(I realize tomorrow is Father's Day but I won't be on tomorrow. Enjoy your special day)
Dad and I had a tumultuous relationship for most of my life. It wasn’t until about 1995 (3 years after we moved to the U.P.) that we got so we could talk about things without them turning into a debate….and you didn’t want to debate my Dad. He’d been involved in politics and was VERY good at getting his point across. As a kid, we argued about the usual stuff; my long hair, my boyfriend’s long hair, curfew, music, bell bottoms. Granny glasses and EVOLUTION! THAT was the biggest, on going argument that we had! Dad felt because I believed in Darwin’s theory that I didn’t believe in God. I told him that SOMEONE had to create those apes so yes, I DID believe in God. And, furthermore, Dad, tell ME where dinosaurs are mentioned “in the beginning”…we KNOW they existed, but ya never hear about them in any Bible stories. I would actually get grounded over this! My Mother got SO tired of our “discussions” that one day she stood up and declared rather loudly, “The wind blew, the manure flew and there stood you two!!” The on going Great Ape Debate carried on over into the holiday spirit. One year for Christmas I almost bought my Dad a copy of The Thinker statue…only THIS thinker was an ape holding a human skull. Mom talked me out of it because she didn’t want to plan a funeral so soon after the holidays.
My Dad had a very hard life growing up. His mother and father abandoned him at the hospital when he was 4 days old. A nurse took him home and raised him till he was 4 years old then she gave him to the people that I came to know as Grandpa and Grandma. And they weren’t exactly kind to him either, but he did love them.
Dad had a horse as a child; they had work horses but he also had HIS horse. In fact, when he was about 16 (as the story has been told to me), he ran away from home ON his horse and managed to get out to Oklahoma and joined the rodeo circuit. He won a few bronc busting contests and got a big belt as a prize for one of his minor wins. He managed to get back home to Michigan, but I don’t think he had has horse any longer. I think he had to sell him to get back home.
He managed to over come many adversities in his life and had an iron will and a determination that I’ve never seen in another person. I think his life motto could have been “Anything worth having is worth fighting for”. When I was about 9 or so, he contracted a disease that left him paralyzed from the neck down for 3 months. He was told that if he lived, he would never walk. Well, he DID BOTH. He was about 30 years old at the time. When he came home from the hospital after about 4 months, he was not able to work for a LONG time, so my Mom was doing everything, including running our small farm. He finally got back on his feet and back to work. The company he had worked for prior to all of this had held his job for him so he worked at that for several more years. It involved a lot of traveling in a 4 state area and he was away from home a lot. He finally decided he’d had enough of that, took some college courses, and got into appraising real estate. I won’t bore you with where all of that led, but let me just say he did that for several years. He even did appraising for banks out of state as well as for other townships in the area of Colon. He faced the State Tax Tribunal more than once on behalf of various townships. He started his own business, and got into local politics. He was a busy, vibrant man. Someplace in between, he also had started his own photography studio (did portraits, weddings, was the official photographer for the Miss Michigan pageant a couple of years). He also had a dark room so we could develop black and whites.
The disease that he’d had so many years’ prior, played nasty tricks on him. It came back to haunt him in many, many ways. The worst way was he got so he could hardly walk again. Lots of Drs, lots of tests, lots of hospital stays. Lots of other medical problems arose; one on top of the other. But he didn’t give up. He kept trying to work, trying to lead a normal life. The Drs could not understand how he kept going.
The last time my Mom and Dad were up here was around 2000 and Dad was getting around with the use of arm canes. They loved to travel, but it was getting harder for them to do that. Their favorite place in the whole world is the Smokies. Dad, up till he died, still talked about getting back down there for one last vacation….which I think he knew in his heart was not possible, but he had to have a dream to get him through.
Each year after their visit up here, Dan and I figured our annual trip down to see family would be the last time we’d see Dad alive…but he still kept on going…still tried to work. There were times when we went down for our visit that we’d have to visit him in the hospital.
Last April, we had not planned on going down to see anyone because I had recently had major surgery on my shoulder and knew I would not be fit company. My sister wanted to have a family portrait done because she didn’t feel Dad would make it till the next visit. We went down for a quick weekend and no I was not fit company. It was very hard to see how badly my Dad had deteriorated since the previous year. He was basically either in his “hummer” (his Hoveround type wheelchair), his lift chair or his hospital bed. He would nod off during a conversation. He was in so much pain but tried to keep going. There were just SO many things wrong with him; we were all amazed that he was still going. I did feel this time WAS the last time I’d see my Dad alive.
He was in the hospital off and on during the summer and fall then had a “spurt” where he was home for about 4 weeks without hospitalization. Then about a week before Christmas, he ended up in the hospital again. There was no way he was going to make it this time. Since we were busy with snowmobiling guests in our lodging, one of us had to be here. No one wanted me to drive myself down to Kalamazoo, so I booked a flight out of Pellston. The weather was not bad getting there. The flight was delayed about 2 hours so I called my sister and explained what had happened. She said that Dad had done a complete turn around and they were sending him home! We decided that I should just go on back home and she’d keep me posted. The weather getting BACK home that night was awful and I was very thankful to get home.
My sister (who is an RN and had been very involved in all of this) finally convinced our Mother to get hospice care; there was no way our Mother (and my sister) could continue to take care of Dad. Dad didn’t want to die in a hospital; he wanted to be home. Dad had some good days from the time he got home from the hospital in December, but after Christmas, he got worse (we have not been able to spend a holiday of any kind with any of our family since 1991).
The morning of January 1st, my sister called me to tell me she didn’t think Dad would make it till the next day. I wanted to be there and knew if I DID attempt to drive down there was a chance I wouldn’t make it in time. I tried to get a flight and there was nothing available anywhere until the end of the week. There was freezing rain between here and where I needed to be and no one wanted me on the road. They didn’t want to have to worry about me. Do you have any idea how guilty I felt? And still do?
My sister kept in contact every couple of hours. Dad’s blood oxygen level was so low there was no reason for him to be alive. He basically was comatose and had been for most of the day. About 6 p.m., my sister called me to check in and said there wasn’t any way he’d make it through the night, and she couldn’t believe he was still alive. We both cried. She had been at his bedside constantly that day, talking to him, soothing him, even though he’d been comatose for most of the day. I asked her if she would do me a favor; would she please hold his hand and tell him “Cathy loves you very much” and to do this while I was on the phone. She said she would hold his hand, but she would put the phone up to his ear so I could tell him myself. I said “I love you, Dad.” He said “LOVE”, just as plain as day. Christy got back on the phone and told me that he opened his eyes and said the word love…and then slipped back into his coma.
She called me about an hour later to tell us that Dad had finally passed.
This will be my first Fathers Day without buying a Fathers Day card and making my Fathers Day phone call. You don’t think about these things till that person is gone and that day rolls around. Dad’s birthday was May 25th and I didn’t realize how difficult that would be. I know this is going to be an extremely difficult Fathers Day for my sister; she basically has been his care giver for the past several years and especially the last 6 months of his life.
While Dad and I had such a tumultuous relationship, we did still love each other. We just never showed it, never said it…until the past couple of years. I learned a lot of things from my Dad, and didn’t realize that until several years ago. When I was younger, my Mom said that the reason Dad and I could not get along was because we were too much alike. THAT really ticked me off! I did not want to be like him; but ya know what?? I’m pretty glad to be like my Dad.
Enjoy each precious moment with your Dad.
When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.
(My sister must have inherited some of Dad’s iron will too. Not too long after Dad died, Christy’s husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer, lung cancer and cancer in his spinal fluid. He has been under-going treatment since around February and he is proving to be some what of a miracle. There are other complications which are causing them grave concern, but the cancers seem to be responding. I don’t know how she or Gene keeps putting one foot in front of the other. It must be faith…and strength from our Dad.)
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