Dad, 1934-2012

On April 25th, at +/-6am, after fighting Alzheimer's AND Parkinson' dad died.

From a stroke.

It has been, among many other things, surreal.

Given the fact he suffered from both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's his death was something frontmost in our minds, but we expected more of that long, slow decline. (Dementia-wise, we was 80% gone, so we still had some time to go in that department.)

Earlier in my life, my dad and I didn't have an eye-to-eye relationship. Not something worthy of a book or film, but we had not-infrequent moments of friction. We had different personalities, and not always compatible ones. He had reached some rather lofty pinnacles on the strength of a forceful personality and it drove him crazy I didn't respond to that personality the way he expected me to. My sister was the one of us he "got" the best. He simply didn't know what to make of me half the time. I think it frustrated him he didn't know how to "reach" me.

As he was diagnosed and progressed downward, those moments became fewer and fewer, and I am infinitely grateful for that.

When you have someone in your family with a terminal anything, the sword of Damocles in your life is That Telephone Call.

My mom called my wife at 6:18am. My wife immediately ruptured into wracking sobs. Freudians say men marry their mothers, and I, having got that backwards, married my father. My wife and my dad adored each other. I used to joke that marrying my wife was the only thing I had ever done of which my dad approved unreservedly. Believe it or else, of all the people whose reaction was especially difficult, my wife's was by far the worst. In fact, my mom was pretty much holding it together until my wife showed up and turned up the waterworks.

I also used to say, after having gotten married, that my wife had four parents and I had four in-laws. It is no exaggeration to say my dad loved my wife deeply. Which, in case you're keeping score at home, is the better of the various options.

Anyway, upon hearing the news, I logged in and informed all the various people (there were tons, but 3-4 emails sufficed) of the sad news, got dressed and went to my parents' house. When I got there, there were eleventy police cars and two of the big ambulances. Paramedics and police were scurrying around, filling paperwork busily.

(My father would have noted acidly that these days you can't even die without filling out government forms.)

His body was still in the hospital-style bed where he slept the last two years of his life. The doctor told us that by the symptoms, it seemed very likely he had suffered a massive, fatal, stroke.

Little by little, police and paramedics filtered out, and the funeral people were called. My mom sat by his bed, staring absently nowhere, caressing his forearm.

Not being Wired That Way, I had never seen the body of someone who has just died. Don't recommend it much, truth be told. The blood that is pumped around the body stops circulating and begins to collect downward, draining the face, etc. of color. A green pallor results. I suggest you avoid.

We then had to begin to make Those Final Arrangements. We defer to my mother for decisions. After all, this was the man with whom she shared 55 years, triumphs and defeats and joys and worries and hopes. Her husband, her call.

Closed casket or open? I said closed, so it stayed open. Which church, St. X or St. Y? How's the Mass going to go? Etc. (Memo: Leave, in writing, EXACTLY, down to the last nano-detail, how you want yours to go. I can very easily see disagreements during bereavement turning hideous. More on mine later.)

On the closed casket thing, although people were too polite to say so, I was right. When they "prepare" your body, it doesn't look like you. It just doesn't. People look down and, instead of remembering you, they think to themselves "What the HELL did they do to his nose?"

In my case, this bizarrely turned to be a blessing, because that didn't look like my dad. That looked like a wax statue of my dad as done under the guidance of a relatively competent police sketch artist. I don't know if I could have held it together had it looked like my dad; as it was I have been pretty good at the composure thing.

Not flawless, though.

Around noon, the funeral people hauled off my dad's body, my mom and wife went to the cemetery to prepare the burial site, my sister went somewhere to micromanage something to death, my brother in law went to help arrange travel for distant relatives and friends and I was left alone to go home. So I stopped in for noon Mass. Praying for the repose of my dad's soul struck me as a noble and capital notion and precisely what he would have wanted and one of the very few things I could do that was the way he would have wanted it, rather than what something someone thought of as "nice."

(For these purposes, I shut down. I realize my way of coping is via humor -- and VERY dark humor at that -- and that normal people would not see things in that light to just shut down and let everyone do what they're going to do anyway. Like the Penguins of Madagascar said: "smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.")

After Mass I returned home, and showered and as I was drying my face, I burst into sobs. For maybe 10, 15 seconds. I was struck by both the brevity and intensity, and that -- other than the odd, brief, choking up -- was that. I miss my dad, and I realize the admittedly long-shot miracle for which we had been praying for was never going to materialize. I know he was a pain in the ass very often, but I miss my dad. I know he was "almost all gone" for the last two years, but I miss my dad. For all his cantankerousness, obstinacy, intransigence...he was wise and kind and pathologically honest and unfailingly decent. And I miss him.

Let's see how the rest of the funeral process bears out.


Kathy said…
Oh honey. I am heartbroken for you, TFBYM and all the family. My husband and his father had pretty much the identical relationship that you did with yours. FIL passed 8 years ago from cancer (with a good dose of dementia thrown in at the end there, just for laughs) and we STILL find ourselves wanting to give him a call and get his take on various different situations/decisions. Will be thinking of you - may your father rest in peace.
Frogdancer said…
I have nothing constructive to say. Of course you miss him. xxxx
Paola said…
... so I am going to tell you that here, by law, 24 hours must pass after a person dies and we keep our beloved wherever they die, in their bed ... in their homes ... and family wake 24 hours straight with the constant flow of relatives, friends and such. Then the casket arrives, the body is put in and the casket is closed in front of the very closest family memebers. The casket is usually brought on shoulders by family members to the closest available church, mass is held and then the funeral proceeds, walking, to the cemetery which in Positano happens to be the most amazing location there is, up high with about 300 steps.
And that's where our beloved RIP.
I told you this story to tell you that I, as everyone here, have seen far too many dead people and I do understand completely what you have felt when you saw your dad. But, at least, you know that THAT was your dad, not the wax figure (I've also been to funerals in the US as I have relatives there and my nana died there).
And it doesn't matter he was old, affected by dementia and Alzheimer ... he was your dad, and you'll miss him.
Please accept my humble hug.
blackbird said…
You have my deepest and most sincere sympathies.
I will remember you and he in my prayers and can only say that while time lessens the pain of loss, nothing can change the pain of loss.

With warmest regards,
JMG said…
I'm speechlessly grateful for these kindnesses.

Thank you, all.
I'm sorry.
May 24 will be the one year anniversary of my mom's passing. Even though she was so terribly ill and death was always right there in the next room, I still struggle every day. I miss her so much, just as I know you miss your dad. Some days I go through all five stages of grief from disbelief to acceptance. And yes, I "know" in my heart that she is so much better off, but damn it I miss my mama! I'm sure you will feel this way about your dad too. God Bless. Praying for you & yours.

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