Friday, March 11, 2011

Good grief, she's at it again.

I apologize for all the depressing Dad and death talk on here, on Twitter, on Facebook. But I process things in print. Writing is my outlet. If I don’t write it down and share it I will keep speaking it to myself over and over again in my head. I have to get it out, no matter how repetitive and in a shambles it is. Please bear with me.
On the morning of Tuesday, February 15 Noah had gone to school and Lee had gone down for a nap. I was watching our neighbor Ella and she and Ray were playing in the toy room. I was in the boys room trying to fold some laundry. My cell phone rang. It was my brother Jim. He said “Nicole, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. Dad died this morning.” “WHAT?” And though he repeated himself and started with the details all I could think was “WHAT? HOW? WHY?” I was sobbing, in that kind of animal-like cry and I heard Ray tell Ella “Her Dad died. She is very sad. Let’s spy on her.”
Dad worked in a cold storage warehouse, meaning a giant freezer, using fork lifts to pick and load pallets of frozen foods on to trucks for delivery to grocery stores. He went to work at 4 am. He’d gotten up that morning presumably around 3. When what we presume was a stroke came on he must have gotten very light headed or lost his vision, which is what happened when he had the mini-stroke last year. It appears he walked into the edge of a cabinet and gashed his head which began bleeding a bit. He then went into the bathroom steps away to wash off the blood and collect himself. He sat down and died. My grandmother got up around 9 and when she came downstairs she saw the bathroom door was ajar a bit, she tried to push it closed but my father was in the way. She found him dead on the floor. She called 911 and my brother Jim who went right over and called me and my sisters on his way. We were all so shocked. Are so shocked. Will continue to be so hurt and shocked. We didn’t see this coming.
But then I tell myself Dad would have wanted it this way. If he had a major stroke and survived needing a lot of care he’d have been begging us to kill him. He was fiercely private about some things and very stubborn. He also would not have wanted to witness our suffering – sitting around knowing he was dying slowly, that his days were numbered. So for those reasons I guess we should be thankful – for him.
My Dad and I were in a really good place. I’d seen him a couple of weeks prior. Took the boys out to spend some time with him just because I tried to make sure we saw him and Oma once a month. He made a roasted chicken with carrots and potatoes that we all gobbled up. He played with the boys – watching Noah read and Ray write, even getting down on the floor to have fun with them. He seemed in good spirits. And it was an awesome visit. I called him a few days prior to his death and told him how much we’d enjoyed it. But the bulk of our conversation was about a TV. When I saw him I told him we bought a new TV and Dad said he’d been thinking about buying one and that if he could walk home from Walmart with one (Dad didn’t have a license) he’d have one by now. And since the visit I kept meaning to call and tell him that I’d help to get him a TV – watch for a good deal online and have it shipped free. But as always it took me awhile to call because the prime time to reach Dad was between 3 and 6 pm and that’s always the busiest with the kids. But Dad said he didn’t really need a TV yet but promised me he’d let me know if he changed his mind. It was a silly conversation but at least I know he knows I was thinking about him and what I could do for him. How I could help – though he didn’t really like being helped.
And yet I still have some regret about not calling him on Valentine’s Day. Worry that he didn’t feel loved. I meant to, but the day once again got away from me. I took some photos of the boys and doctored them up to make little silly Valentines and send them to a bunch of loved ones via text message. Dad’s phone was too old to see photos and I thought of posting one on his Facebook wall but he really checked it. So I thought “I’ll just give him a call.” And I didn’t. GOD I regret that. Not just that I would have had one more chance to talk to him but that maybe he would tell me he wasn’t feeling great and I could have persuaded him to go to the hospital. Of course that’s kind of a laugh since you couldn’t persuade him to do much, in fact he’d probably refrain from doing so until he was convinced it was his own idea. (Have I mentioned that Ray is my father?) But anyway – just to have heard his voice that one more time.
And yet I don’t feel like I have the right to feel that way. We didn’t have unfinished business. So many others did. My sister Elisha in Florida is wrecked that she hadn’t seen him in a year. My sister Jessica who hadn’t seen my Dad for 13 years was on the brink, after a year of Facebook contact, of finally re-meeting Dad when her mother once again forbade it. She never got to know him or really understand that though he wasn’t there for her like he should have been it wasn’t because he didn’t adore her. He was sad for not knowing her every day. And there is a lot of other family heartbreak.
There was a time I wasn’t speaking to my father, between my wedding and when Noah was born. I was so angry at him for not fixing the situation with Jessica. I knew it was hurting him every day and that he didn’t feel emotionally able to rectify it but I was so angry that he wasn’t there to be a father to her like he had been for me. Any one of us could go on and on about how messed up the situation was and why he felt the way he felt but when it comes right down to it I don’t believe there is any good reason to not be a part of your child’s life. And so I told him he had to fix his life and I couldn’t be a part of his until he did that. In retrospect I see that I really felt that this would push him to do something, but it didn’t and so it was more needless pain for us both. During that time period I would see my Dad everywhere. Every bald guy with facial hair appeared to be my Dad on the periphery. I just expected to have him show up.

And then he did. When I got pregnant with Noah I wrote a few letters to Dad. Too much time had passed and I missed him dearly. I knew that being a grandfather to my kids would mean so much to him. And that not having him in my child’s life would be a great loss. So I sent him information about my pregnancy and pictures from my ultrasounds. I didn’t hear back but without a word he showed up at the hospital the morning after Noah was born with a stuffed dog. And seeing him that morning was one of the happiest moments of my life. We didn’t really need to patch things up, he was just there. And he was at the hospital when I was in labor with Ray and the first visitor after Lee was born. And he was so thrilled with the boys. And they were really growing to love him and look forward to seeing him. It’s for them that I feel so robbed. They are too young to really know what they will be missing. But I know.
When I tell someone that my Dad had four children with four different mothers it sounds like my Dad was a womanizer. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He was really a failed romantic. His women left him, he’d fall into a total self destructive depression, swear off romance for 10 years and then somehow fall into a relationship kicking and screaming about women being trouble. When he was young all he wanted was a normal, stable family – to be the good, around all the time Dad and husband that he didn’t have. And he tried to be that three times and with each try he got more beat down and unable to get back up. Not to say the man was faultless - he was stubborn, emotional and had a weakness for drink. But he was well meaning. He loved too deeply. Felt too strongly. But that love, when you were on the receiving end, as I always was, was the best thing ever.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The end of Dad's chapter

Whenever I’d ask Dad too many questions he’d joke “What? You writing a book? Leave my chapter out.”

After Christmas last year Dad had a mild stroke. At the time we took it very seriously. Dad would get so pissed as my sister and I tried to talk to his doctors. We wanted to know everything there was to know. What caused it? What could be done? Was this going to happen again? Within days he made a complete recovery. They told him first and foremost to quit smoking. And much to everyone’s surprise he did. They put him on medications and required regular checkups and blood work and I was amazed he actually kept up with it. And they told him to lose weight and get his blood pressure under control. I was pissed they sent him home with no information on exactly how to do that. I complained to Dad that the hospital really should give him an informative pamphlet on some simple things he could do to decrease his blood pressure and moderate his diet. I bought him a book on heart healthy eating and I’m pretty sure he shoved it in the drawer with the computer for dummies books I bought and he never used. And though he made great strides with some things, his weight increased instead of decreased. He said his medications drained his energy and he therefore got less exercise than he used to, and in quitting smoking he packed on some weight. When I’d ask what his doctors were saying he’d say they were still moving around his medication mix and that his blood pressure was still too high. But the disbelief, the relief that he’d stopped smoking was huge for us all. It made everything else seem like background noise.
And this is what makes me so mad. Blood pressure issues are so common, I never realized it was a real threat. High blood pressure and weight killed my father. Either the doctors never lead him to believe that it was this serious or he never passed that belief on to us. I’m so angry that less salt, more water, more exercise would mean he’d still be here with us. We should have had so many more years together.
And there is so much baggage. Unresolved issues in his own life, and huge issues about what is to happen now. There is a huge dispute rising up about what would be best for my Oma and I just have this heavy heart feeling that she’s going to be gone by the end of this year. I want so much to do the right thing by her, make sure she gets the care she needs but sadly it isn’t my decision. And I know how pissed my Dad would be with what is going to go on – how he’d spent the last year practically trapped in that house because he was afraid to leave Oma alone overnight and now she might end up shoved in some shabby apartment alone with no regular care. I’m at a loss about what to do.
The last two weeks I was in a tizzy of getting things done and taking care of others and now things are settling down and I’m feeling alone and insane. They say it takes a year to mourn and I can see now how that is true. Because at the moment I vacillate between disbelief, desperate sadness and anger. And trying to keep it all in check while taking care of the kids seems like an impossible task. I have problems taking care of myself under normal circumstances – and this, well HOW? I can’t even imagine how to do it.
My Dad had his flaws. He made mistakes in his life and he was often his own worst enemy – repeatedly shooting himself in the foot. But I can say without reservation that he was one of the most loving people. I’d seen him cry so many times – in happiness and sadness. He felt things so very deeply , too deeply in fact. And he hated to see us upset and would be devastated by all this suffering.
We went to a local park near my house on Saturday and scattered Dad's ashes in the Delaware River. It was me, my 2 sisters, my brother, his 18 year old daughter, and Noah. Noah was the only young family member who wanted to come. I asked Noah if he wanted to say anything to his PaJoe and he said "I hope he has a nice trip." And I know from further questioning that Noah meant that twofold - he was speaking of PAJoe's ashes traveling on the river but also of his spiritual journey. Noah is firm in his belief that PaJoe was going some place next and he hopes it is a grand adventure, one on which we can later accompany him. And I hope that too.


I have come to realize I am angry. So very angry. At no one in particular. It's just bubbling under the surface and bits come spitting out in moments of frustration. I am not being very patient with the boys. I feel out of control.