Thank you, 'Mama, for this.
It's taken months for me to come here, to let myself hear from you, some of my oldest friends. It's taken months for me to start to recover.
Shit, it's taken months for me to start to breathe again.
As I struggled through my last semester of nursing school (I'd failed it the first go-round, and busted ass the second time...), it was a period of unknowing; of insecurity, of self-doubt, of struggle and fight and sleepless nights.
Throughout, my Dad would call, send me notes in the mail, sent me flowers after a big exam (whether I'd done well or not...). He once left a teddy bear on my front porch.
It was a time of decline for him; he'd lost his driver's license due to confusion/hypoxia, and he was fighting to get it back. He'd stopped eating much, so I got 4 crockpots, and would make something for him every day; before school, at 5:30 or so, I'd sneak into his house, plug it in, and he'd have something for dinner that night.
Still, he'd schedule Dr. visits for when I could go with him. He said he felt safer with two medical people (me and his Dr) discussing his needs in front of him like he wasn't there. LOL. He'd bitch and moan, complain and gripe, and then we'd go to the deli, where he'd hold court, waving a pickle at passersby, signing autographs and listening to fans tell him things.
He'd always say "wow, I'm surprised. They remember Uncle Leo...that was years ago." We'd get chocolate shakes, and then go home...him to his house, me to mine.
I graduated nursing school December 20. December 21, we did our Christmas shopping, and December 22, we flew to Oregon to spend Christmas with my brother and his family.
Dad was frail, and had a hard time with the cold. While he loved being in Oregon, it was too cold for him, so when we came back to CA on December 27th, he was so grateful to be warm again, to sleep in his own bed...and to drive. He'd gotten his license back, you see, and was so damned proud of that. He didn't need to rely on anyone; he was independent again.
I was busy trying to recover from the pressure of finals, of completing nursing school. Dad and I went to a movie, but other than that, not too much together. I was busy sleeping, and while I maintained the food delivery service, I did a lot of just trying to relax. We did spend New Year's together, and he gave me a kiss for luck in the coming year, and told me "you are going to be the most important nurse I know."
In mid-January, I got a call from his roommate at about 6 am. Dad had fallen at some point during the night, and had spent the night on the bathroom floor. He was only semi-conscious. The ambulance was called, and I met them at the house.
I did a fast assessment, spoke with the medics, and decided Dad was going in to the hospital. He was in serious trouble; he was not quite "with it", and didn't remember falling, and asked me what the medics were doing there.
When we got to the hospital, his blood oxygen levels were at 71% (normal is +95%, and anything under 80 is a serious emergency). We got him on O2, but he lost consciousness anyway. We got the diagnosis: pneumonia in both lungs, unknown infective agent. Dehydration. Malnutrition. And of course, the cancer had wreaked havoc. He also was in atrial fibrillation.
Two days later, he was in ICU in respiratory failure. Somehow, even though we could hear him breathing 20 feet away, he managed to pull through that episode. I was at the hospital at all times, at his side, staying with him. I made him eat, I bullied him into letting the nurses take his blood (he had a horrible fear of needles...hated them).
He got transferred, and was making progress on the oncology floor. Two weeks later, he was transferred to a long term care facility, so he could rehab and come home. I was with him all the time, and when he started to deteriorate again and I asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital for more treatment, he yelled at me and said we'd talk later.
I brought my brother down Feb. 14, and a friend picked him up at the airport at 10 pm. David, my brother, stayed overnight with Dad, and then, in the morning, I joined David and Dad. The decision was made to not take extraordinary measures should the worst happen, and I did the paperwork. I cried the whole time, and didn't believe he was dying. He was sick - very sick. But he was my Dad, and he'd fight back from this.
I got the call that he'd stopped breathing and was unresponsive at just about 8:35 am on 2/16. I flew through the rain and traffic, and was at his side only 10 minutes later. He'd eaten breakfast, and then went back to sleep...and just stopped breathing. When I was a child, and was frightened, he'd hold me, and I'd listen to his heart. I held him that morning after he'd passed, held him, listened for his heart; I heard silence where once I heard love. I heard silence, and hot tears branded my face. He had passed, you see; my Daddy had died.
In the flurry after that, I don't recall much. I know things got taken care of, and that people came in from all over the US - and one from Canada. I know that the media was, surprisingly and pleasingly, respectful and treated us very well.
I know that his funeral was attended by over 300 people, and it was not a public event. I know that his burial was private, and enormously difficult for me - at one point, I was unable to breathe, as his casket was lowered into the ground, through the silence of the early morning...silence except for a single bird singing...singing Dad home. I know that the bird kept singing, through Kadish, through prayers, and through the end of the ceremonies.
The hollow thumping of dirt onto the casket will always fill my mind. The solemn faces of his grandchildren, the tears on the face of the Rabbi, the grief etched onto my brother's face will never be erased, no matter what.
And the pain, the utter, complete, overwhelming pain of loss, of irrevocable separation, will always be present for me. I don't know if it will become less sharp; if over time, this pain will be less penetrating, less overwhelming, less devastating. I know that I am able to get through my days now, but I still have a shock - that thrill of remembrance, the pit of my belly turning - when I remember that Dad has passed away.
My days, full as they are, are not bright. There is a dullness to the sunshine, a tarnish to the shimmer of sunlight on water. The roses I've planted for him are in full, glorious bloom, but I can't bear to smell their scent.
I laid a memorial stone at the foot of the walkway at his house (I've moved here...) on Father's Day. It reads:
1922 - 2011
If love could have saved you,
You would have lived forever.
I see it each time I come home. Everyone who comes to the front door sees it. Dad lives, if only in my memories, tucked into my heart. He lives, and if love could have saved him, he'd still be here, holding court at the deli, waving a pickle in greeting to his fans.
I miss him more than I can even begin to articulate. Someday, they say, I'll be able to make my peace with his passing. I think that's the day I see him again, someday, in heaven, where there are no tears, no pain, no sorrow.
I miss my Dad.
Thanks for this thread, Mama, and everyone. I know I've been absent for a while; for you to have remembered he and I made me both cry and be pleased. Forgive my inability to post until now....it's been very, very difficult in my world.
Best to you all,
~Do Angels keep the dreams we seek
While our hearts lie bleeding?~