More Visits with Dad

Having shared so much with you about my Dad and my anxiety about coming to see him, I’m compelled to let you know how things are going. It’s also therapeutic to write it all down, while it’s fresh in my mind. Thank you so much for all your love and support. You’ll never know the difference it’s made.

Toodles and I arrived at Dad’s house promptly at ten this morning. He was already up in his chair and was in a good mood. He was proud to tell me he’d eaten both peaches and wanted more. I brought the basket in and set it at his feet. “If you can eat them all, they’re yours.” He laughed and after saying they were the best-looking peaches he’d ever seen seven different ways,  said to leave him two or three. I left four where he could reach them and eight more in the kitchen.

He asked me what I’d been up to and I told him about my scenic drive around Lexington. For Lexington readers, this morning I drove out Harrodsburg Road (my hotel is near New Circle), turned right onto Man o’ War Boulevard, and then right onto Versailles Road through town. I got on New Circle at Richmond Road, then drove around the long way to exit at Tates Creek.

Damn. There were places that looked so different I couldn’t even remember how they were before. The lovely bluegrass is seared and brown. I’m hoping the steady rain since my arrival yesterday afternoon will green things up before I have to head back to Athens.

Dad and I had a nice chat about nothing in particular. He again wanted to make sure I knew how proud he is of me. We talked about how different we are–me the social butterfly, him the loner. He said something interesting. “You’re friends have always been what keeps you going.”

Pretty astute for the old man, and one hundred percent true.  After about thirty minutes he was starting to nod off. I told him I was leaving, and that I loved him. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve ever said those words to him. And I meant every word.

After a therapeutic lunch with my dear friend, Ella Marie (with a shout out to Terri who was unable to join us for our colonoscopalooza lunch), my partner texted me to let me know that Dad had called our home number, and that they’d had a nice chat. I figured he must need something and headed over to the house.

He told me he wanted to have a serious talk with me about something unpleasant. I tensed, expecting a tirade about something I’d done. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Several of those peaches you left for me this morning are a little on the hard side.”

I immediately remedied the situation. Then he told me that the mayor of Lexington had been out to visit him to present him with a special award.  I thought he was making it up. Then he gave me a little blue medallion and showed me the plaque for the Henry Clay Award on the coffee table. He was tickled pink, about the award and that the mayor had come to see him.

Yesterday I’d asked him if he’d seen the sunflowers blooming in his backyard. He had not. Today he could see just the tiniest little bit of yellow from his chair. So I went out and cut them, put them in a vase, and set them on the coffee table next to his new plaque. He was thrilled. He ordered me back outside to cut any remaining flowers in his yard. I came back with a vase of zinnias. I’m stopping tomorrow to pick up more. If anyone in Lexington has zinnias…I’d love to hear from you.

It was a good day. I’m not going to wonder where this sweet man has been all my life. He’s here, now, and for that, I’m grateful today here in…

My Glass House

9 responses to “More Visits with Dad”

  1. Hope this isn’t to intrusive or invasive of your space for me to post. It’s meant to affirm your journey.

    When my father was dying, he took special time with my brothers like your father is taking special time with you and vice versa. He felt he had unfinished business with them I guess. I didn’t have so much opportunity. He told me he wanted no death vigil. I saw him a month before he died for the last time. The day after I saw him, he was going for the result of his latest scan. I learned two weeks afterward almost by accident that the scan had not been good and he had refused further treatment and gone into hospice care. I called his house that night and my stepmother would not let me talk to him. She said he was sleeping.

    A week later my brother called and said that the hospice nurse had told him that he had three days left or he could come around and live longer. One brother came in from the DC area. The other came in from the NYC area. My stepmother’s mother and neice came up from Kentucky, My dad’s surviving brother and sister came from Indiana, some feat for two people in their mid-70’s. Dad lasted 5 days. He died around 11 o’clock at night just after my brothers had left for the day. I got the call from my younger brother.

    I know my father loved me, but there was a lack of closure there. The last time Dad and been down to Lexington, I could tell he was dying. He had known he was dying since he got the diagnosis. It was just a question of how much time he could buy or how long it was worth the agony to keep going. He was angry and didn’t want to die especially at the end, but he was glad that he’d at least made it to his 60th birthday. He said dying at 59 just seems so much worse than dying at 60.

    As I wanted him and my stepmother out to the car, I looked at her and asked if she was going to take time off work. She looked at me astonished and asked “Why?” I looked at my dad and he looked at me with a sad look that said “She doesn’t see that I’m dying.” That’s pretty much my relationship with my stepmother in a capsule called Denial. I called her on their anniversary about three weeks after he died out of a compulsion to check on her. She answered the phone and said she was fine with an air of finality and she sounded as though I might have awakened her. I haven’t talked to her since then and she has made no effort to contact me.

    She was my stepmother for almost 21 years and chose to deny that I existed or that my parents had been married for 14 years and produced three children that my father adored. When they moved from Kentucky to Pennsylvania, the denial was so much easier. When the visited Kentucky, they were there to visit her family. She’d come with her neice to Lexington and drop my father off at the house while they went shopping and then pick him up afterwards.

    Sometimes I spent an entire holiday weekend waiting for them to visit or call. One Christmas I had a big food basket I had prepared for them with cheese and country ham and all kinds of homemade by me pickles and jams and butters that sat in the corner for months as a reminder until the packages started to swell and I tossed them. One of the last times I talked to him he said he regretted that he had never been there to seek my children, his granddaughters, open their Christmas presents and by that time he knew that the Christmas that we had talked about doing before he died would not come to be.

    The neice was pregnant with her first child and wanted him to live long enough to see the child born in February. She was going to name the baby after him. If I had had a son, I had planned both times to name him after my dad. When the baby was born, her way of naming him after my father was to give the child my father’s middle name as her child’s second middle name. The neice was the surrogate daughter my stepmother never had. My dad hadn’t wanted a second family. He told me it was hard enough raising the first one.

    A couple of weeks after Dad died when I was driving down Southland Drive towards home crying bitter and lonely tears, I realized that I was aware of one wonderful outcome of my father’s death. I no longer had to ever think about how to make things comfortable for my father in our relationship or how to deal with the stepmother. That freed up a lot of emotional energy and moved me to the next stage of grieved for Dad, which was all of the things that were not going to be.

    He’d just retired a year before his diagnosis and lasted 18 months after that. During that first year of retirement, he had learned to smile again and every time I saw him his smile was bigger and he was more relaxed. I even called him during the day and swapped recipes with him once, and we both laughed about it. He’d made plans and promises that involved recapturing some of those lost years and opportunities with my family. On that last phone call to him, he apologized and cried for not being able to follow through on making the oak cabinet fronts he promised to make us for our kitchen in Lexington. I forgave the promise and told him it didn’t matter. He asked me if he could make me something before he died. He said he thought he had time. I told him that I would like one of the fly fishing rods that I watched him make when I was a child. That tickled him to death and he told me that he knew just which one he’d leave for me. It had taken him the longest time to make.

    In death, you don’t get the opportunity to ask all of the “why’s” that arise over the coming years.

    • Thanks for sharing. I remember your Dad–I thought he was a handsome man! Losing a parent is never easy. I feel good about the place I’m with my father today. That makes me very grateful for this little visit. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. You will be so happy that you made the journey as the time goes by. I remember your father as well. I love Reba’s “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” for obvious reasons. My husband and I have several favorites we play when the grieving gets heavy. He lost his mother five years ago to brain cancer or rather a massive heart attack which was more than likely brought on by the round of chemo and radiation she had just completed. She didn’t make it to the doctor that day to find out her scans were clear. He had gone up to visit when they scheduled the surgery and biopsy. No one including the surgeon suspected the tumor was malignant. That was the last time he saw her. He went back for the funeral with an entourage in May. In September, he went up to visit with his dad for several weeks even going to a church revival. His dad shared with him so much that he had never told him about his life especially his Army days during WWII. He was one with some of the first Americans to enter Dachau, which he had never acknowledged before.

    We need to have these times of closure in our lives. Thanks for indulging my remembrances.