This year can kiss my ass. Not only has it been a political nightmare for this country, but my herniated disc from Hell returned to torment me…and, also, my dad died this week.
He had been sick for quite some time and on dialysis for two years now, I think. Kidney failure was just one of a myriad of health issues for my father. Diabetes, depression, spinal stenosis….
On December 12, my parent’s wedding anniversary, the doctor told my mother it was time to stop dialysis as it was causing him too much pain and any meds to control that pain were immediately washed out of his body by the dialysis process.
That day was pretty surreal, with all us siblings and my mom gathered in the hall outside of his room at St. Mary’s East where he was recovering from another toe amputation, discussing his funeral while Dad watched Ellen on TV and dozed off every 20 minutes or so.
Did he know? Yes and no. He’d been told a couple of times, but he’d forget (dementia was setting in). At first, that really bothered me, but then I realized it was better that way. It’s what we’d have chosen if we could.
Truth be told: Mom and we kids kept a lot of information from Dad over the years.
I got a call at 2 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 18, that dad had died. He didn’t suffer, he didn’t end up in a days-long coma and, for that, we are all grateful.
If my Dad and I had a Facebook relationships status, it would be “it’s complicated.” Because it was. But, then, name a familial relationship that is not, right?
Being “the writer” and the one most likely to keep it together through eulogy, my mother asked me to say some words at the funeral. I wasn’t going to do it, but then I couldn’t sleep and the words were coming to me, so I just got up and typed them.
Then I stepped out of my comfort zone (behind a keyboard) and stood behind my father’s casket in front of the church altar where I got married and baptized both of my daughters, and read those words.
I made it through most of it without crying. It’s when I think about my siblings that I get weepy because I’m so grateful to have them and to have them here in Erie, even if most of them are Republicans.
Anyway…I thought the eulogy turned out to be pretty decent and thought that if you care enough to read the drivel I write here (I promise to do better in 2018), maybe you’d want to read it:
Hi, I’m Heather. For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Joe’s daughter, the second daughter, child number 4 of 5. I’m “the writer,” and so, was asked to write a few words about my dad.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to because, by nature, we writers are introverts. I don’t share a lot with people unless there’s a keyboard and paper or a screen between us and 65,0000 circulation.
Also, I hate to cry. When you grow up with four siblings, you learn not to cry because that brings mom into the picture, and then you’re all in big trouble.
But, it’s really hard to say no to my mother, you know.
Like any professional writer, I procrastinated until the last possible moment. At 6 a.m. this morning, I Googled “how to write a eulogy.”
The templates I found were full of trite phrases and platitudes that I could not physically type without retching and none of them fit my father.
He’s a hard man to label. He was and could sometimes be in one day or one hour, two very different things. For most of my teen and young adult years, I faulted him for that. But, then I grew up and realized how complicated life and people are and that we’re all that way.
We are all a bundle of contradictions and incongruencies shaped by our personal experiences. We are who we are. And, my father was who he was:
He was gregarious and kind to strangers. The kind of guy who could strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere. He was also the guy who would very loudly and with a few gestures, tell you to “slow the hell down” if you were driving too fast past his house.
He was hunter in his younger days, especially duck and deer, but he was also an animal lover. I think all of my siblings and I can agree that my father’s favorite child was really his husky, Lakota. Lakota was actually my brother’s dog, but was far too attached to my dad to leave when Patrick did. I wish that dog had lived another 10 years because he took a big piece of my father with him when he left.
He was a master jury rigger. Zip ties, duct tape, glue, and swear words were my father’s favorite tools. It’s true, mom: I get my foul mouth from dad.
He was a man who never changed a diaper, but he raised five children. He didn’t have to sign on for that when he met my mother, a divorcee with three young children, but I’m 100% certain that he’s glad he did. Joe, Pam and Rich were as much his kids as Pat and I. In fact, I never even remember that my older siblings are half-siblings until someone comments on our different last names or tells me I don’t look like them. While it was annoying to grow up with so many siblings and one bathroom, one tv, one phone and never enough of anything, there was always enough of what we needed. I’ve never been more grateful to have a large family than I have in the last year. I’m so thankful for all my siblings, even if we can never, ever, ever talk politics.
He was a car enthusiast, with his second favorite baby — after the dog — being his 1964 Chevelle. And, really any other car in his possession — they were all treated to frequent cleanings as were any of our cars if we happened to show up while dad was washing cars.
He was a Navy sailor, who didn’t care much for water. We had a big backyard when I was growing up and I was an avid swimmer who frequently begged for a pool. Dad would never put one in — too much work, he’d say. But when Dan and I put in a pool, dad would come over and swim with the kids on the hottest summer days. I refrained from saying: I told you so.
I could go on and on, but a writer knows that conciseness is as important as word choice and grammar. Readers won’t stay with you for long.
That’s true for the ones we love, too. We all know this, and yet, we live like we don’t. It’s better that way though. Endings are hard — in writing and in life.
We’ll miss you, dad.