Cafe de Desiree

January 5, 2017

An Honest Eulogy for my Dad

Filed under: death,family,life — desi83 @ 6:14 am
Tags: , ,

I cleaned out my dad’s apartment with the help of my mom, stepdad, and my boyfriend. His whole life was thrown into the back of a pick up truck: boxes of clothes, cds, thrift store furniture, his mom’s old dishes, bags of food that he just bought three days beforehand, and a box of photographs. We hauled almost everything to the Goodwill, besides the photographs and a few sentimental items. My dad is supposed to be cremated tomorrow. That is what he wanted, and that is what I would choose as well. It seems like the cleanest way. Also, I’ve already seen his lifeless body, and I really don’t want to see it sitting in a box. My dad is going to be burned into ashes, and those ashes, 7-8 pounds of bone matter, are going to be in a fancy urn that I bought from Amazon. I don’t have a grave stone for him, but I ordered a little engraved plate to stick on the fancy urn that reads his name and “Loving Father and brother” and his birth-death dates.

I chose a wooden box with prayer hands, not because I am particularly religious ( I am not; I refused the priest at the hospital because those trite words “He’s gone to a better place” are not reassuring to me). I chose the prayer hands because there is something peaceful about them, and because my daddy’s hands stick in my mind as a symbol of him that I’ve known my whole life. I rubbed lotion on those rough, dry, scarred hands in the hospital as he lay dying, hoping that his condition would turn around. I held one of those rough hands, and my mostly unemotional/unaffectionate dad squeezed my hand in silence while he stared at the ceiling from the hospital bed. Please know, I NEVER doubted his love. He was not a sap, but he very much showed me and told me in his own way. He was always there for me, and God I am glad that I can say that I was there for him to the bitter end. His hands were a symbol of who he was as a person. He’s a bit rough round the edges, and he’s a bit scarred. He’s worked hard his whole life, and “gloves are for ladies”. But as he squeezed my hand, I was reminded of his strength, and my hand felt small inside of his. It reminded me of everything he’s done for me, in spite of the alcoholism and the many hours that he was away at work in another state.

My daddy fought addiction, and I spent two years of my life helping him conquer it. He lived with me after he lost his job of 30 years that nearly broke him. It was a blessing, in a way, that he lost that job. I yelled at him, threw things at him, and threatened to kick him out (empty threat, of course). I poured his liquor down the drain and gave his beer to some friends of mine. Mom could walk away from him because he’s not her blood, and he wouldn’t let the bottle go for her, and I don’t blame her one bit. But I couldn’t walk way from the man who held me as a baby, the man who used to take me to the movies to see Disney cartoons and horror films (yes, both), the man who took me to karate lessons and fried eggs and bologna for me in the morning, the man whose lap I would curl up in when I grew sleepy, the man who drove 5 hours once a month to see me when he worked in Georgia or who flew from Chicago every quarter to see me, the man who took me on vacation wherever I chose in the US every summer until he lost his job, the man who had 12 pictures of me hanging in his apartment, all of different stages of my life. It’s true that I am closer to my mom, but I felt a kind of responsibility to my dad. He gave me life, and he did the best he could while fighting a nasty, stubborn demon. We fought that demon together though, and we won. Those weren’t the only demons, unfortunately.

My dad found out that he had congestive heart disease in December. He died on December 30th. It’s almost a blur, it happened so quickly. He called me on a Saturday morning, and I didn’t answer the phone. I was at my apartment, and I hadn’t had my coffee yet. Already, mom had called. “I can’t handle two parent calls before coffee,” I said. I listened to his message after I drank my coffee. “Desiree, this is your dad,” it began. It was how he always began his messages, so I figured it was just an ordinary call to see how I was doing. “I’m in the hospital at St Thomas. Call me back as soon as you can,” he said. His voice sounded weak. It was the phone call that I had been fearing. He lives alone in an apartment an hour away from me. I moved for my job, and he’s one of the reasons I was hesitant to do that. My boyfriend, who often stays with me on the weekends, and I jumped in our cars and headed to the hospital after I got in touch with him. “I’m having heart problems,” Dad told me. Now, three of his brothers have heart problems, so I thought, well here we go, but  I thought we’d have years to cope with it. He told me that he’d thought that he had pneumonia, but then his whole body swelled up. He drove himself to the hospital because he couldn’t figure out how to work the new smart phone I had given him (my dad is a smart man, but he is not technologically inclined). He smoked his last cigarette ever in the hospital parking lot, and he walked in to meet his fate.

He was in the hospital for 16 days. He had no insurance, but he was an army vet, so we were able to transfer him to the VA for the last week. My best friend and I went to his apartment and cleaned it, including throwing away all cigarette paraphernalia. He was given 8 pills to take every day that I meticulously halved and/or sorted into a weekly pill box. He was put on a low sodium diet, and we spent two and a half hours reading labels and searching for edible but healthy meals. He could barely walk through the parking lot without getting out of breath, so he rode in one of those motorized scooters that I’m pretty sure we’ve made fun of at some point. I made him some chicken, and I explained to him how I cooked it and seasoned it. I helped him figure out how to use his defibrillator vest, and I made sure his phone was charging and that the ringer was on. He did everything right. He ate his sodium free diet, and he quit smoking. He killed that second demon, but congestive heart failure is a demon that can’t be fought sometimes. His heart was too badly damaged. I felt my own heart break inside of my chest as I fought with doctors to tell me what was going on. I know why they call it heart break now, because that is exactly how the pain feels. It has helped to talk with other people who knew him. Some of his relatives have been to the hospital a few times, and they are sharing in my loss, and I spoke with his work supervisor of the maintenance job he’d found right after he became sober. “He’s a good man. He’d do anything for anyone who asked. We miss him here,” the man told me.

My boyfriend and I visited my dad the last day of his life. I introduced Dan to him, and Dan helped him with his car. It was left at the original hospital where he was taken, so it hadn’t been driven for 16 days. Dan and I bought a jumper cable box for him so that if he continued to have trouble starting his car, that would get him through until he got a new car. We had planned to go car shopping next weekend. I also brought him a scale because he was supposed to weigh himself daily. He weighed 157 lbs, and he had weighed 180 lbs in November. I also took his bag of $50 in change so that I could cash it in for him. He left his car running so that it would charge, and he was going upstairs to get his laundry bag. I wanted to help him, but I had to see what he could do on his own before I went back to my own apartment an hour away. I stayed in town through the whole month of December to assist him, and I was on winter break from teaching anyway. Dad thanked Dan for helping him, and he smiled at both of us. “Are you feeling alright, Dad?” I asked. He laughed. “What do you think? Nah, it’s okay. I’m doing what I can, but the doctor said I could drop dead at any point. Not much I can do about that,” he said, still smiling. I told him not to talk like that, and I told him that I loved him. I think I did. I hope I did.

I got a call from the defibrillator company later that day that his heart had stopped. They asked me to go check on him. I still don’t know why they didn’t call an ambulance, but apparently that’s not how it works. My boyfriend drove me to his apartment. His car was still running, and his apartment door was open. I felt numb and panicked, so I ran up the stairs to see what was going on. He was laying there with the dining chair collapsed beside him. His eyes and mouth were wide open. I screamed and wailed, and my boyfriend held me. He went to check his pulse and to see if he was breathing. I touched his forehead, and he was cold. “What do I do, what do I do? He’s dead!” I yelled. “Call 911,” my boyfriend sensibly replied. Oh my Jesus, he is wonderful in a crisis. The operator told me to do chest compressions, and Dan heard her so he began doing them. It was too late though. The ambulance still took him to the hospital and reassured me that they’d do what they could to save him. I knew he was gone, but that gave me a twinge of hope. Dan and I went to the hospital, and we waited in line in the emergency room behind this elderly lady who spent what seemed hours talking to the nurse on desk duty. Finally, a nurse came out and led us to a small room with two couches and a television on mute on the wall, as well as a bouquet of flowers sitting on a small white table. The waiting was killing me. “I just want to know for sure. I need the doctor to get in here and just get it over with,” I said. I saw my dad once more at the funeral home, his eyes and mouth were closed, so he appeared to be sleeping.

I try not to think of the images of him after he died. I concentrate on that last moment that I had with him, and he smiled a big smile at me. He seemed so much at peace that day that I wonder if he knew that he wasn’t going to live much longer. It was traumatic and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but in a way I am relieved that I was the one who found him. I was there for him until the bitter end. More than that, I am so grateful that I came to see him right before he passed. I saw him happy, and he was grateful to me, as I was to him for being the best dad that he could be.

Dad was more than his demons. He was an army vet, a traveler, a hiker, a fisherman, a bowler, a football fan, a western film fan, a brother, a father, a son, and a hard worker, a helpful man who would loan neighbors and co-workers anything that he could give: be it a ride, a cigarette, or 20 bucks. He hated commercials on television and standing in line. He thought Beavis and Butthead were funny, and he didn’t vote because they’re all crooks. He said he didn’t like dogs, but he often cuddled with my dog while he lived with me, and I even heard him talking to the dog a few times. He liked cooking at home and listening to 90s music thanks to me. He never missed an episode of Bonanza on television even though he’s seen every episode five times already. He was a simple man, but there was more to him than meets the eye. He will be missed, and this world was a better place for having him in it.

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