Since high school, writing has been an off and on way of dealing with the world for me. It comes and goes, but it’s how I process things, spread ideas and I guess it’s going to be how I grieve. Maybe.
Since June, my family has dealt with watching my dad suffer and die. From a lung cancer diagnosis, to chemo, radiation, to heart failure, to death. 3 months of an accelerated shit storm. My mother, endured the eye of the storm, or as is more accurate to those in our area, the northeast quadrant. A storm surge of unfairness, disbelief, anger, sadness and overwhelming pain. Yet, we will endure.
I am lucky in some regards. In June, when my dad went through the brunt of his treatment, I asked he and my mom what they needed from me. Help with the day to day treatments? To be there for them physically to do the things that needed to be done? My dad’s ask was that I take the kids to Canada to our cottage so that they wouldn’t have to see him sick and so they could carry on with their planned vacation. I obliged and spent 2 weeks with them wondering if it was the right choice, but honoring his wishes nonetheless.
In August, dad got the scans back post treatment and the cancer in his lung which was 5 cm across in June, was now 4 cm. A lesion on his adrenal gland gone. Great news for sure. He was 87 and was fighting back and winning the bigger battle. But really he wasn’t.
Sometime at the end of July dad awoke with chest pains. An ambulance trip and multiple tests showed he had heart failure. A couple weeks in the hospital got him pneumonia. He battled back. The decision was made to try and fight the heart failure. Unfortunately a valve replacement was ruled out due to his prognosis for longevity. An aortic valvuplasty (balloon inserted in the aorta to open it up) was the best they could do. He was transferred via ambulance to New Orleans for the procedure. It went well and again we got a glimmer of hope.
On the Monday before dad’s surgery I spent a few hours writing him a letter. I swear I actually started it as a blog post and then I was like, “What the fuck are you doing? What is this about?”kk In a nutshell, I told him who I was and who I’ve become. The “man” the dad, etc. It was tough to write in some ways, but I can tell you that while we can’t say goodbye perfectly, it at least gave me some peace. My dad read it and thought I didn’t love him. So much for being a good writer. Fuck me. Thankfully I straightened it out before his surgery.
After spending the rest of the week in NOLA recovering, my mom made plans to move dad to a nursing home about 10 mins from their house. They had PT which was his next step for recovery. He arrived at the beginning of the last week of August. He began doing some PT and on Wednesday the 30th, he did some PT and mom texted me saying it was the best he’d looked in months. By that night he was the worst he had looked in 5 months
On Thursday, he he was in immense pain and he began sliding. We don’t know why. I just know that he was hurting and had been for the last 4 months. We arrived on Saturday and he was in and out of lucidity. We told him we loved him. We told him he could let go. Sunday was much of the same. Short visits. He wanted us to go home.
On labor day morning the phone rang at around 6:45-7 a.m. Mom was up and when it was ringing said “Oh shit.” A short conversation and he was gone. He had died that morning.
I initially wanted to beat myself up for not being there with him when he died. I won’t say it to make myself feel better, but knowing my dad the last few weeks. I don’t think he wanted us there. He was a man who hated inconveniencing people, and waiting at his deathbed would be considered a terrible inconvenience.
To say I have no regrets would be an overstatement, but thankfully the list of them is short. I also look at the last months of his life through the lens of the lifetime of our relationship. My dad wasn’t my best friend. He was my dad. He raised me to be independent, and to that affect we talked for 3-5 minutes every couple of weeks. Do I regret we didn’t spend more time together? Of course, but calls and visits go both ways.
I regret I don’t have a ton of pictures with him. This one hits me hard for some reason. Very hard.
I regret the same things we all do. The pieces of our lives we hide from everyone. That subtle lack of honesty we all use to hide what we are ashamed of or where we feel we are letting people down. I’m not killing myself about it, and the good news is an evaluation of these things let’s us share with other people we think we have let down. Likely we haven’t let anyone down nearly as badly as we though we did.
There really isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve, and everyone has to figure it out. Staying busy doesn’t help that much. The biggest thing I seem to be dealing with is not wanting to talk to or really interact with anyone. It’s like I have to “sort it all out.” Attempts to do so are falling short, both on time and method, and yet the world keeps plummeting forward. Every day feels like I am losing more of the opportunity to truly do this.
I don’t really know what will be next, but at 17 days out from his death, it feels like the world can easily forget you (him). What I mean is that there’s a week of “What can I do for you?” and “Call me if there’s anything I can do for you.” Shit, I’ve said the same to people in my place. What I need for you is to not forget him. If you met him, to consider what he may have meant to you, or even just a memory. Not just in this proximity to his death, but forever. That’s a tall fucking order. What with carpool, hurricanes, shitty politics and the nonsense we have surrounded ourselves with that define life, but that’s what I feel I’m desperately searching for.
I thought for sure, I’d end this with a number of memories about my dad, but I’ll leave those to you to dig in and remember, or I may write again. Who knows really?
At his funeral, I tasked myself with writing his eulogy. It was easier to write than to give, as can be expected, but I was honored to do it. It’s below for those who couldn’t be there, and then the title of this will make a whole lot more sense.
Hugs and high fives dad,
First, from my mom, sister Susan, and brothers Bill and Lindsay, a sincere thank you for being here, for calling, for the messages and for the support. It’s been wonderful and the support helps more than you know.
Dad wouldn’t have wanted a big fuss, but he knew we needed something. We all do.
I could stand here and wax poetic about the man my father was, but I won’t. If you are here. Then you know.
I could tell you a hundred different examples of a lifetime of kindness, but I won’t. If you are here. Then you know.
I could stand here and tell you anecdotal stories but I’m sure they’d fall flat to their realities, because most of the time, they do. Take the time to think of your favorite one. Cherish it, and if you want to come tell us after, please do. That is what we are here to do.
For the last week I have been thinking about what I’d say today. One thought kept coming to me. “What is the measure of a man?” Of course there is no way to define this measurement as it’s defined by a lifetime of interactions and can’t be “summed up.”
Yesterday while trying to come up with the words, I took this literally. In the spirit of “measuring”, I compiled some numbers. Please know, I have a history degree and that these numbers are embellished, as is the Fellows way.
· He was born on March 3rd, 1930. He lived for 31925 days. 17,320 of which he was married to my mom.
· He lived through 15 presidents. But only liked Ronald Reagan.
· He survived 6 or 7 hurricanes, due more through luck than preparedness.
· He saw the end of the depression, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, A moon landing, and specialized in sending text messages with the “SLAM” effect.
· He was 37 minutes early for everything. Unless you were going to the airport. Then he was 3 hours early.
· He owned upwards of 20 cars and only totaled 3 or 4 of them.
· He loved sailing and owned a dozen boats over the years. None of them fast.
· He lived in seven houses in 3 states and 2 countries.
· He had at least a dozen dogs. Terry, Captain, Snoopy, Duke, Wendy, Bosun, Muffy, Snickers, Merle, Heather, and Abbie. We had a gazillion cats. None of them need mention.
· He had 4 kids who he was immensely proud of.
· He had 11 grandkids. Lauren, Heather, Clay, Craig, Cody, Madelen, Chloe, Claudia, Larson, Paige, and Ian
· Last, but certainly not least. He practiced medicine for 61 years. 22265 days, give or take. He humbly served over 3000 patients, and after his love of his family, this summarily defined him. He was a doctor, and that oath and commitment was his rudder.
We will miss his laughter and his love but we will also go forward with his lessons of loyalty, kindness, work ethic and respect.
Thank you Dad. We love you.