Monday, April 22, 2019

The Day We Really Lost My Dad

We are closing in one year since Dad passed away, and I have been remembering a lot of things that happened during those last two weeks that at the time were intense and personal, and some things I want to share in the year since then. I'm certainly not done grieving. There will always be days where I will think, what would this be like, how would it be different, if Dad were here. But a year is a long time to grow and change and process grief, so I'm a little more willing now to share about what I went through a year ago, and where I am at now.

I am publishing this post on April 22nd, because this is the anniversary of the day that I would say I really lost my dad. This was the last day I had a conversation with Dad that felt real. It was the last day he was sitting in his chair at his computer, instead of lying in the hospital bed. It was the last day he felt like my dad, in full control (as much as he could be on the oxygen tank). Some of my sisters and I had gone to APL Hershey Park day that day, which had been a lot of fun, and I came home late that night, talked to Dad for a while, and made a plan to come back on Tuesday to talk some more. Those plans never came to fruition, because the very next day, he was unable to hold long conversations, and had trouble remembering who we were.

The next two weeks his mind was clouded, and I was over at my parent's house constantly, trying to get my last moment, hoping he'd come back to us. We sat in the room he lay in, reading, listening to music, trying to use photos and music and scriptures to remind him, even for only the briefest moments, of who he was, who we were, and how much we loved him. Those two weeks shook me and my faith dramatically, and I have lots of Facebook messages that I sent privately at that time that detail the days that my Dad couldn't remember who I was, and how that made me feel utterly helpless.  In those messages, I had some very good friends reminding me frequently that God was there, and that he was in control and could handle my loss, despite the apparent lack of any control in those moments.

For a few weeks after he passed away (even a few months after), those days were all I could think about - those final days of utter confusion - and all I could remember about my Dad was the pain of those moments, of his being physically there and alive, but not the man I knew, his mental capacity swallowed up by the cancer tumors. My sweet husband encouraged me out of that by asking me to tell him stories about Dad, trying to get me to remember something other than those two horrible last weeks. Here are some of those moments that I've been trying to remember instead:

- When I was a small child, my Dad liked to read out loud to us, but only if he felt we were paying attention. If he got even the slightest sense that we weren't, he'd close the book and demand we'd tell him the last thing he had said. Because of this, I got very good at glibly reciting the last sentence I had heard - weather I actually had any comprehension of that was a different story. I knew I could recite the last line perfectly, and Dad would keep reading.

- When we would go camping as a family, on the last day, Dad would make "hoosh", a weird combination of bacon and bacon grease,leftover ground beef, and whatever sauce we had (tomato sauce, BBQ sauce or maple syrup) to hold it all together on top of a toasted bagel. It sounds gross, but outside on the last day of a camping trip, it was the best. Dad called it "hoosh" because at that time, he was interested in the life of Ernest Shackleton, and in the accounts of Shackleton's voyage, the men referred to "hoosh" being the scraps they ate.

- When I was in middle school, I talked to my dad about the boys I liked, not because I wanted to (I don't think any pre-teen girl wants to) but because he could tell and would gently ask me. Dad referred to this as "my Christmas tree face", telling me how my eyes would light up when around the object of my crush, and my face would get more animated as I talked to them in an effort to be interesting. The boys in question definitely didn't notice, but Dad was tuned into me as his daughter and frequently warned me about the dangers of "wearing my heart on my sleeve" and being that obvious with my emotions.

- When I was in high school, I usually went to my mom for homework help, but my junior year, I had GT physics problems where she sent me to Dad instead. He'd read it, think about it, work through it with me, and if he got it right, he'd say "Hallelujah, dad still knows things!"

- When I was in college, my Dad regularly came out to visit me, at least once a semester, for our private college dinner dates. We would go to the dining hall and get a table for two where I could tell him everything about my semester. I have always been a big talker, especially with my Dad. When I was in middle and high school, I'd get in the car after youth group all fueled up on the extroversion of being around my friends and just talk to him non-stop. When I went to college, these dinners were his way of still seeking out my non-stop talking without the car rides. After the dining hall we frequently walked around the UMBC loop because I had more to say, and Dad would write little notes on a 3x5 card so he'd remember what I'd said as I talked. About a month before he died, we (with my uncle Bob and sister Isabel) went to a party at the UMBC event center to celebrate the history making NCAA win. He was in a wheelchair, with a big tank of oxygen, but he went for me so we could have one last drive around the loop, one last college dinner together. It is one of my personal treasured last moments with him.

I have had all kinds of emotions and feelings this past year. It's still rough to be without Dad, but I am hoping that by writing these things down, I will remember and think of him without the sting of grief, without the painful recollections of what illness and death did to him at this time last year. I don't really know how to end this post, so...the end.

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