April Showers

I’m convinced that Spring is broken. While a rainy April isn’t unusual, the rain around here has been more like sleet, with intermittent bouts of snow showers. One day we started with snow; then it warmed up so the snow melted and the sun came out; then it snowed again before the sun came back out. Spring needs medication.

Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. It’s strange. We didn’t live in the same town, so NOT seeing him isn’t the weird part. It’s when I remember that I won’t see him again. That he isn’t at home with my mom, sitting in his recliner with a dog on his lap. That he isn’t somewhere laughing at his own jokes or arguing with the tv. That he isn’t just a call away if I needed him. Not that we talked on the phone much. He didn’t like it. If he ever answered the phone, we knew mom wasn’t available, and he’d start the call with, “sorry, honey, but your mom’s not home.” Or if it was his birthday or Father’s Day, he’d talk for a minute and then say, “ok, here’s your mom,” even if we didn’t ask to talk to her. It was kind of funny, actually, and kind of endearing. He just assumed mom trumped him when it came to conversation. But if we were in trouble or needed something, he would be there. And that was comforting to know. It doesn’t matter how old you get; you still feel like a kid around your parents. If they’re around, you know someone always has your back. I’m glad my mom has been doing well on her own, but I know she misses him. She said it’s hardest at night. I get that. Heartaches weigh heaviest in the darkness.

I’m thankful for the dulling effects of time. How it makes us get used to life’s voids. How it presses on relentlessly, sometimes dragging us along, sometimes pushing us forward. It’s good to keep going. Spring is reminder of how crazy life can be. Warm and cold, dark and light, often all at once. And yet somehow the flowers come through.

 

 

June 5

I’m back home from my mom’s and looking forward to sleeping in my bed, without the train whistles rumbling the windows during the night. I forgot how close her house is to the train tracks. I know it’s easy to eventually get used to anything, but a couple of nights is not long enough to get used to trains passing by every few hours. I’m tired. I’m glad we got done as much as we did, though. My mom was very happy with what we accomplished and I’m glad I was able to help her out. I’m only disappointed that I wasn’t able to get her new kitchen faucet installed; that will be next visit. Mom also let me go through dad’s tools and take whatever I could use since she was planning to get rid of things over the summer. I took several items, including the table saw and miter saw, two things I’d been wanting to get anyway. She also gave me the soldering torch that was my grandfather’s. It’s still in the old painted wooden box with his initials carved in it. I love the history of items like that. I’m thankful to have it and the other tools, not just because I can actually use them, but because I remember watching my dad use them, and that’s pretty cool. Now once I’m done painting my house, I’ll be looking for a few new projects…

 

June 1

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have turned 67. I would have called him like I always did to say happy birthday and let him know his card was in the mail, late as usual. He would laugh and say, well, that’s no surprise honey. It’s late every year isn’t it? And I probably would have said something about breaking traditions. He would have then reminded me how much he loved getting a card more than a gift.  We may have chatted a bit more before he passed the phone to Mom. And that would have been the most of Dad’s birthday celebrating. I’m sure the conversations were similar with my sisters when they called. He was simple that way–no fuss. Sincere in his love of getting nothing more than a card. I wish he were still around for many more birthdays. He deserved a lot more. But I’m thankful he is no longer suffering from his cancer. I’m thankful he died before his Alzheimer’s progressed to the point of forgetting all of us, for he would have hated that. And while I miss him, I’m thankful today that I can still hear his laughter in my mind. Happy birthday, Dad.

April 12

It was a beautiful funeral today for my dad. Although it stormed outside, the atmosphere inside was peaceful. Lots of family and friends gathered and reminisced. My brother-in-law gave a very touching eulogy of the impact my dad had on his life. And by the time we got to the gravesite, the sun was shining. It was an event my dad would have approved of–a celebration of his life and not a time of sorrow and crying. I’m thankful for the love I felt today.

April 8: Dad

My dad died today. My sisters and mom and I sat by his bedside all night last night, listening to his labored breathing, holding our own breath every time he stopped too long between gasps. He never woke up. So we chatted amongst ourselves and cried intermittently and finally, around 2 am, requested pillows and blankets and tried to sleep on wooden folding chairs. There’s something exhausting and guilty-feeling about waiting for death. The constant wondering if the next moment is going to be the last one together. Just after 5 am, when it was just my mom awake by his side, my dad simply stopped breathing. My mom said she had just told him he didn’t have to hold on any longer. He could go, and so he did.

I have to admit that when I first got the call yesterday that my dad had taken a turn for the worse and maybe wouldn’t survive the day, I didn’t want to go back to the hospital. It wasn’t that I had just made the three-hour drive back home, it was that I didn’t really want to face it. I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the strength to watch my dad die. But then I knew that whatever I felt didn’t matter. What was real was that the man who spent his life taking care of me and my sisters and my mom would be gone within hours, and I had the privilege to be there by his side. No matter how much it would hurt to see, this was a gift, to say a final goodbye.

I’m thankful my dad was a Christian. He believed that he was headed to a better place and had absolutely no fear of death. I know that made his final days easier for him. And I’m sure he was looking forward to seeing the many people he had lost in his almost 67 years: his own dad who died too early in his 30’s, his mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s, his brothers, his son, his best friend. It must have comforted my mom also, allowing her the strength to tell him to go to the others she believed were waiting for him.

The world lost a wonderful man today. A man with a hearty laugh and a deep love for people and animals and the Lord. A man of strength and honor and commitment. A man who loved my mother and her children as his own. He was my stepfather, but I never thought of him that way. To me he was always my dad. I’m thankful he entered my life so long ago. And I’m thankful I was there when he left so peacefully this morning.

April 7

It’s not surprising how the end of someone’s life brings family together. In the last few days, I’ve been able to see my aunts and a cousin whom I rarely see anymore. Not because we don’t want to see each other, but because we don’t live close and it’s difficult. I’ve also gotten a chance to see my sisters who are scattered across the country. We’ve had a chance to reminisce a little and catch up. I’m thankful for the closeness we share, even across the miles that usually separate us. When someone you love is getting close to leaving this world, the important things tend to emerge. I’ve been reminded once again that life is short and death is the only certainty. What we do on our way to the end is the important thing. Live while you can. Love gently but fiercely; live passionately but with dignity; forgive and move on. In the end we only have each other.

April 5

It’s been another long day. There’s something about hanging out in a hospital that’s draining. Another one of my sisters drove in to visit. There was a point when all of us were in my dad’s room at the same time. Seven of us chatting while my dad dozed. At one point he roused with a bit of a groan. My mom quickly asked if he wanted water or something else. Peacewas his reply, with a roll of his eyes. Apparently, he didn’t like our chatter. We took his grumpiness as a good sign; he was a little more lucid today.

That also gave us the confidence to leave him to rest alone for a while. We were able to visit with my mom and help her figure out some immediate plans for after he’s released from the hospital. We met with a hospice nurse who was an absolute godsend. She was knowledgeable and extremely comforting. I think it helped my mom to know that she’s making the right choices for my dad. We are all thankful for that.

April 4

My kids and I visited my dad in the hospital today. My oldest sister and niece were already there. My dad has trouble staying awake, apparently typical of the stage he’s in with the liver cancer and the after effects of tests done today, so my mom woke him up to tell him that we were there. When his eyes focused and he was able to see us, he whispered to my mom, how lucky can one guy get? before drifting back to sleep. It makes me cry to think about. I’m thankful that he isn’t in pain and that the weeks left will most likely be more difficult for us than for him.

April 3

It’s been a difficult day. But I’m thankful for the friends who have checked in with me and offered support one way or another. Life is so unpredictable; that’s why living, truly living is so important.

My dad is back in the hospital, only this time they found that it is cancer again. It’s spread throughout his body. It’s hard to talk about or even think about right now. As with anyone in this situation, it seems so unfair. But I’m going to travel there tomorrow to be a support for my mom if nothing else. I’m grateful I live close enough to do that.

March 19

I mentioned the other day that I had gotten some disturbing news. My dad had been admitted to the hospital because of dangerously low potassium levels. Once there, they determined some other things weren’t quite right, like white blood cell count and EKG. All things that pointed toward an infection of some kind, but given my dad’s history with cancer, it could also indicate a return of that dreaded disease. I’m thankful today that he was released and sent home. They got levels returned to a normal range, but they didn’t determine the reason things got off-track to begin with. I guess he now has some follow-up visits with his doctor. Of course, I’m thinking positively.

I had written a bit about my dad’s stomach cancer before. Did you know that if you lose your stomach like my dad did, they create a small pouch out of your small intestine and attach that directly to your esophagus? It makes eating a whole new experience. There’s no place, really, for food to be stored, so my dad has to eat very small amounts at a time. And can’t drink and eat much together. We started kidding him a little at family gatherings by giving him the smallest plates and cups we could find. I’d hand him a juice glass about 1/3 filled and ask him if it were too much. He’d laugh and say it was perfect, actually, thank you very much. Apparently, there is also no real separation between the new stomach and esophagus, so he would complain about the taste of things lingering and decided rather early on that what didn’t bother him as much was sweets. And he was never really one for candy and confections. Now he lives on fruit juices and a limited amount of snacks that my mom keeps stocked by his recliner. That’s not to say he doesn’t eat regular food anymore, but this is the guy who loved meat and potatoes and weighed over 200 pounds at 5’9″. Now he’s about 130 on a good day and my mom has to force him to eat a sandwich. It’s crazy to me the drastic changes one fateful thing can bring about in someone’s life. Now something as simple as an infection can mean serious complications for my dad.

I had a retired friend who used to tell me that every day he was vertical was a good day. It always made me laugh. But it’s really true. Today my dad was fine. So was everyone else important in my life. It was a good day.