It has been a while now. I’ve waited to write something, until I could write without making it sappy and sugary sweet. Dad was never sappy. In fact, when I was growing up I kind of considered him grouchy, a little cold, way way too logical. Mom was the emotional parent, dad was silent.
Somehow that changed when Mom died. Dad became, reflective, softer, kinda smudgy.
If you are a woman and have born children you probably know that thing that happens. You are one minute writhing in unbearable pain, or so utterly exhausted by the girth of you and the pushing and the desire to have that thing out of you. You scream at your significant other to never touch you again but don’t they dare to leave the room. And then that thing is not a thing but your baby in your arms and suddenly by some miracle you can logically remember the writhing in pain and the pushing and the vitriolic words yelled at anyone who came near, but none of it matters and you look at your child and wonder when you can start all over to have another.
Dad was like that almost. Like some invisible force had suddenly changed his view, his memory of mom and of their relationship. He spoke with softness and sorrow and sweetness of their last kiss that had happened less than 24 hours before and said it was like their first kiss.
Where did that logical, unfeeling man I had grown up with go? I knew he loved me, I was his little girl, his tomboy that he went backpacking with, and fishing. I was the girl he called when he wanted to learn to scuba dive and wanted to have someone take the class with him. But there weren’t hugs and kisses and sweet nicknames.
I often felt I would never measure up, be smart enough, or pretty enough, or succeed enough to make him proud. As I began to work on the memoir I worried if my memories of my childhood would hurt him. I held back and stopped writing more than once, afraid of what his reaction might be if he read those words.
It has been seventeen days.
About thirty days ago things began to change, dad had been doing well but then started to decline, rapidly. My sister and her husband were supposed to take a trip to California, a vacation, maybe to celebrate my sister retiring from her job so that she could work solely as a freelance writer. They would be gone over father’s day weekend. I made plans to go up to Philadelphia, take my daughter and spend the weekend with dad. By Thursday, the 16th, dad had fallen a couple of times, he wasn’t eating much, he was in pain and only wanted to sleep the days away. Hospice had been called. We started to talk about hiring a private duty nurse to stay with him more often or at least to hire someone to spend more time with him. Lisa and Garrett decided to cancel their trip. I was to arrive on Saturday evening.
Dad never liked Father’s day, it was a holiday made up by Hallmark he used to say.
Friday morning Lisa called, dad was much worse, sleeping almost the entire day, not communicative really, was getting moriphine and anti-anxiety medications. The hospice nurse said she wasn’t sure dad would last through the weekend. Cait and I changed our flight and arrived late Friday night. As we landed in Philly, Lisa called, I told her I was renting a car, Cait and I would go straight to the assisted living facility where dad lived. Lisa and Garrett were finally going home to get some much needed sleep.
We got there after midnight. Dad was in a hospital bed, slack jawed, pale, and gasping for breath. I talked to him, told him we were there. Cait and I took turns sitting by his bed. Cait wondered if he knew we were there, I assured her he did. I don’t know how I know, but I do.
The nurses came in every two hours to give him more moriphine. He had apnea episodes where he would not take a breath, one time for about 20 seconds. It scared me, I held my own breath, not wanting to use up any of the air in the room that he might need. And then he would suddenly gasp and take in another breath. The episodes became more frequent. I napped in a recliner in his room. They came, the nurses like clockwork, they told him they were going to give him some medicine, or they were going to move him. His expression never changed.
Early Saturday morning the hospice nurse told me that the apnea would continue, for longer times until finally he just never gasped for another breath. I called Lisa and told her and Garrett they should come back.
Debbie and Karen arrived a few hours later, along with Lisa’s sons, Josh and Noah. We talked, we sat with dad.
The nurses came and went, it was some of his favorite nurses from the facility. They liked him, they told me so. The hospice nurse checked him again, said she was going to be in the building for a bit if we needed her. Another nurse came in, she checked him too. I was on one side of the bed, she on the other. She looked at me and I knew.
“It’s time isn’t it?” I asked. She said, “Yeah I think so.”
I called everyone else into the room, we all took turns talking to dad, touching him. I leaned over and whispered, “it’s okay dad, we are all here. We love you.”
Shortly after noon on Saturday the 18th, the day before Father’s Day, my dad took his last breath. It was quiet, I think he knew we were there, I don’t think he felt any pain in those last hours.
And then that thing kicked in again. For all the grouchy dad memories I have had, I now find myself almost unable to remember them. Instead almost everything I do reminds me of something else.
I went scuba diving with friends in Florida the following weekend. And as I dove in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico I suddenly remembered that it was dad that first got me to take Scuba lessons, some 33 years before. And I said to myself, and to my dive buddy, this dive is for dad. He would have loved it and the people I was with and the beauty of the ocean.
I put on a movie the other night, it was “An American in Paris” with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Dad loved that movie. Me too. Gene Kelly is the epitome of handsome classy and boy can he dance. Dad loves dance, of all kinds, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire kind of dance, Mikhail Baryshnikoff kind of dance, Irish Step Dancing, the Joffrey Ballet, any kind of dance and he passed that along as well.
I looked for a CD to put on and chose Bela Fleck, playing some of the most amazing classical music on the banjo. Dad helped me learn to love classical music, and the banjo and Bela Fleck.
My sisters and I wrote an e-mail to dad’s e-mail list of friends, telling them of his death and the responses began to come in. And almost every one said that Dad always talked about his girls, how proud he was of all his daughters.
The words I longed to hear.
We needed a picture for the obituary we wanted to put in a couple of newspapers in California. As I looked through photos I had I found one of mom and dad at my graduation from the police academy, and one of dad at my swearing in ceremony when I became a Sergeant, and the one of dad as he pinned my Lieutenants badge on me and I wondered why I questioned if I had made him proud.
It’s okay daddy, we are all here and we love you. I remembered that in more recent years there was a nickname. When I would call he would answer the phone I would say “Hi dad, it’s Julie” and he would say, “Little Jules, how are you?”
I’m okay dad. I miss you but I’ll be okay.
For you dad, from your Little Jules.