So it’s been many moons since I’ve written anything at all, even though my intentions have been to pick up where I left off more times than I can count. However, life – in that way that we are all too familiar with – has intervened and taken me and my family on a roller coaster ride for many months now. But life does go on and I do too so here I am again, trying to gather my thoughts and make some sense of them.
As any of you who are reading this know, my beloved Dad passed away 3 months ago after a valiant struggle against more illnesses than we thought any one person could be burdened with. Between November and when he died, he had been in the hospital 4 times and the intervals between each stay grew shorter and shorter. (On one memorable – in a truly horrible way – day, both my Dad and my great kid were in the ER at the same time on a Friday night. That was a fun experience). Anyway, it became more and more clear that we were fighting a losing battle. Not much could be done to help him and his stamina, his desire to keep fighting, even his will to live – it seemed to me – were fading every day.
The last stay followed a rare afternoon out for my Mom and me, a day when we had lunch with some former co-workers. My Dad was having a good day and we felt safe leaving him for a few short hours. And then we got home and he was struggling, saying he couldn’t catch his breath. He didn’t look well and my Mom said she was taking him to the emergency room.
I headed off to school to pick up my great kid and said words to him as I got him into the car that I wasn’t even conscious of thinking until they left my mouth. “I have a bad feeling about this,” I told him. And I did. This time was different. This was bad.
A day or so into the hospital stay at wonderful St. Peter’s, staffed with so many giving and caring people who had come to know us – and us to know them – only too well at this point, one of my Dad’s doctors pulled my Mom and me into a room and finally told us the truth, instead of the pie-in-the-sky platitudes we had been told by the other doctors. He’s not going to get better, we were told. He has a few weeks at best, we heard. Start preparing yourselves and start preparing him.
6 days later he was gone. But in those 6 days, we crammed so much love and talking and reminiscing and sharing stories and singing and laughing into every hour. We called our extended family and our friends and asked them to come and say goodbye. And so many people did and told him what he meant to them, how grateful they were for the support, or the job he had gotten them, or how proud they were to be his niece or nephew or friend, or how they had always appreciated the little and big things he had done for them. And the people who couldn’t come – and some couldn’t, because of distance, and others couldn’t because they couldn’t bear to say goodbye – talked to him also. He made peace with a friend of 60 years who had abandoned him over something minor a few years back, a reconciliation my Dad initiated. He was able to savor each moment and enjoy each memory shared. And he wasn’t alone for a minute, because we began taking turns spending the night with him in the hospital. He didn’t want to be alone and, as the last few days went on, it was clear that he needed a family member close by at all times.
And I was the luckiest one of all. Because I got to spend his last night with him at the hospital. We talked, we prayed, we sang old songs. I read the passages about the Resurrection to him from the Bible. I rubbed his back and fed him ice chips. I called the breathing technician when he was struggling. And then, when dawn was just beginning to break, when he told me to call my Mom and my sister and my great kid to come to the hospital, I did. He knew, I’m convinced, that his journey here was about to end and he wanted to be surrounded by everyone he loved.
We did all the things for him that he had put into writing years before, things he wanted done at the end of his life. We held his hand and talked to him, we sang his favorite songs, my sister read him the 23rd Psalm, we told him – even when we weren’t sure he could hear us any more – that it was OK to go, that he didn’t need to keep fighting, that we would be OK, and that we loved him for being the best husband and dad and grandfather there ever was. And we prayed to God to take him home, to end his awful suffering. And our God – a merciful and loving God – enabled him to have a peaceful passing.
The next few hours and days are more a blur to me than anything else. There are moments I remember with such clarity that it’s as if I’m reliving the moment. And then there are whole stretches of time I can’t – or won’t – recall at all. Those first few days both sped by and seemed to be never-ending at the same time. I just know that the strength I got from my family and my friends lifted me up and kept me going when I didn’t think I could say or do one more thing. And I have told them all thank you a million times and it still is not enough.
Those of you who know me well also know that I don’t like to express emotion publicly. I cry, of course, but I try to do it in private. I always feel my crying will be a burden on others – crazy, I know, but that’s how I’m hard-wired – so I tend to save it for the privacy of my room or my car. And I had been so strong and so stoic, most of the time, during the past few months. I was in rational mode because we needed to make decisions and have discussions and cope in a way that emotion often overshadows. I didn’t cry often and I almost never let anyone see me cry. But, boy, when the waterworks started after my Dad died, they didn’t stop. I cried non-stop for days. Through the wake, through the Mass, through the cemetery and I haven’t stopped crying yet. I cry every day still. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to stop because crying – besides being so cathartic – still connects me in a way to those last few days my Dad was in the hospital. And I know I’m not crying for him. I’m crying for me and my Mom and my sisters and my great kid and my niece and nephew and my Dad’s brother and godchildren and his best friends and everyone who ever met him. We are all diminished by his death, but we are all better people for having known him and loved him and experienced his love in return.
So while I try to find my center again, to adjust to my life without my Dad, to move forward and be happy – the way I know he wants me to be – I’ll start writing again. I’ve missed it for so many reasons but I needed to spend every day, every hour I possibly could with my Dad. And I still do but in a different way. He may not be here anymore but he lives in my heart, a space he will always occupy. And I think he’d approve of me getting back to the writing I love so much.
So this is for you, Dad. And I’m still waiting for that sign you promised me.