Monday, November 16, 2009

One hundred four weeks ago today . . .

. . . my Dad passed away. I can still picture the events of that day. Mom, my sibs and I all quietly scurried around, trying to ensure Dad's comfort and trying so hard to deny that it was his last day on Earth. [I think we singlehandedly increased the value of Kleenex stock that day!] Other family members and friends have died, but the death of my father really rocked my boat. He was often too strict, even with his adult children, and criticized with ease. I believe he felt that was expected of him as patriarch of the family. It was his duty to make sure his offspring turned out to be well-mannered, articulate and useful world citizens. As the sole survivor of his immediate family for many years, I sometimes wondered how that affected him. For one thing, he tried ever so sincerely and pretty disastrously to parent his nieces and nephews -- all living thousands of miles away. His brother and sister both died too young and, sadly, had bad luck in multiple marriages each. Their parents both died in their early 70s, so Dad felt lucky to reach the ripe old age of 83 and to have stayed married to the same woman for 62 years. Dad chose the right lady when he married Mom. Her background was very different from his. She loved him enough to help him reshape himself into a better person. Mom came from a close, openly loving family and worked very hard to create the same kind of family for herself and Dad. Despite Dad, she succeeded. I regret that we kids didn't get to know Dad's parents. We lived in northern Illinois and they lived in southern Texas. My grandmother lived with us for a few years after my grandfather died, so I knew her a little better. I sometimes had the impression that sentimentality was viewed as a weakness, but she and Dad could not deny their feelings. Grandma M. was a sweet-faced lady with an iron will. She braved years of caring for a husband who had multiple strokes before one finally took his life. She was so focused on his care, that she neglected herself -- not uncommon among women of her generation. The husband and children always took priority. Too late, doctors found advanced breast cancer in my Grandma M. She endured radical surgery, horrendous chemo and radiation. This was during the 1960s when treatment was more extreme, less effective and more noxious than it is now. Somehow, she always managed a warm smile when I visited her in the hospital and gently rubbed her head. I was afraid to touch her anywhere else because she was in pain and afflicted with wires and tubes. Dad liked to have his crew-cut head rubbed, too. Kids enjoyed doing it because it tickled their hands. He would croon with pleasure, especially when one of his beloved grandchildren was doing the stroking.
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Morphine had sent Dad into another realm, but that made no difference to those of us around him. Pete and I debated over what music to play for him even though it probably didn't matter at that point. We were desperate to make his "transition" as smooth and peaceful as possible. Dad had trouble swallowing during his last couple of days, so we kept his mouth moist by dipping stick sponges in water and holding them to his lips. I'm convinced he was letting me know that he was aware of us when he bit off the sponge and wouldn't let me get it out of his mouth. I was terrified that he would choke on it, but he seemed to enjoy moving it around just out of my reach. That was so Dad. The later it got, the more crowded it became on his side of the bed. I resorted to crawling onto the middle of the bed to be closer to him. Never, ever, in a million years would this have happened under any other circumstances. It would have been totally unseemly, but I wasn't satisfied to touch his blanketed foot -- I needed to run my hand across his crew-cut and hold his hand. So . . . Memories linger. At least now I can think about him without crying. I had hoped I might feel his presence as I did his sister's shortly after she died in a traffic accident years ago. I haven't. As staid as Dad was, I think he's still in shock at where his soul has landed. Maybe once he's acclimated, he'll make a call on Mom; she could really use one.

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