Wednesday, September 1, 2010

august

I've started this a multitude of times.  It isn't something I talk about easily.  Maybe writing about it will help.

I hate August.  It is the month in which I was born.  And it is the month my dad died.  The year 2000.  I don't remember exact dates because that is always how I have dealt with things that are painful to me.  I lose the memory.  It somehow makes things more bearable.  But it also has led me to hate the whole month of August.

This year was better.  I spent part of the month in California with my sister Vix and Mum.  I was able to forget for stretches of hours at a time.  Then some little thought would come creeping into the edges of my consciousness and wham me.  I covered very well though.  That is something else I do.  When everyone in the family is in turmoil or upset over some crisis, I can put my emotions on hold until a later time when I am alone and can allow myself to unravel.  Mum says even as a small child I never cried much or got upset.  Guess I get that after dad.



Dad.  What can I say about dad?  I can't say he was a perfect dad.  He was human and had warts just like we all do.  He was gone a lot, flying for the Air Force as a flight engineer.  We would go weeks without seeing him while he was on a trip.  Then one night Mum would pile us into the station wagon and off we'd go to the base to pick him up.  It was wonderful when he was home.  And I missed him when he was gone.  After the divorce, we saw him even less, just on weekends now and then when he wasn't gone on trips.  After retiring from the Air Force he went on to fly for several other companies, including El Saudia and Singapore Air.  We gained two stepmothers along the way, one that I was especially close to, and one that none of us girls (my sisters) were close to, by my stepmom's own design.  We went for years at that point without seeing dad.  There was one stretch I didn't see him for ten years.  He was busy with his work and travel, and I was busy having and raising babies.  Time flies.  We neither one realized how much until later...until it was too late.

I am a little fuzzy on my timeline, my family will correct me on this I am sure, but that is me forgetting purposefully again.  I do remember going to Las Vegas for my daughter's wedding in May or was it June?  Dad and the whole family was there, stepmother and Mum, my kids and my sister Vix and her husband and youngest child.  We all had a great time and planned to have a family reunion similar to one we had back when the kids were in high school and we all went to California.

But it never happened.  A few months after the wedding, Dad called me to tell me he had small cell lung cancer.  He had a cough that wouldn't go away and when the doctor did a bronchoscopy they found it.  Inoperable.  Dad said he had a wonderful oncologist, who was going to give him chemo and radiation at the same time because he was so healthy.  How ironic is that?  You are almost 70 years old and don't take any medicine or have anything else wrong with you except you have this cancer growing in your lungs.  I listened and gave Dad encouragement.  My sisters both called wanting to know all about the cancer, what Dad was facing and what the prognosis was.

And I lied to them.  By then I had been a nurse for about 5 years.  What I told them was that we had to wait and see what treatment would do for him.  Yada, yada, yada.  I was believable.  I found that I could lie very well to protect my sisters and Dad from the truth.  I knew the average life span for small cell cancer was less than 2 years, but I never told anyone in my family that.  And they all believed what I told them.  What I carried in me from that day was the knowledge that my dad was dying.  And he didn't have long.  But I never shared it with my sisters or dad.

                                               

We did have one more special time together.  We girls conspired with my stepmom and had a surprise birthday visit...I think it was in October, and a little before his birthday, but he was totally surprised and loved every minute of the few days we all had together.  It was one of those times you remember as magical, and that everything is as it should be, even for just a brief instant.

We went back again a few months later, Dooj on her own and Vix and I at the same time.  By then Dad was frailer, had lost and grown back a head of gray hair (he cussed about that because he swore he would never let himself go gray, but after chemo there he was with gray hair...and we all laughed at him).  By this time the cancer was in his brain and bone.  He was having pain, and losing his balance from time to time, but still bearing up pretty well.  But not the Dad we knew...our Dad had always been strong and vibrant and laughing and joking, never down, never moody.  Dad was always the same.  Now I felt like I needed to do something, and felt helpless.  The nurse in me wanted to be busy doing something.  And there was nothing I could do.

Dad spoke to me and Vix separately.  I am sure he had the "talk" with Dooj too.  The talk about his coming death, and his regrets, and that he wished he could have done things differently...spent more time with us.  That was when I stopped him.  I told him not to regret a damn thing, life had been good and there was no use in spending time on regrets, that was all water under the bridge and no reason to worry about.  He looked relieved...but I meant what I said...life is too damn short to have regrets...you can only move forward.  We sat and talked for just a bit, because forward for Dad meant to die....

And truly, I wanted it all to just go away.  I felt like I had a rock on me, one I carried around all the time.  Part of me knew he was dying, but part of me was so angry about it that I just wanted to scream and curse.  But I didn't.  I stayed steady and planned to return in a few weeks time to help my stepmother care for my Dad til he died.

Only Dad, being the person he is, didn't do it the way we planned...he was in the hospital suddenly a couple of weeks later, for what my stepmother thought was just some IV fluids for dehydration.  And while he was there, he died.  My sister called me on the psych unit I was working on at the time and told me...I unravelled for a bit then pulled it together.  We all met in Phoenix again a few days later, some of the rest of the family there too...for dad's memorial service...we all stayed at a hotel together and I have to say those days were some of the best of my life....we had a few rough spots but I remember a lot of laughing together and good times too.  For some reason my sisters didn't want to tell my stepmother what they needed from Dad's belongings, so I spoke up and snagged one of Dad's hats for Vix (to have his smell near...she still has it in a plastic bag).  For Dooj, a crocheted bedspread my Grammy made that was supposed to be hers anyway (for sure the stepmother wasn't going to keep that if I could help it).  Funny but I didn't get anything for myself that was Dad's from his house.  Nothing.  I didn't want anything.  I did take home the basket that his friends sent to the hotel filled with fruit.  But that was all I wanted.  All I took.
We all went out to eat one night at Dad's favorite Mediterranean restaurant, complete with a belly dancer who used to rub dad's head when he had lost all his hair to chemo (he would tip her in dollar bills)...just a wonderful night...more laughter...

I thought I had it all handled.  And I did, because I am the rock...so no one ever knew that every evening after going back home, on my way to work, I would play some of Dad's favorite songs in the car, and cry all the way to work, then cry all the way home.  My way of dealing with it.  Eventually the tears became less frequent, and I was able to think about Dad and remember good things.  But I had a lot of anger for a long time, toward cancer, toward the circumstances, because I didn't get to see Dad again, and just sometimes in general.  Eventually I mastered that too.

Not long after Dad died, Dooj said he sent her a sign.  I don't remember what that sign was, but Vix said she got one too....she was in Mum's yard and saw a lizard like the one she had as a pet when she was a child (our childhood pets are a whole other story for another time).  So here I am waiting for my sign from Dad.  I am the eldest after all...finally one day I just said out loud "OK DAD THE JOKE IS OVER NOW SEND ME A SIGN TOO DAMMIT".  The next day I was walking in my front yard and stepped on my sign.  A golf ball had been halfway embedded in the grass by my front door....now you may think this is no sign...but....

You see, I live in the country...I mean way out...and no one golfs around me, especially near my front door....

In the time since, I have recieved four other golf balls, always in my front yard.  I travel with one in my purse all the time, for company, and luck.

Dad sent me another sign too...he sent me Maddie Kate.  She has my dad's forehead and ears, and looks out of her eyes just like him sometimes....I look at her and know Dad will always be with us, in ways even we can't comprehend...





 I still miss you Dad, every day.















And here's your favorite song Dad, the one you would fast forward back to on the video tape (as Dunc would tell you to do if he had known you)...

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