It’s been a week today since we lost dad. He was 75.
He’d been in a nursing home the last three years. He went there for rehab with a broken pelvic bone, but due to the onset of dementia we admitted him as a full time resident. He didn’t really like being there. He had his good days and bad days. I think he tried to make the best of it, knowing that he probably wasn’t going to get out.
He was confined to a wheel chair almost the whole time because it hurt to walk. He’d had double hip replacements a few years prior so the pain from that and the broken pelvis ailed him. My brother and sister told him that he could go home if he would walk, but the nurses finally convinced us that he was safe in the wheelchair and it was okay if he didn’t walk again. So, they stopped saying that to him and we accepted that the nursing home was his home now. He was safe there. He got three meals a day. He got medication and the attention that he needed. He got to socialize. He became a regular favorite among the staff with his kind heart and sense of humor. He had a nice roommate that enjoyed his company and even helped him.
It was the beginning of my senior year when my mom and dad separated in 1993. They divorced just a few weeks before my 18th birthday and one month before my graduation. Being the last of three kids at home, and a rebellious teen, my dad and I butted heads a lot. His walking out drove us farther apart. I left home a year later so it was even easier to keep my distance from him.
Dad dated several women and lived with a few. I didn’t meet very many of them or they were never around for very long. He even remarried for a few years, and I don’t think I met her but maybe once or twice. It was when he finally walked away from his last girlfriend and moved in with my sister around 2003 that our relationship began to heal. After a few months with my sister, he rented a trailer nearby and lived alone and seemed to finally be building a stable life again for himself. I always went to see him when I was in town and we always took him out to eat. He’d come to my sister’s house on Christmas day to eat and exchange gifts. And he called me every Sunday afternoon just to say hi.
Dad loved to garden his whole life, and was a very giving man. Spring and summer were spent outside mowing yards, planting vegetables, or just sitting on the porch “watching the world go by.” My dad planted more vegetables than he could ever manage, and he gave almost all of them away, only accepting a polite “thank you” for payment. The last few years before he went into the nursing home, he picked up pecans and shelled them and gave me bags of the nuts for Christmas. I still have some of them in my freezer today. The nursing home even planted a few tomato plants on their patio for him this last summer. Some of my fondest memories of him are in the garden.
My dad drank beer on occasion. As a child, I remember the nutty smell of it and the small dark brown bottles sitting by his lawn chair on the weekend. He began to drink more though when he lived on his own, and especially after the hip replacements as his body began to fail him and he couldn’t get out and garden or do the things he wanted as much anymore. He probably had too much to drink that night when he fell and broke his pelvic bone. I’m sure drinking was his way of dealing with the loneliness or his way of coping with every mistake he’d made in his life since he left my mom. Unfortunately, his dementia was alcohol-induced according to his doctor. He had to quit the addiction cold turkey, and twice, so that had a horrible effect on his brain.
We didn’t expect him to go so quickly. Though he didn’t know who I was when I last saw him back in September, and his weekly phone calls had stopped months ago, he seemed to be doing okay health-wise. It was probably a stroke that took him last Sunday. He was fine the day before when my brother took him out to lunch. On Sunday morning, he had breakfast and called for a Pepsi a few hours later. But at lunch he was unresponsive. He did not want to be resuscitated so they made him comfortable and gave him oxygen and he passed away quietly in his sleep that evening with my sister and brother by his side.
Last Tuesday, the day of the visitation, I helped my sister sift through tons of pictures to use for a memorial collage at the funeral home. In several of the older photos, my dad’s eyes were closed. The sun or the flash was too bright but these were 35mm photos or Polaroids. So the ease of deleting it on a cell phone and taking another quick pic didn’t exist. The photo was there. It was tangible. And eyes closed or not, it was a memory worth saving in a box of photos or in an album.
It got me to thinking about how we go through life with our eyes closed a lot of the time, even if only for a quick moment. We don’t see the flash of time gone by, or we are blinded by it and our instinct is to shut it out. And while our eyes are closed, we are robbed of only two things…those closest to us and the time we have to spend with them. Unfortunately, we are slaves to time. It takes forever when we are young. There isn’t enough of it when we are old.
I’ve had only a week to take all of this in. Nothing can ever prepare you for the loss of a parent. One of my favorite authors once wrote that you lose your audience when you lose your parents, and I think that is very true. We still have Mom thankfully, but I definitely feel the difference with him being gone. I’m not sure how to cope with it, but I know that time will heal and that I will find a way.
I tend to turn to my creative side in times like these. Being a slave to time, I’ll probably wait and start fresh with a fresh new year in a few weeks. For now, I’ll try to enjoy the holidays and this time of year with my family and friends.
I miss my dad and these past few days I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about him and the times we shared together. I’m happy that his suffering is over and I know that he is in a better place. I know in time the grief will pass and I’m keeping my eyes open to better days ahead.