My father passed away last year. When I say last year, I don't mean 12 months ago; I mean November 1, 2011 - three months ago yesterday. (I just realized that my first sentence is very reminiscent of Camus's opening sentence in The Stranger: "Today Mom died. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know." This is fitting, as that is a very existential book, and this will strive to be an existential entry.)
He died of a sudden heart attack. He was home with his caregiver. He died with no family around him. His caregiver called me just after 6 AM to tell me something is wrong. I arrived just before 6:40 AM. The paramedics had already stopped working on him. They said he was flat lined when they arrived, but they still tried to resuscitate him. There were no good-byes, no last "I love you"s. It was just over.
My father had suffered a very bad stroke almost exactly 10 years ago (February 26, 2002). It left him in physically in full need of care. Luckily, it did not effect him cognitively. In fact, considering what he had been through, he never really lost his sense of humor or his immense intelligence.
His stroke was not just a turning point in his life, but in mine as well. I was living in Israel at the time. I was very happy, with a good job that was turning into a fulfilling career, half way through my masters, had amazing friends, a cute rented house, an adorable car, and lots of independence. Then, I got the phone call. I'll never forget it. I was watching T.V. and munching on popcorn with my then boyfriend. My Dad called from the hospital to tell me he had suffered a stroke. He said it is only on one side and they are already starting physical therapy. I didn't sleep the entire night. The next day was Friday. I bought a plane ticket for the earliest flight I could get. All I could think to my self was: "Please don't let him die before I get there.". By the time I made it to his bedside, the damage had spread to both sides of his body. At that point, he couldn't move anything below the neck. He had sensation, but no movement: paresis as opposed to paralysis.
After a few days at the hospital, they moved him to an acute rehab facility. I stayed with him all day there, going with him to therapy sessions, practicing range of motion exercises, feeding him, helping him urinate in a bottle and learning how to give him insulin shots because his diabetes went out of control. I made the decision then to move back to LA. to move in with him and take care of him. I was just before my 29th birthday, single and able to do it.
We did not have a hired care giver for him during the first two months that he was home from the hospital. It was just me, 24/7. I fed him, I gave him sponge baths, I transferred him from his bed to his wheel chair (he weighed around 250 lbs), I put him on the bed pan and cleaned him up afterwards, I was his chef, his company, his nurse, his support. My mother was a great help in ways that she could be. My parents were then divorced. Physically, she wouldn't have been able to help him, but she took care of paper work, she visited us, she brought food, she would sit with him so I could run to the market.
After two months, I became the weekend help. I found part time work during the week and took care of him on the weekends. After a while, my 30th birthday came and went.
I was extremely involved in his care for about a year and a half. And then I decided I needed to start living my life. I never quite got back on any path since then. Yes, I married and now have three amazing children, but my life has been a series of trial and error since I returned from Israel - at least educationally and career-wise. (You can take a look at my previous entry to see how I'm trying to rectify that situation).)
My father was not an easy man. He wasn't easy when he was healthy, and he was only worse now that he was sick. He became even more controlling. His patience was thin (understandably so), and he lost any semblance of a filter he may have had - whatever he thought, he said out loud. He had the emotional intelligence of a dead cricket. Very little empathy. Very little thought to hurting someone's feelings. He eventually alienated most of his friends and was left with just a few extremely faithful ones who continued to come visit him.
These past 9 1/2 years taught me so much about my father. I idolized him as a child. Of course, he did things that embarrassed me, but I still thought he was a great dad, super smart, extremely funny and very warm. Being in such an intense setting with him for so long brought up a lot of issues and opened my eyes to so many things he had done wrong as a father and a husband. All of this strained our relationship.
I still love him because he is my dad. I love him because of the late nights he would spend helping me cram for a math test or finish a last minute project (I had lots of those). But now I am mad. I am mad because of all the things I realized he did wrong. I am mad because he made it so difficult to help him. I am mad because I gave up a great life and he didn't even leave me a little thank you note or an "I love you" hidden somewhere for after he died. I am mad at him because he was selfish until the end.
But I miss him. Immensely. Even though I would get annoyed when I would see his name calling me on my phone (because it was invariably only because he needed something or he was bored), I still miss hearing his voice. It's amazing how complicated familial relationships can be. We would never let our friends get away with half the things our family does to us. We simply wouldn't be friends with them anymore. I think that it is even more complicated between parents and children. First, the parent is in charge, in the know, the master. Then we grow and perhaps become almost like friends with our parents. Then they get older and need us. But they are still the parent. They still want to make the rules, they still want the control.
I am not writing this to soil the memory of my father. As I mentioned, he was a very difficult man, but there was also a lot of good. In his good days, many people really liked him. He was fun to be around. He was very giving of his time.
Daddy, I hope you are sitting up in heaven, playing backgammon with God, or whoever is up there with you (if there is an "up there"). I hope you've been reunited with your parents. I hope you are dancing and playing piano. I hope you are at rest. At the very least, I know you are no longer in physical pain, which was immense during these last years.
My greatest sadness now is the end of the beautiful relationship you had with my kids. They loved you and I know you loved them. What gives me comfort is that I was able to provide you with three little angles here on Earth who gave you some of the few moments of true joy you experienced these past years. By the way, you'll be happy to know that they all love jazz, ragtime and Dixieland music! I've been playing them your CDs and they have a blast listening to them. I wish you could see it.