A year ago, my father drew his last breath. I hate saying that he passed away but to say he died seems so harsh and blunt. I remember my Facebook status that day was 4 little words with colossal meaning, “My Dad is dead”. When I got the news around 11 pm, I was in bed holding an almost 6 week old Orion. Was I nursing him, was he sleeping, was I sleeping? I don’t remember, but he went in the bassinet and Patrick sat on the edge of the bed and told me that my dad was gone. I cried, he held me, and he cried. I remember calling my brother in Japan and being surprised by my calmness.
That day was a Sunday and we were going to make the trip up on Tuesday after my 6 week post pregnancy check up at the obstetrician’s office. My Dad went into the hospital the previous Monday and on Friday they were talking about sending him to a rehab facility. He had lung cancer and they just discovered stomach cancer, two primary locations. Sunday they were talking about hospice. My cousin called me and said I should get up there as soon as possible. I couldn’t drop everything, I couldn’t go without Patrick and our dogs needed to be looked after and Orion was so little to be going into a hospital and I had my appointment. No one knew he would be leaving us so quickly.
My last memory of my father was a phone call the day before he died. I had made him a photo album of his grandchildren and our trip to Japan and mailed it to him so he could look through it during the long hours of chemotherapy. When he went into the hospital, I had asked my aunt to pick it up from his apartment and take it to him. When we talked on the phone, he said he didn’t want to look at it and didn’t want to leave it in his hospital room. When he spoke, he sounded tired and weak. He hadn’t been eating for most of the past week and I tried to encourage him to eat something, anything. If everything tastes bad then it doesn’t really matter what you eat but you need to eat to be strong, to survive. I remember being mad and frustrated and wanting to be there to force feed him and yell at him. Was he giving up?
The last time I saw my father, he had come down for a visit when Orion was 2 or 3 weeks old. This was his second visit. It had been a rough visit and there was one day when my Dad hardly got out of bed and did not even see Orion at all. When he left, I was sitting in bed nursing the baby. It must have been around 2 or 3 in the morning. My Dad liked to do the 4 hour drive early in the morning before traffic when no one else was on the road. Dad gave me a kiss and kissed Orion good bye. If I had known that would be the last time I would see my father, maybe I would have put the baby down and hugged him forever. My dad had such wonderful hugs. Even though it is my last memory of seeing my father, it is a happy one. He was not suffering. He was happy and proud of me and his grandson.
My dad had been after me to have a baby for a while. He loved babies and his 2 grandkids lived half a world away. I remember when we went to Japan, he had hoped we would find out I was pregnant during the trip. But the opposite happened and I learned that buying tampons can be hard when you don’t read Japanese. I ended up with the smallest tampons for the lightest flow. Anyway, my dad was super excited when we told him I was pregnant. At our baby shower in March, he looked good but a bit skinny.
For months before Orion was born I was asking my dad when he would visit and how long he wanted to stay. That he would have dibbs on the guestroom and that we had bought a nice new bed so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the air mattress. He kept dragging his feet and I didn’t know why. Six weeks before Orion was born, Dad told me he might have lung cancer and had been dealing with getting a diagnosis since January. So I guess that was why he forgot my birthday? He didn’t want to tell me because he didn’t want to worry me. He also didn’t want me telling the rest of the family. So why was he telling a very pregnant me now?
I am glad he did tell me because I understood why he wasn’t making plans to come down. I was scheduled for an induction so we knew when I would be going into the hospital. That week I asked him when he would be coming down and he said he was waiting for test results. Orion was born and my dad was not there. During delivery I wanted my mom more than anything but she had been gone for close to 6 years. After Orion was born, I wanted my Dad to see this adorable baby boy. My Dad was only 4 hours away and was missing the chance to hold his grandson at his smallest. We got home from the hospital and again I asked him when he was coming. He said he was still waiting for test results. I told him that if it was cancer he would have to start chemo and then he really wouldn’t be able to travel. He had seen my mom go through breast cancer so he had an idea as to what he could expect.
After hearing that he would be waiting to come down yet again, I had a bit of a break down. I called my mother’s sister and cried, trying to talk through tears. I wanted my dad and was scared he might never meet my son. She called my dad and gave him a good earful and he was on our doorstep the next morning. His first visit was unannounced, we heard him outside around 6 am when Orion was a week old. Dad felt silly for waiting so long to come down and stressing me out. But there he was, holding my son and everything was better.
My Dad had been afraid to get in our way but we wanted him there and his great big gnarly hands to be there. We didn’t expect him to cook, or clean, or change diapers. His only job was to hold the baby which can be such a big help with a newborn. It really was amazing to see my tiny little son in my father’s enormous hands. I remember him telling me that as difficult as this time is that it really is the best.
A few months after my Dad died, I got a call from his rheumatologist. It was nice that she called to tell me how much she had enjoyed looking after my father. She went on to tell me how excited he had been for the arrival of his newest grandbaby. Apparently, he had been planning to stay with us for a few months after the baby arrived. This was something I didn’t know and wish I hadn’t known because it didn’t happen and never would.
I had no parent left to tell me how old I was when I started teething, or how old I was when I weaned. No parent left to tell me that my son looked just like me at that age. Most people say Orion looks like Patrick but I can see myself in his face and see my brother in him too. He would not have my parents spoiling him. My dad would not be there to tell him ridiculous stories. My mom would not be knitting him hats and booties like she had for so many other babies. Orion will never really know my parents but he will grow up hearing stories about them and seeing their photos.
This past weekend, some of my family got together in my father’s memory. I brought up a photo album I made after my mother died which was focused on my Dad’s side of the family. I made it from the photos and scraps I found when I was cleaning out her room. I also brought up a new photo album filled with pictures, papers, and scraps that we found when we cleaned out my dad’s apartment. It is funny what people hold on to and what you can learn from those treasured photos and scraps of paper. My favorite thing about these old bits of paper is seeing my parent’s handwriting.
I found letters and postcards I had written my father as well as cards and arts and crafts from early childhood. I found a police report from June 29, 1972 for my dad’s stolen 1968 Mustang. There were gun permits with pictures of my father in his 20’s who I almost did not recognize. Then there was a police property report which listed 13 quart bottles of beer, 8 Schmidts and 5 Ballentine. It went on to say that my dad was slated with “corrupting morals of minors and illegal possession”. It was from February 28, 1964 when my dad was almost 20 years old. Then there was a letter from November 16, 1998 asking for this incident to be removed from his record.
These were all things that I knew about my father. Now they are safe and contained in a photo album so his grandchildren will be able to glimpse into his life. I have told Patrick that if the house catches on fire, we get the dogs and baby out but we must also grab the photo albums. We have a lot of photo albums, they are heavy and take up a lot of space but they are my most treasured possessions. They are the history of my family that no longer exists. The memory is alive within their bindings and I hope they will outlive me and be passed down to future generations.
So today on my father’s death day, I remember him. I can hear his voice in my head reading Annabell Lee to me. Hear his laugh which he gave so freely. I can see his gnarly hands and scruffy beard. I remember him being my teddy bear when I was little. I used to ride on his shoulders and use his bald spot as a bongo. I remember when he taught me how to paint my nails, he painted his thumbnail pink. Then we went grocery shopping and the cashier was amused by his big pink thumb. We always made a game out of trying to make the cashier laugh. I remember how worried he was went I was backpacking around Europe, alone, for 4 ½ months. Today I ate onion pie and thought of him. I will always be able to feel my father’s love and I have no doubt that he never questioned mine.