10 years ago last month, my Mom died of sepsis; a complication coming from having Calciphylaxis, which I’m sure was made worse by her being Diabetic. My Mom spent the last three months of her life in the hospital and was in such pain during the last days, that although the Morphine kept her unconscious...she groaned and cried with pain. To my knowledge my Dad spent every waking moment of those days (as well as many nights) with her in the hospital. I know he experienced the frustration and hopelessness, the sadness and despair one feels as they helplessly watch their spouse slowly slip away...I've never forgotten this, nor the impression of duty and love it left with me.
I've written about my relationship with my Dad as I grew up before...he was a pretty harsh disciplinarian...kind of a 'shoot first, ask questions later' type of guy and while I know there were plenty of times where I had earned his wrath...there were many times where justice wasn't blind and the scales were weighted against me and as I grew older, I took a lot of resentment for my father with me.
It wasn't always that way...I remember in my early years Dad would take me fishing or I'd go along with him while he road hunted for Pheasant. He taught me how to bait my own hook and how to not just rely on the bobber, but to keep the line between my thumb and pointer finger, so I could feel the fish nibbling before they struck. He also taught me how to look for Pheasant runs along fence rows...and that a hen will nest not too far from a run. My Dad taught me about grilling (although I'm a better griller!), how to clean a fish (which I hate to this day) and how to work on cars. My Dad sat down with me when a girl broke my heart for the very first time and I thought the world was crashing in around me and told me through the lump in his throat 'Son...It'll be OK. It will only hurt for a time and then you'll never allow yourself to be hurt that bad again.' ...Of course I allowed myself to be hurt again...but the point was he was trying to connect with me...trying to ease my wound heart...and it's a moment that I'll never forget.
A few weeks ago, Dad and my stepmother Dee came back to Iowa (from Arizona where they live) because Dad needed to see his eye doctor. They stayed with my sister Donna and her husband Dave. They had planned on spending two weeks there and I really wanted them to come up. On Wednesday of the first week, Donna called me and said that she had to tell me something. Her, Dave and my two other sisters (Denise and Deb) had gone down to Arizona about a month earlier, and at that time, Donna had told me about an incident where Dad had acted disoriented and confused. All three girls impressed upon Dee that she should get Dad in to see a doctor. Well...Dad had another similar incident the night before, at their house. After getting Dad settled down, Dee told Donna that she had taken Dad to the doctor and after examining him, he's fairly positive Dad has Alzheimer's...
...As she kept talking, I could feel my eyes start to water and a lump the size of Sugarloaf seize my throat. She asked me if I was alright...I couldn't answer her for about a minute. After I got off the phone, Lisa wanted to know what was wrong...I just buried my head in her shoulder and wept...hard. I sat there wondering what the heck was going on! In my heart I had forgiven my Dad long before...I had buried the demons of my past, I had shaken free the manacles of resentment and the bondage that comes with it and had gone on with life...but now it all came flooding back. I was a kid again, and in my mind's eye I was reliving moments both good and bad...all in a flash.
I'm not sure why it affected me the way it did...I honestly thought I'd cried my last tear over my Dad years ago. Maybe it was because both of my parents had/have terrible diseases. Maybe it was because of the history with my Dad and I want the time to replace the bad with good. Maybe it was because the sorrow of the bitterness that resentment left behind in me, washed over me in that moment...most likely it was equal parts of each...
After Donna's call, we made special plans and met them all that Friday in Rochester for supper. We stayed late and kept the restaurant open later, but they were kind and didn't complain. Lisa took pictures of Dad and I...Dad and the kids and Dad with Dee. Dad and I sat at one end of the long table and we talked about nothing...and everything. It was a good night and I am so glad we were ALL able to make it happen. I'm not too sure with time and distance how many more we'll be able to have...but I'll cherish every one.
Dad? I know there were times when I was growing up that I didn't make it easy on you...and that at times because of my actions or attitude you didn't like me very much. Will you please forgive my stubbornness, resentment and my disrespect? I need you to know there were times when I felt you were overly harsh or unjust in the way you punished me...But I know as a father myself, the incredible responsibility we have to properly discipline and instruct our children...I need you to know that I forgive you for the times of harsh or unjust discipline and that I love you for loving me enough and for caring enough to do so. I know there were MANY times when you felt I wasn't paying attention to what you were trying to teach me or tell me, but I want you to know that I was. Whether it was grilling hamburgers, changing a tire or cleaning a fish...thank you for teaching me the countless things that you did...Thank you for being my Dad.