Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dad

January 15th is a hard day for me. My Dad died today, 17 years ago. My mom called me at the hospital I was working in and said that he had done great in surgery, woke up for a short while but than the doctor told her he had a 'setback' and had not re-awakened since. Trying to deal with doctors long distance was not easy, so I drove the 7 hours back to my parents to see what was going on. My father had had a massive global stroke. Since I worked in a hospital, my father's doctor tried to give me as much information as he could.... I was in shock the moment he showed me the MRI. I knew it was bad. I tried talking to my mother about choices we'd have to make and problems that we would have to deal with, but she just kept saying he was just tired and needed to sleep. My sisters agreed with my mother, they wanted to give him time. 

That gave me lots of time to think about my Dad.... he and I having swim races in our pool, him teaching me to ride a bike, then later driving his riding lawn mower backwards all through our yard because I told him I was afraid to drive in reverse. Vacations we'd taken with our family, then the feeling of us growing apart when I hit my teen years. My Dad struggled in school and could not understand why I would want to go to college. He liked to play and work hard and did not understand how I could be content simply reading a book. I didn't really understand him either. He drank too much, took dumb risks and counted on the lottery for his retirement (and my college) funds. 

One of the most interesting things about him was how good he was at reading the people around him. My sister got that gift too. He could say or do one thing that could make a person feel like they were the only person in the world that mattered or he could say something that made them feel like pure crap. He had lots and lots of friends. Everyone knew and loved my Dad. At his funeral the procession of cars was unbelievable... 

He knew I loved Pepper before I did. It was not a good scene. It was Christmas break and I had known Pepper almost a year. Pepper came to visit and my Dad thought we were too close. He said very unkind things, put his fist through the kitchen window, hit my sister (because I ducked) and kicked Pepper and I out of the house. He told me he would not pay for me to go back to school and he did not want me to be around Pepper anymore. Not at all how I expected that holiday to go. The next day I called my Mom and she wanted me to come back to talk to her and my Dad. My Dad apologized and said I could go back to school, but he wanted me to strongly consider marrying Scott. I said I would think about it, but we all knew I never would. Things got better between us for the remaining years of his life. He never asked about Scott or Pepper and we both just avoided topics that we knew we would not agree on. 

So there I was at his bedside, watching machines breathe for him... knowing how much he would hate being kept alive when he was so helpless. It was sinking in to the rest of my family that we were never getting Dad back. It really hit me about the fourth day I visited. I always held his hand while I was in his hospital room. As I drove back to my parents house I could smell my Dad's scent on my hand.  Until that fourth day, on the way home it did not smell like him anymore. I knew that it didn't matter if the rest of my family was ready... we were losing him. 

He died alone. A snow storm hit the area and Mom refused to let us go back to the hospital. We were all sitting around the kitchen table when we got the call. 

Mom sold the house later that year and she left lots of our furniture behind too. A few years later, I was in my old neighborhood and pulled into the driveway to look at the house I grew up in and had so many memories of. I was looking at the big tree I stood beside with my box of 64 crayons on my first day of kindergarten and the front porch railing I leaned against as I had senior prom pictures taken with Scott. The woman that was living in the house waved to me and came out and asked what I was looking for. I told her that I was raised in the house and she welcomed me in to see the changes she and her husband had made. It was weird seeing our old furniture mixed with their new things. We were in the basement, near my Dad's old bar when she turned to me and said, "I want you to know... he's ok. He is still here. We see him sometimes walking around the yard." I knew immediately that she meant my Dad. Standing there, the idea scared the hell out of me but it sure felt like he was there. The woman said I was welcome to come back any time I wanted. I haven't taken her up on it.... yet.


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