March 16th, 2008 was a typical Sunday. I awoke and dressed as the opening Server at my job. I stopped at a nearby Dunkin Donuts for an iced mocha coffee. I set up the restaurant and greeted my many regular customers. My shift consisted of breakfast and lunch; a total of ten hours. Yes, it was typical in every way…until it wasn’t.
Growing up I felt like the luckiest kid in the world! My family dynamic was quite different from most households in the 1980’s. My father had a heart attack when I was still tender. My dad was forced to welcome early retirement. Thus my mother became our family financer. She went to school and became a Home Health Aide. This left my dad as my caregiver.
He was forty-five years older than I. Despite our age difference his zest for life surpassed many of my peer’s parents. He was up at dawn, working in the yard and feeding birds. He constantly had some type of chore to accomplish. He was energetic considering his maturity. I was never bored. We dug quahogs at the beach or drove around singing or walked the local mall. He took me to playgrounds where I always exclaimed, “Push me higher, Daddy!”
As I grew and began school his commitment to being executive in my days continued. He attended academic functions and assisted me with homework. He not once missed a drama club production or a poetry reading or a sporting event. When I sang at a high school chorus concert his proud face smiled at me, mouthing the words of the song I’d chosen. Throughout moments of anxiety his magnitude was magnificent. As a result, I was never too scared to do anything I set out on.
His faith in me at no time faltered. When I wanted to be a model he drove me to Newton against the wishes of my mother. It was from his urging I took my first job. He was my sponsor when I attained my driver’s license. As I walked to accept my diploma he cheered loudest. Viewing my college dorm room his feet were right behind mine. Communication with him was consistently open; my sounding-board, my ear to listen, my inspiration.
As my adult years loomed, he was already sick. Initially it was Diabetes. I spent the majority of my adolescence thinking he simply enjoyed multiple glasses of cold water. As a teenager, how was I to know it was a symptom? Regrettably, his condition affected his vision. By my Sophomore year at university he was legally blind. He handed me the keys to his beloved 1989 Mercury Grand Marquis and told me to enjoy the ride.
On my twenty-fifth birthday my dad was three weeks and three days from his sixty-fifth birthday. I was a new mother and he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Although flexibility was becoming difficult he accompanied my mother to my home, assisting with the new duties I was grasping. He was unable to read to my to newborn son so I read to them. He desperately wanted to create memories with each of my children. As a result they speak of him often.
In 2006 my dad became resident at a nursing home. My mother’s years of practice with others paid off. She became not only my father’s Wife but also his keeper. She dwelled near him everyday, spending countless hours in this building instead of the constant comfort of her residence. They made friends and he joked with nurses. My siblings and I celebrated birthdays and holidays in the family room. Yet it didn’t feel enough. My dad dedicated the onset of his “golden years” specifically to raising me.
I possess a plethora of fond reflections surrounding food. My dad loved eating, using it as a means to gather and laugh. My older brother and I would stick olives on our fingers. My older sister would stake claim on end pieces of ham. My oldest sister would stop by with my nephews in tow. Dialogue was had about my oldest brother’s temperamental cat. Admittedly, my mother wasn’t much of a cook yet she could bake a cake like no other. And there were cakes for every occasion.
It’s no wonder as my dad suffered consumption issues we couldn’t imagine him receiving sustenance via tube. He was no longer mobile and his words few, but given the option, we believed he would desire a somewhat normal quality of life. The elected surgery was “routine” and we understood the risks. Unfortunately, when a body lacks the capacity to move freely liquid collects in places it shouldn’t. One good moment can be overshadowed by the next bad one.
I saw my dad Friday after the procedure. He was tired but his pale eyes twinkled. Saturday he chuckled at jokes, with a developing cough. A chest x-ray confirmed fluid in his lungs. The bed was raised and pillows propped his frail body. I kissed him and promised I’d return after my shift the next day. I did. Beside him I told him of my day and he heard me. My kids were seven and five, in the custody of their own paternal parent over the weekend. There was school and daycare and work upcoming. I embraced my once strong father, assuring him I’d bring his grandchildren tomorrow.
Tomorrow never came…
En route to retrieve my youngsters I obtained a call from my frantic mother. I was to collect my sister and rejoin at the hospital immediately. A turn for the worse had transpired. The next twenty minutes passed in a blur. I’m not sure I was inside my body. Looking at my dad, peacefully sleepy looking, he was gone. My mother, brother, sister-in-law, nieces, and sister wept. I didn’t. I closed my father’s eyes, held his hand. Uttered admiration and peace to him. I kissed his cool cheek one final time. And the rest of my life changed eternally.
Death has a way of altering us, regardless of how strong we think we are. During this period of trial I allowed no tears to slip from my eyes. I met with my family to make arrangements and choose a coffin. I sat in a room discussing Wake and Funeral plans. I penned his obituary. I felt it vital to be strong for the people whom I shared blood. My mindset was “business”. I clung to the notion this newfound courage was sent directly from my father. A little over a week later, with an attractive wooden box draped in flowers and as voices in unison recited the Lord’s Prayer, I finally sobbed. Publicly.
Tomorrow marks ten years since this emptiness in my soul became part of my existence. Some days it feels fewer, others many more. I witness my dad all around me; when I see a sparrow fly or spring flowers creep the surface. I feel him in the ocean breeze and when I taste the flavor of cotton candy. I sense him in the laughter of my children. He is no longer a physical essence, nonetheless his sensation withstands.
Losing a parent is an aspect to living which subjects our conscious to mortality. The significance in the statement nothing lasts forever. The first year was tough. Finding the fortitude to move on and not become crippled. The lesson it teaches us as we activate our own offspring. The day my dad died is one I will never get over. Honestly, I don’t want to.
My dad is the only man in the world I will love until I take my last breath. He taught me plenty in the thirty-two years I had him. He illustrated kindness and compassion. The importance of forgiveness. His instruction made me who I am. Made me who I will always be. Why would I ever want to forget?
In moments of weakness I call upon him for guidance. When I’m confused I recall his direction. During triumph I pray he remains impressed. He continues to be as important to me now as when he was alive. These mere components are the ways I determined to live without him.
I will never cease missing my dad. No day passes without him on my mind. The ache in my heart will never stop. But his disappearance helped me locate my true self. For each day I am lucky enough to wake, I stay blessed to be present for my teenagers. I am able to give of myself to others and love unconditionally. I speak with friends and relish our joy. I lengthen decades with those I’m connected. My dad endured each epoch to its extreme. I honor him in this fashion by choosing to survive, through his gratitude and perspective.
Until we meet again, I love you my little daddy…