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Five years ago I was planning on quitting my job and becoming a full-time caregiver for my parents. My mom and I had talked with the physical rehab facility where my dad was staying and he was almost ready to exit their care. I knew my mom could no longer handle the care of my dad on her own and she did not want to be a burden. The decision had to be mine and I needed the support of my spouse.
Almost one year prior when I had been ill and took almost a month off from work, my Dad loved having me visit on a daily basis. We had time to do things together like craft, cook, and watch movies. We were even able to take long lazy drives. So I knew he would be excited that I would be available to support mom like she needed. I wasn’t stupid to think it was always going to be sunshine and daisies, after all most of the time my dad and I got along like oil and water. He was my dad though and I knew this was what I needed to do. The bonus was that Rent-a-Dad supported my decision 100%.
Then 7 a.m. on May 6, 2011, I received a call from my mom. My dad had been rushed to the hospital with breathing difficulties once again. He asked the facility to call us. Mom sent her love and said we would meet him at the hospital. She then called me so I could drive her to the hospital. I frantically rushed around the house to get dressed, grab a project or two for the hospital wait, and dashed over to my parent’s house to pick her up. We were at the hospital within the hour. Then we waited in the waiting room for what seemed like forever. After finally being asked to come back the doctors took us aside for a moment to let us know something had happened but we didn’t expect that it was the worst.
When they shared the news with us that my dad had thrown a blood clot to his lungs and they couldn’t save him we were devastated. The only peace of mind at that moment was that we knew one of the nurses in the ER. She told us she was with my dad the whole time and that he knew he was not alone.
The words “shocked” “devastated” and “out of sorts” only begin to explain how we felt at that time. My dad had never been 100% healthy since I was 8 years old. I lived with his illnesses for over 24 years and they had become a part of my normal.
My Dad was supposed to come home to us in a week… I never thought he would go to the BIG home… Not yet.
In the days that followed his passing, I began a letter to my dad and scrapped it over a dozen times. I couldn’t think through my pain or see through my tears. Putting aside my own grief, I had to be the rock that my mom needed me to be. I wasn’t yet ready to deal with my own. Now almost five years later I think a letter to heaven is well overdue…
A letter to my dad in heaven
We are quickly approaching the day we lost your battle here on Earth. It has been almost five years since that day… How did that happen? Where did the time go? How have we survived that long without your quirky smiles or grumbly bear personality?
The first few weeks people were so kind with their thoughts and actions. When the unfairness of it got to us there was family that knew what to say or to just offer a hug when words seemed senseless.
Even five years later I play out those last few months… How excited you were over the last minute gift I found for you that Christmas, the home-cooking we “snuck” in to you, and all the good moments we had together… Mom telling me you felt like you had your little girl back and how after she told me that I made sure to dress up on the days I knew I would be visiting with you.
Then those horrible tornadoes came through our area. The facility you were in had limited power. You were so concerned for others. You were even worried over my health. Those last two weeks I was not the best version of me. What you said and what I heard were two different things. My concern for my own health and work had me so tied up that I couldn’t think outside of myself. I was concerned that my conditioned worsened and that it might even be cancerous this time… For that I am so truly sorry daddy.
What I am glad for is that our last day together was a good one. We had received good news on your progress and that we had a date when you would come home from the facility. The plans we made for all the day trips we would take once you were out made us all happy. You knew I was looking forward to leaving my job and being home with you and mom. You were so very excited about it all. We would figure everything out one step at a time as a family. You were also excited over a project you’re working on so you kicked us out saying we will get enough time to be in each other’s pockets soon enough… We said our “goodbyes” and “I love you”… for the last time… If we had only known…
Those are words I use often about you Daddy.
You kept so many secrets from us but I guess that had become second nature to you. Between the generation mindset you had grown up in and the government security clearance you had as a radio operator in the Navy, keeping secrets was what you did. You weren’t used to the “share all your thoughts and feelings” generation that I was a part of.
So when you requested that I purchase more snacks for your approved of “stash” and I asked (out of habit) how your snacks disappeared so quickly that week, you didn’t need to shut me out or let me assume the worst, that you had been sneaking extra snacks and over indulging, because you were raised not to shout your good deeds from the mountains… But Daddy if you’d only told me you were sharing your snacks with those less fortunate at the facility… to brighten their days during such a miserable time… If I had only known…
There were so many things like this that I found out after you had gone. It made my heart so heavy that I had only really started to know all of your “layers” far too late. Like how compassionate and optimistic you really were, because I had only seen what years of untreated PTSD and the loss of so many friends in Vietnam had done to your spirit.
Mom says my ever replenishing optimism came from you. That you always told her “sweetie we will find a way” and that “together we are stronger than when we are apart”. I now know that we weren’t so much oil and water as much as we were magnets, so much alike that we constantly pushed each other way.
Even though I hear myself say “I wish you’d given me the chance to love you more while you were here”, I am ever grateful that you showed me how to clean spark plugs, use tools properly, make chili, bake and decorate a cake, cultivate a love of photography create arts and crafts, help me develop a science project that evolved over years and took me to the state level, develop a love of obscure things, science fiction, and so much more…
I may not be able to pass on your DNA but I can pass on your love and through that love I will see you in everything.
Often I think on the conversation we had following your coma. You said “everything will change in 2012” At the time I thought you meant something bad and foreboding but now I wonder if you knew a baby that would change our lives would be born in 2012 and you thought it would biologically be Rent-a-Dad’s and mine… You just didn’t know it would be our first foster child. Children do change everything especially our perspective.
Some days I cry because you aren’t here to know these children in our lives but somehow I think you’ve been able to meet each one of them before they were ever born and guide them our way and that you have known how much we have needed those children in our lives. How do I know this? JoBe talks to your photos on the bookcase all the time. He even comes to pull me away from chores so I will talk to the photos as well. Stinkerbell has started doing the same thing. Your photos aren’t the only ones they can reach on that bookshelf but your photos are the only ones that they talk to.
I talk to your photos all the time too Daddy. I still hear your voice in my head…
“I love you Daddy”
“I love you too Nic-Nic”
Always Daddy, Always
Living with Loss
Sadly losing a loved one is not something anyone can bounce back from easily. We all heal in our own time and at our own speed. Never let anyone tell you that you have grieved long enough. If the feeling of grief is just too much to handle on your own (and it can be so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) there are many programs through local organizations and churches. There are also some national programs. Here are three websites dedicated to the discussion of grief and breaking down the myths and stigmas concerning the process:
Mental Health America: Coping with Loss: Bereavement and Grief
“The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means “to be deprived by death.”
Psych Central: The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief
“In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. The five stages do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief.
The death of your loved one might inspire you to evaluate your own feelings of mortality. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life.”
Help Guide: Coping with grief and loss
“Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold”