Saturday, May 22, 2010

Every Story Has an End

When I think of my father, I think "contradictions". He was a bigot in theory yet tolerant in practice. Not well educated yet someone who loved to learn. Impatient by nature yet capable of the greatest patience of all.

Judged by those small actions which truly define us, it turns out he was a pretty decent guy all in all.

What I remember most is what a devoted caregiver he was to my mother, a "brittle" diabetic confined to the house for several years before she died in 2004. He waited on her tirelessly, indulging her, giving up his own dreams to bring what happiness he could to her final years. They never overtly demonstrated their love in public -- they didn't have to. They proved it to one another, and to me, in quiet ways throughout their 51 years of marriage.

I had already started to look for a place in the country when my mother passed. Dad had already made the decision to sell his memory-laden house, so it was natural to ask if he wanted to move out with me if I could find a suitable property. Both of us recognized we could never live in the same house together -- he was Felix to my Oscar and living in close quarters with my menagerie was not something he was willing to entertain. Luckily, he had a love affair with mobile homes. While some men troll car lots drooling over muscle cars or monster trucks, my dad haunted mobile home and RV dealerships. So when I found land with a house for me and a second area already set up with a couple of RV pads, water, a septic system, and electricity, he picked out his dream home and brought it over a couple of months after I had moved in.

For both of us, it was the best decision we could have made.

I'm a very private person, so I was concerned my dad would be too much in my business living so close by. My dad was a very social person, so he was concerned the pace of life would be too slow and make him age faster. While there was some compromise for both of us, we quickly adjusted, gave each other private space and private time, and learned to agree to disagree on a number of small matters. In return, we both benefited more than we thought we would from the arrangement.

My dad busied himself with building, painting, and repairs. And mowing. He loved to mow, and he kept the original 19 acres nicely manicured. He also developed a love for the beasties and volunteered to do most of the morning cleaning and watering, enjoying the routine of the labor as much as anything. Farm work kept him physically healthy and card games on the computer kept his mind sharp. More than anything, he was afraid to grow old.

He was 76 when he moved here. What I know because he told me regularly is that he never regretted making the move -- not for a single day. Knowing I had a small part in helping to make him happy made me happy. Plus, I got side benefits: my personal "handyman." Aside from keeping up the mowing, he built stalls, wired the barn for electricity, put up cross-fencing, and picked up the feed for the beasts. In fact, he was laying drainpipe to help correct a problem with my septic field when he had a heart attack.

That was just over a year ago. He wound up having a quintuple bypass two days later. If the story ended there, he would have been back on the tractor in just a few weeks. In fact, in my neighborhood, bypasses are almost a rite of passage -- seems just about all the neighbors have had them. But his heart fibrillated a few days after surgery and dislodged a clot that found its way to his brain. The result: a devastating stroke.

He fought hard right after his stroke and made some amazing progress, especially once he came home from a 3-month stay for rehab at a nursing home. That was a dark time for him. He hated the nursing home, even though it was his decision to stay as long as he did, knowing he needed the support they could provide as the doctors worked to get his stroke-induced seizures under control. He came back to his home in September, with a complement of full-time caregivers, home health nurses, and occupational and physical therapists. His left arm and leg were heavily impaired, and he'd lost the left field of vision in both eyes. Not being able to process what little he could see and not being able to read any longer were what grieved him most. Still, he was convinced he would be back on his tractor, driving his truck, and doing the chores by Christmas.

At the beginning of this year, we backed him off 24-hour care to 8-hour care, allowing him a few hours of privacy and independence during the day. His spirits improved, his body was getting stronger, and he had two really good months where things were looking up.

Then he had a second stroke.

The seizures returned, he regressed rapidly and his depression deepened over the next few weeks. As the one-year milestone approached and he found himself nearly back at ground zero, he simply gave up. It was only two weeks after that one-year anniversary that he died, 6 weeks shy of his 82nd birthday.

As we did with my mother, we donated his body to a nearby medical school. He didn't want to be a bother or burden to anyone, so by his request, which I fully support, there was no funeral and no service. His surviving brothers, sister, and friends are scattered about the country unable to travel and facing medical challenges of their own, so a service would have served few people.

I often said if I'd met my dad on the street, we wouldn't have been friends. His politics, interests and attitudes were, in general, not consistent with mine. I was, however, privileged to be his daughter. He left me with a legacy that can only be bequeathed by someone who came by it honestly -- two great life lessons: fierce devotion to family and grace in coping with adversity.

I won't forget.

And I will miss him.


fairyhedgehog said...

Thank you for sharing that. He sounds like a remarkable man and you were able to give him some very good years.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

My dear Phoenix,
What a wonderful tribute.
Best love and thinking of you so much,

Robin S. said...

Reading this just tore me up, but in a good way. I wish for him and for you that he hadn't had that second stroke.

_*rachel*_ said...

He sounds like a remarkable man; I hope you see him again someday.

Slush said...

Phoenix, that was incredibly moving. fairyhedgehog said it best. I am sorry for your loss and thank you for passing on his a portion of his history to us.

McKoala said...

A beautiful life, well led, and with you. Cuts close to me, as you know.

Matthew said...

Moving words. Our thoughts are with you.

lupie said...

You are a very good daughter.
He's a good dad.

I am sorry for your loss but I am sure he passed on being very proud of his daughter.

Take care. Our thoughts are with you.

Phoenix said...

Thank YOU all for allowing me to share this with you.

sylvia said...

This is so beautiful. I have a tear in my eye.