While I was growing up, my father was completely at a loss of how to handle my more-than-a-little crazy mother. So, when I was five years old, he dropped us at mom’s childhood home along the shore of Dyes Inlet in Puget Sound. Then he became a super commuter.
To-and-from Chicago, Illinois. In the 1970’s.
He proudly announced to all and hung a plaque on the wall when he became a charter member of the United Airline’s Mileage Plus Club. Of course he did.
As if she would only ever focus her crazy-pants-ness on him. Never her young children. Nope. Never. Not here. Not us, no way. Okay, so then each year starting around Thanksgiving, the holidays were this eclectic fusion of a Hallmark romance movie crossed with Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. The best of times and the worst of times, all rolled into one. Hot. Mess. Dad would arrive home for more than just a weekend and, well, mom proclaimed, “let the games begin.”
I always knew that if I could just live with my Dad, without mom, everything would be simply, wonderful.
Let’s completely ignore that back then a man was not typically the sole, custodial, divorced parent of young children, especially daughters. Especially when trying to assure himself a place in the workaholics’ hall of fame. You see, he was running from his own fears of rejection and abandonment and working himself beyond exhaustion in his business, every day.
He did the best he could at the time. Even though he wasn’t physically there, he gave me what I needed to grow my ass up and get out of that house as soon as possible.
Despite his physical absence, I innately knew that man loved me and my sister.
Years later, I found out. I was right.
Everyone has a rite of passage in life. I will always mark a “before” and “after” through caring for my father as he declined, went into a brief remission, relapsed, and died of cancer over a two-year period. He lived in my home and then during his brief remission, I placed him in an assisted living community. When his cancer returned, I just didn’t want my young son to witness his death.
While I was my father’s caregiver and Samuel’s mama, it was all-consuming but I pretended it was nothing. That last six months, my life was completely regimented. I woke around 430 AM to fold laundry, pack my son’s gear for school and welcome the morning babysitter a little after 6 AM. Then I left for my dad’s place to drop off laundry and sometimes have breakfast with him and his buddy, Bob.
With just minutes to spare, I’d leave for work. Yes, actual work. I worked as a marketing communication professional and helped open our community hospital that same year my father died.
I unwound a similar routine, each evening. I’d pick my son up from after school care, drop by dad’s to get laundry, get home, make dinner, do more laundry, and sometimes go back to visit dad for a little bit with my son and the dog. Did I mention I also owned a fur baby?
Oh, yeah, forgot that bit. Can you blame me?
So, needless to say, life with a son, a father, a golden retriever, and a full-and-a-half-time job made for never a dull moment. My days were FULL with loving, working and keeping the clan motating in the right direction.
After the hospital opened, I was particularly close to the ER staff. They welcomed my dad, often. He was what they called “a frequent flyer” to the ER and the irony was not lost on me. Every. Minute. Of every day. I knew where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing in order to fulfill all the promises I needed to keep to all those I loved.
With Dad’s presence, my holidays became happy for the first time, ever. I could say “Merry Christmas” and really mean it. We enjoyed two Thanksgivings, two Christmases, and celebrated two birthdays, together—since ours were just a day apart, they were always a big deal.
The hospital ER staff welcomed my father for the last time right after our second birthday celebration. He went in on a Friday with a cold and died on a Monday.
In the end, it’s just the beginning
My life was blessed with the arrival of my father when he joined our little family—just me, my son and the dog. We ‘skooched’ over to welcome him and we lived and laughed and lengthened our days, together.
There was nothing left unsaid. There was nothing left undone.
The end of his life was the beginning of my grief and my recovery from absolute exhaustion. Over time, I finally acknowledged my role as the ultimate caregiver. In the end, I finally began my transformation and ultimately, my metamorphosis.
After all those years, I trusted my gut. And, I was right.
Life with my Dad was simply, wonderful. Hard, exhausting, exhilarating and wonderful.
Dad would say, “Honey, it just bothers the shit outta me that you always have to do my laundry.” And, I replied, “The day I no longer do your laundry will be a very sad day for me.”
And, in fact, it was…but just for me. As my father breathed his last I assured him that he would once again be on the field—standing in the huddle then on the scrimmage line to hear the QB call audibles.
I still miss my dad. I feel him near me, often, yet know he is in a far better place. To this day, his imperfect-but-perfect love and his positive influence remains my constant companion. I am a better, inspired person for all that he taught me in life. I pray the same for you.
If you are living with illness, whether yourself or as a caregiver, I hope you live life fully and that those you love say the same of you.