Sunday, January 12, 2014

Missing Dad

I'm missing my Dad a lot today, and just feel the need to write, so I'm writing about him. Writing has helped me a lot lately. Sometimes I just write total non-sense, but it doesn't seem to matter WHAT I write. It helps calm my thoughts. So..here goes:

It's hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember. 

My Dad was a great dad. He was quiet. My cousin, Shawn, wrote this on my Facebook page the day he died, and I thought it summed him up perfectly: " I remember his tan and his mustache, looking back I guess now I sort of see him like granddad Burt, not much to say, but not unattentive either, present and observing its my best description of his tolerance for us back then. I remember a lot of "hmmphs".

 Dad 006
Wasn't I fat?? My aunt said I must have kept him up all night long...my dad looks grumpy. You know who I see in this picture? My Tristen. It makes my heart smile. 

 Dad 007

He was not our disciplinarian. He would get on to us when we needed it, or when mom wasn't around. I remember him smacking my butt one time, after I slapped my brothers back with a bandana and left a welt..;).. but for the most part that part was left to my mother. My father HATED conflict, which I always found amusing, given his career choice. He hated arguing with us, and my mother told me recently that was a huge hurdle she had to learn to deal with when they first got married. He shut down, and retreated when things got heated.  He was the one who stayed calm, and cool, and always ended any conflict in our lives..even recently...with either "Keep plugging away" "Keep on keepin' on!" or "This too shall pass". 


My dad was 39 years old..1997..when he had his first heart attack. I've thought about that a lot lately. That day that our lives changed. He might have hung around for 16 years after that first attack,  but our lives were never the same. That day on would be filled with hospitals, and surgeries, and bottles and bottles of medications, and tears, and little teeny tiny bottles of nitro, and secretly counting how many he had stuck on his tongue as he turned his back so we wouldn't see him, never wanting to admit to us he was hurting. 

 He was 39 years old. I am almost 35.  My husband, right now, is older than my dad was on that February day. Dad was working a search warrant, and started to feel sick and sweaty.  Jene Allen hauled him into the hospital.
I had started feeling sick at school that day.  Not sick sick..just weird sick..Almost like I knew something was wrong, somewhere, and all I could think of was I just wanted to go home.  I called home, no one answered, so I called the sheriffs office, thinking my mom was at work. The dispatcher working acted really strange, and said she thought my mom was at the hospital, and maybe I should try there.  I finally got her, and left school to go to the hospital, to find my dad on a gurney, all sweaty, grey, and sick looking, and about to be flown out to a hospital 2 hours away. And the journey began.
I remember I had been handed something from his pocket...it was a coin with a saying on it, or a cross..I can't remember to be sure, but I held on to it for the entire ride to Wichita. When we got the the hospital, they had no record of him, but told us we should go to the cardiac care unit..that's where he SHOULD be. We get to that floor, and asked for him, and immediately the nurses all bunch up together and start whispering. My mother panics.. starting to think he died in flight...a nurse would come over, ask a question, run back over to her huddle.  Turns out, our local dispatcher had called all the surrounding newspapers, and little town sheriff having a heart attack and being air lifted out must have been a hot story. They had to put Dad "incognito" because of the papers that kept calling wanting info. Dad's cardiologist came in and asked " Just WHO ARE you?"   It must have been a really slow news week for south central Kansas.

I snagged this information off my dads blog, but in the end, my dad ended up with: 23 heart caths--2 of which almost killed him, one involving a full blown code, and one leaving him on life support for couple of days. Apparently, he developed an allergy to the dye used, and they had to start giving him bags of Benydral and steroids beforehand, (And my Dad on Benydrel was HYSTERICAL!) 12 stents,  Defib/pacemaker implant, 2 open heart surgeries with 4 bypasses total, and 1 experimental trans-myocardial revascularzation---which is pretty much a laser that pokes little holes in the heart, to promote new tissue growth.

He had battle scars on his chest, under his breast, and on his legs. 

Think about one little ol' human heart, taking all of that, and managing to keep beating.

Every girl thinks there Daddies are strong,  but when you see your Dad..on his knees...trying to pull start the rototiller, so he can till his garden...4 days after coming home from open heart surgery..you have to stop and wonder if, in fact, your Dad really MAY be SUPERMAN. He said "Well, after I got it started, I was ok.."  That was the year he had to retire.  And it was the best and the last full sized garden, that he ever planted. He told me, as I walked through admiring those big beautiful plants "Just one year, I wanted to do it right."

When my dad retired, their household shifted. My mother became the one who worked the most, while my Dad stayed at home with my sister, Michelle. He got her up for school, went to class parties, coached basketball,  volunteered his time on organizations. I always felt sorry for her, because she doesn't remember having a healthy Dad, but she got his undivided attention all those years, so we both won, I think.

My quiet and keep to himself father suddenly turned into a giant goober when grandchildren were added.  I have told my boys they were BLESSED they were to be born when they were...they got to experience the some what healthy years, when he was still tinkering around the farm, working on the tractor, or plowing his garden. He brought Jacob to the hospital to meet his new baby brother.. He went to cub scout camp with them, and carried them around, and hauled them on his shoulders. He baby sat toddlers with ear infections, came to the ER to check on babies with high fevers,  removed swollen sunflower seeds from Jacob's nose, showed them how to blow up toys with firecrackers, and made them laugh HYSTERICALLY when he showed them his famous "belly roll"...Those boys were, until the day he was buried, his right hand men.

 SD532442

 SD531350

My Dad loved the outdoors, and the farm. He would pack us up, to take us to check on cows, and to see the new baby calf with prettiest marking on her face,  or to see wheat sprouting up.  We have this hill right outside a field... One side has a hump in it, and then a little ways down, the other side has a hump. Dad  would rev the jeep up down the road, gaining up speed, and would start yelling YEEEE-HAWWWWWW. We would be laughing and screaming, and we would hit that hill, it felt like we were air born, ... and it would tilt us way over to one side, and then way over the other, and we would laugh all the way home.

After his family, my Dad's greatest love was his job. He loved being a police officer, and he loved the PEOPLE in law enforcement.  Two of these people in his job where his very best friends, "back in the day". One, he watched be buried four years ago. Dave had cancer, and when he was admitted on Hospice, they had a bet on who would get to Heaven first. It was just the kind of humor they had. The other man, Jene, was a pall bearer.  The same man who took my dad to the hospital on that life changing day.  When I see Jene,  he always reminds me of my dad, and how my dad SHOULD be--healthy and strong.
My early childhood memories involve a lot of card games with these men and their families, with tall glasses of ice tea, and "#1 wants to know if the coffee is on?" coming through the radio. I remember falling asleep, Would they EVER stop talking???, to the laughter and warmth, coming from that dining room.

I remember he would be so in tune with things, that he could tell when something "big"  was about to happen. He would pace the floors, or some nights, get up, get dressed and be smoking a cigarette, just waiting for the call to go.  Sometimes, after a bad one, he would come home and silently just hug us, and I remember sometimes he would put his head in his hands, and just cry at our dining table.  He had to retire, and hadn't been a police officer in 14 years or so, but he had requested being buried in his uniform. That night we were to view at the funeral home, I had had a panic attack on the way...I fogged up the windows and couldn't catch my breath. I don't know why I was scared, but I was terrified. I walked in and retreated to a corner to compose myself while everyone viewed. My sister came and got me, made me come out, and she held my hand...And I was shocked.  He was clean shaven, and all gussied up...he looked 20 years younger than he had the day before, laying in his bed.  He looked like my DAD...strong and healthy, not sick and weak.. As weird as it sounds...it was amazing.

He was a lover of music. ALL music...something I got from him.  He won the John Phillip Sousa award when he was in high school for his trumpet. And you could always tell my dad's mood by what kind of music was blaring when you pulled into the driveway. Usually this meant he was super happy, and had been cleaning. He could sing bass to any song, effortless it seemed. I remember going out with him in his patrol car for some reason, and the song Africa by Toto came on, and he sang the entire base line. I just looked out the window, listening, wondering  "HOW does he DO that??"  That song will forever remind me of him. Standing next to him during church...I would mouth and pretend to sing, but really...I just listened to him. Silent Night was the very best.  We got to complete a bucket list item for him, when my brother and sister and I took him to Hutch a few years ago to see Chicago in concert. He loved them, and Kansas, Toto, to ones like Trans Siberian Orchestra. He also LOVED Amayna...which is beautiful Native American flute music.

He loved animals, as anyone who attended his service found out when his "special friends" got a shout out by the preacher.   He had been home bound for pretty much the past 4 years, and his dogs..Tuffy, Taffi, and Tucker...were everything to him, and got him through the day..someone to talk to. When Dad was not feeling well, they stayed glued to his side.   Tuffy passed away at the age of 16 a few years ago, but one time we had to call the ambulance for Dad. She clamped her butt right next to my dads side, and snapped and snarled at anyone who dared to come near him.   There were cops, and ambulance workers all patiently waiting, standing there, staring at us, while we rock-paper-scissors to see which of us would be the one to get her. My brother lost,  and ended up somehow getting a leash on her, and drug her off..literally,  to the bathroom.
They were so in tune with him, my mom is fairly certain she knows EXACTLY when my dad passed away... Taffi came into my mothers room...something she never ever does...like she knew something was wrong and was trying to tell her.

Anybody who knew my dad well knows about his wicked sense of humor. Inappropriate at times, shocking at others, always hysterical.  We laughed over things that really weren't all that funny during his illness, but that's how we made it through.  And he had the best laugh. Especially when he really got to going. One of those laughs that made YOU laugh.

He was a BEAUTIFUL writer. He had a writing style that was uniquely his own. I'm not sure I can describe it, but when I go back and read his blog posts, I can "hear" him. He wrote EXACTLY how he would speak. I was blessed with wonderful and flowing letters..my most treasured is one he wrote to me on my wedding day. 

I mentioned this in my Christmas post, but my Dad LOVED being Santa Claus. Mom would buy our gifts, and he most of the time surely didn't even have any idea what he was setting out, but he always left us a note, along with a piece of rolled up bologna with cheese and peanut butter, wrapped in saran wrap, for our dog we had growing up.  He loved surprising people. One year, my mom had been baking banana bread in the kitchen to give our family as gifts, and the UPS guy came...my dad ran back in and grabbed a warm loaf to hand to him. I will never forget the look on that drivers face...or my moms when she realized she was a loaf short. ;)
The year my Grandmother died, my Uncle Andy bought my Granddad a little microwave.  They put a bow on it, with "Love, Andy-Claus", and snuck it over after Grandad was sleeping. I didn't get to go...I was told to stay home and "keep watch", which looking back now was the polite way of saying "you talk to much and will blow it!"  ;) (Come on..I was 8!)  But I watched them sneak over, and took my job to "keep watch" VERY seriously,  with my nose pressed to the cold glass. I will never forget  how magical that felt to be apart of. 

My Dad LOVED my husband, Danny.  He really did love him, just like a son. Together they had spent many hours fixing fence and building corrals, tinkering around, fixing things. Much to our horror, Danny snuck into the hospital with a McDonalds Big Mac, after his first bypass surgery, just because Dad had asked for one, and Danny is a big softie. (Danny always just said, "Well he was HUNGRY!") They had a special understanding of each other.  Danny loved him right back, and the past few years had picked him up off the floor too many times to be counted, made strawberry ice cream runs for him, sat up with him one entire night at the hospital while he was hallucinating, sending me and my exhausted mother to our beds.  He helped move his body the day we lost him, and carried his casket out of the church. Danny always treated him with respect..when he was strong and healthy, when he was sick, and after he was gone.

One thing most people don't get the opportunity to do, is to experience the death process with a parent. As strange as that sounds, I am thankful for it, even as long and heartbreaking as his was.   My dad was declared terminal 4 years before he died. I had 4 years of making sure whatever it was I wanted him to know,  he knew..and 4 years of heartbreaking, yet reassuring conversations. He was ready to die, to be free of his broken and tired body. He looked forward to Heaven, and seeing his parents.  As sad as those conversations were at the time, they bring me peace today.
He had been so close to death so many times, he had had some amazing, hair on your neck stand up, beautiful stories to tell.  He KNEW what was waiting for him when this life was over. And he couldn't wait to get there. 

Even though I had plenty of time to prepare for losing him..I have regret.  I regret not showing him our family pictures..I was hiding them until he saw our Christmas card, so that the card was ALL new pictures he hadn't seen before...how silly is that?. I regret not spending more time with him, but I don't think any time would have ever been enough. I regret his last Thanksgiving dinner was at the Hospice House, served on a tray. I regret the last words I ever spoke to him were "BEHAVE! And drink your water!!"  I regret..I regret...I regret!

Its been almost 6 weeks since we lost him.  I'm starting to sleep better, finding myself awake only once or twice a week now, and I've even been able to sleep all night long a few times.  I still wake up a lot, which is infuriating.  The saddest part to me is that life really DOES go on. People stop asking or telling you how sorry they are..they stop talking about him.  It's a lot like how I felt like during the week of funeral planning. We were so busy, and so caught up in our tears, it almost shocked me at times when I remembered that outside our doors, the world was still turning. I just don't want the world to forget him.

Through all of this,  the people who have helped the most have been the ones that have been totally real. You have the people that say "It was what was best." or "He's not suffering anymore".  While these are very true, the ones that have meant the most to me have been the honest ones.  "You won't sleep again for a long time...you have to go just go through it." "It just sucks. Everything about it." "Its been 30+ years and I still miss my mom every day."  It means they have been through it, know exactly how I feel, and are still standing in front of me. They survived. It's the people who hold your hand through a funeral.  And the people who bring you dinner, and stock your freezer, and don't even bat an eye when you confess you have only cooked dinner for your family 3 times in almost 6 weeks.

Sometimes I think I'm starting to move forward. Other days its all I can to to hope the day just sends soon, so I can go to bed and try again the next day.  Those days are long and sad. And its the silliest of things that can smack you hard.

 IMG_0336

Just yesterday I was deleting pictures off my phone and found one of a plant outside at the Hospice House. My dad had hauled me outside to show me this plant, and ask if I knew what it was. I didn't but I promised I would find out, and maybe get him one for home. He was fascinated by the look and feel of the leaves, and NEEDED to know what it was.  That picture broke my heart.

I really, REALLY, miss that guy!







5 comments:

Bambi said...

That was just beautiful, Becky. Such a special tribute to your dad. He was an awesome man and no one will ever forget him. Take one day at a time and one of these days the wonderful memories will over take the not so wonderful ones. You never out grow being a "daddy's girl"! Believe me, I know! Bambi

Taylor Hess said...

I too, think Mike and his Dad acted alot alike. I also remember Mike coming into the station and Glenn and Mike and who ever else was in there talking and Mike would just smile that smile of his and "hmmph" just like you said. It's the memories that keep us going!

Taylor Hess said...

Becky, the computer has once again bested me!! Pat Hess is sending these messages, not Taylor!LOL

Melanie said...

Perfect!! He was loved by many. .I can just NOW. .stop and LOOK at my dad's picture when it scrolls across in my photo parade screen saver on the computer. .and some days I still just avert my eyes as quickly as possible to NOT see. .I also have NEVER deleted his phone number off my cell. .Maybe someday. .or maybe not!! Hang in there!!

Rhonda said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Becky ... and the posts before this one, too. I can relate to so much you said. It was nice to read about your dad and know him a little better. I'm kinda strange, I've known so many people up home there all my life, but don't really know a lot about them or really get to know them. Facebook has helped correct that and expand my world a little with people I know. Wish I could share with you a lot of thoughts I had as I read your post, just stuff I could relate to. Know you are thought of and loved, and thanks again for sharing.