when she needs it.  And in the meantime, until I can figure it out for myself, I guess I’ll just be that mercurial and sullen prick.