Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter girl

Boy, I love me some then and now pics:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My dad

This is a picture of my dad, taken nearly five years ago in the stairwell of a church. He was waiting for me to come downstairs so he could walk me down the aisle.

Tomorrow is his birthday, as well as the one-month anniversary since he died. I know I have been a terribly absent from this blog for months now, for this reason and many others. But no matter how hard it is to put into words, I really don't feel like I can blow right past this part of my life, so here I am.

Dad's illness came on quite suddenly. He was sick in January, diagnosed with cancer in February, passed away in March. He had pancreatic cancer, which had spread to his liver and stomach. When we realized how serious things were I took two weeks off work, and Mia and I went to New Mexico to spend time with him. I thought we were just going home for some good family times - you know, barbecues, laughs, family photos - before the chemotherapy or the cancer made him too sick for that sort of thing. But he took a terrible turn for the worse on the seventh day of our visit, and four days later he was gone.

I can barely stand to think about how much I love and miss this man, much less put into words. His death just feels ... too big. But there is something I want to write about.

One thing I learned about losing a parent is that folks who have already been through this are invaluable. Much like having a baby, it's one of those things you can't truly understand unless you have experienced it yourself. And as I was trying to calm myself and make travel arrangements, a dear friend who lost her mother eight years ago told me that even in an experience as heartbreaking as this one, there would be "moments of beauty" at the end. And she was right. So here are a few of the memories that, along with the grief, I will carry in my heart.

- The talk my dad had with us three kids the week before he died. He had us all sit down with him in my brother's living room, and he told us how much he loved us. And one by one, he described to each of us exactly why he was so proud of us. He said that if he played even a very small part in making us the people we are today, he considers his life a huge success. My brothers and I are so very, very lucky that we had the chance to hear those words from him.

- My brothers standing at dad's bedside for 12-plus hours at a time on the last two nights of his life. Dying is very hard work, both on the person doing it and the people around them. And my brothers spent two entire nights helping dad adjust his body, bringing his basin when he was ill and then cleaning him up, fixing his pillows and blankets, giving him his pain meds and, at the end, calming him when he woke up in a delirium, often frightened and confused. Those two boys were superhuman, loving and patient, bottling up their fear and sadness so they could put on a brave face for our dad. I will never, ever forget how incredible they were.

- My dad raising his hand weakly to wave at Mia the day before he died. It was the last piece of "him" I ever saw. I didn't even know he was awake - he had seemed mostly unconscious all morning. But when I picked Mia up and stood by his bed, she began exclaiming "Pa! Pa!" I turned to look at him, and his crumpled hand was waving around in front of his face. His eyes weren't even open, but he found the strength to wave at his granddaughter. God, he loved that little girl.

- The one moment of regret I ever saw on my dad's face, when he and I had a few minutes alone together in his hospital room a couple of days before he died. When I was trying to tell him how much I would miss him, I collapsed crying on his chest, a familiar place where I had been comforted and loved countless times before. Then I told him how much Mia loved him. And he got a wistful, faraway look and said, "Man, I wish I was gonna be here..." That was it. It was only wobbly moment I ever saw in the man who spent his final weeks on earth comforting us.

- The night of the memorial service, after the guests had left my brother's house, my brothers, Sal and I got out dad's bottle of terribly cheap scotch and had a toast to him. It was all smiles and love and laughter. Then the guys went out to the front porch to gather around the fire pit and smoke dad's cigars, Swisher Sweets. The smell of that cigar smoke creeping into the house filled and broke my heart all at once.

Dad, I will miss you forever.