Saturday, November 17, 2007

Four years ago today...

This has been on and off my mind (mostly on) today--my dad passed away four years ago today. Those of you who read my blog will have to forgive me the long post. I've been both dreading and looking forward to writing this for the past couple weeks, knowing that this anniversary was coming up. Dreading it because of reliving all the memories, but looking forward to the chance to remember my dad.

To rewind the tape, my dad had been in declining health for a few years: heart problems, bypass surgery, several small strokes, and amputations on both legs. All these problems were caused by diabetes that he'd ignored for over 40 years. During the last year of his life I got a few calls from my brother saying "You'd better come down to see him this weekend, because he's not going to be around long." I don't think I spent enough time with my dad--then again, who does?--but in retrospect I'm glad I took advantage of those times to be with him near the end. Because of his extremely poor health and lack of mobility, he spent the last few years in a nursing home.

The day it happened is one I'll never forget. I'd just gotten dropped off the airport to catch a plane to California for a meeting. No sooner than I'd handed my baggage over to be checked, my wife called. She said "Your brother is trying to get hold of you--there's something really wrong with your dad." I got my bag back as I figured (correctly, it turned out) that I wouldn't be making that trip.

I called my brother--it turned out that they'd taken my dad for dialysis that morning, he passed out and became unresponsive, and slipped into a coma. Mom, my brother, and his wife were all there. I talked to my sister in law, and she told me what was going on. I told her "Please, just tell him that I love him." She promised she would.

Lisa came to get me at the airport. I sat by the ticket kiosks in Terminal 1 of O'Hare--I even remember the exact bench--and cried. I remember praying that God would just take him and let all his suffering end. For the previous couple years he'd only been existing, not living.

I got home within about 90 minutes of talking with my sister-in-law, and within about 5 minutes of getting home my brother called...all he said was "Jimmie, he's gone."

The next few days were surreal. I remember the dread I felt walking into the funeral home to see him laid out. Ironically, in death he looked better than he'd looked the past few years of life. He wore a dark blue suit, a fresh crisp white shirt, and a striped tie. He looked very handsome indeed, and very peaceful.

Dad was very involved in the community, and people came--non-stop--for over 2 hours to pay their respects. It meant a lot to hear and see stories of how he'd touched people's lives just by being a kind and generous man. My dad was also a Mason and had served 4 years in the Marine Corps, so both those themes figured in the tributes to him.

My folks' minister gave a great eulogy, and then it was everyone's turn to say their last goodbyes. One person in particular sticks with me. My dad had a Masonic brother who is retired US Army, and served with General Patton in WWII. I'm not quite sure how old this gentleman is but I'm sure he's upper 80s. He walks with a cane and is bent over and twisted at the waist. He walked slowly but with bearing up to my dad's casket, stood at full attention, and gave my dad a crisp military salute. I guess you had to be there, but seeing this was so emotional for me...I completely lost it at that point--balled like a baby.

My brother was able to arrange for the local VFW to provide a full flag presentation ceremony and gun salute at the gravesite. I picked up a couple of the empty cartridges and still have them in the change compartment of my truck to this day.

Just after my dad had his first stroke in 1994, I visited him in the hospital--he told me "Son, don't ever let yourself get like this." After his death I took that to heart. I started running again, lost weight, and started taking better care of myself. I also decided that, since he prompted me to start running again--and since he was wheelchair bound for the last year of his life--that I'd consider him my "running partner". When I go on long runs, we talk...actually, I talk and (I think) he listens.

I hear people say of a loved one that they lost: "I think of him/her every day." Do I think of my dad every day? I have to admit that I don't...which, I guess in a way, is maybe not such a bad thing. I do think about it at times when it's natural for a man to need to talk to his father--and I look at Lisa's dad and miss that relationship I could have had with my dad as he aged gracefully into his 70s (dad was 69 when he died).

But it is what it is, and I know he's not only not suffering but is living in a better place with his parents, relatives, and friends who have gone before him. I also know that someday when it's time for mom, my brother, my sister, and me to leave this world, he'll be standing there with a big smile, tears in his eyes, and his goofy laugh to welcome us. I look forward to that day...hopefully not too soon.

If you've made it through the story so far, this is the end of it. Nothing else to write about at this point, other than to say "thank you" for listening. I appreciate you all.

More later...

3 Comments:

snowelf said...

Jim,

I am so sorry about your father. But I absolutely love that you've made him your running partner. I totally believe he listens.

My husband also died of complications of diabetes because he ignored it for way too long. By the time he made the decision to fight back, he was too far gone. He passed away four months after he turned 30.

Even though he was not a nice person and I was so far detached from him when he died, it was still hard watching him disintegrate. I can't imagine how much harder it was for you because your heart was still with your dad.

When you wrote this: "I remember praying that God would just take him and let all his suffering end. For the previous couple years he'd only been existing, not living." That was exactly how I felt too...I was the only one at the hospital when I found out he had died, and I was so relieved that he was no longer suffering anymore.

This was a wonderful remembrance and I'm so glad you shared it. I can only hope if any diabetics are reading this and think they are invincible, your story and mine only prove that they are not.

hugs to you,

--snow :)

Daniel said...

We have spoken briefly about the horrific problems associated with diabetes. My sister is not there yet, but I do see diabetes in her future. Thank you for sharing your story. It does remind me of my father's death back in 1996. It is never easy, and it can help sharing. He sounds like he was a neat guy.

Jim Jones said...

Snow thanks for your kind comments. I knew you'd lost your husband, but didn't know the circumstances--such a waste, and at such a young age. I was somewhat detached from my dad when he died--still, doesn't make it any easier. I hadn't thought about any diabetics reading this but you're right, hopefully it helps someone. Oh and thanks for the hugs, also.

Dan, thanks also for your words. It's sad that your sister is on that path--and I think the saddest thing is that you can talk to someone until you're blue in the face but if they don't want to change...

You're right that my dad was a neat guy--not the best father in the world (more absentee/disengaged than anything), but still the only one I had. I guess the best that people like you and I can do is just take care of ourselves, love our families, and honor the memories of our fathers...

Jim