“Life, if well lived, is long enough.” —Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD), Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist.Three days ago I wrote a blog post on my regular blog titled, “And Life Goes On.” I didn’t give a reason for writing it, but then I usually don’t give any reason for writing most of the blog posts I have published over the years. However, “And Life Goes On,” is different. I had a reason.
My dad died today.
Dad lived a good and full life. He was loved by many, and he died just one month shy of his 96th birthday, which is a lot longer then most people live. He outlived my mom by 36 years, and he outlived my stepmother who he was married to for almost 32 years when she died in 2011, and my stepbrother who died much too young back in 2008 at the age of 45. He is survived by me and my two brothers (one older and one younger) and their families, and our stepsister who has lost everyone in her family except for us, her step family.
In January of this year, Dad had to have a pacemaker put in to keep his heart going, and he needed heart valve surgery four months later that was supposed to “fix” everything. But it didn’t. He still had breathing issues, and he completely lost his appetite and essentially stop eating. He didn’t want to go back to the emergency room nor did he want to be tube fed. Hospice was called in. He lived with my younger brother for the past few months since he had the pacemaker put in until his death this morning.
I live in a different state from where my dad was living. It wasn’t until just two weeks ago that I finally realized that Dad was dying. I kept thinking if he would just get his appetite back again or at least force himself to eat, that he would get better. That is known as “Stage 1: Denial” in the Grief Cycle (see my blog post, “And Life Goes On,” for the five stages of grief). I knew he was going on 96 and that his body was wearing out, but some folks live to be 100 or older, and that was my wish for him. “Just eat, Dad” is what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t there, and it would have only made things worse.
You see, I wanted Dad to walk me down the aisle if I ever found the right guy to marry, and I didn’t care how old he was or I was when it happened. But more then that, I wanted us to be like we were back when I was 21, when on my 21st birthday Dad took me out to dinner and then asked me if I wanted to go bar hopping to some of his favorite hangouts. It sounded like fun, and while it might not be what most fathers would do with their daughters on their 21st birthday, we had a blast and at our last stop at a ballroom type place we had a father and daughter dance. I guess I wanted my “younger” father back before the years wore on and the image of my mother took the place of me in his eyes. They divorced when I was 12, and there was no love lost between them right up until my mom died in 1983 at the age of 54.
Dad was a great guy and a very honest businessman who got totally screwed over by a business partner when he was 52, and he literally ended up on the street with nothing more then a suitcase full of tools that he used to repair typewriters in the business he and his partner started a few years earlier. His partner had yanked it out from under him. But Dad didn’t let that faze him, and with hard work and a stellar reputation around the city for being an honest businessman, he built up his own business from scratch that eventually put his old partner’s business out-of-business. And he was so successful that he was able to retire from his business at the age of 64.
Dad married my stepmother in 1979 and they were perfect for each other, and they fit together, as Forrest Gump said about Jenny in the movie, “Forrest Gump,” like “peas and carrots.” They traveled and took cruises and went out every summer to see my older brother and his family in Oregon, and they had the time of their lives. When my own mother died in 1983 (my parents divorced in the mid-1960’s and Mom never remarried, and she acquired some horrific health issues starting at the age of 36 that took her life by the time she was 54), my stepmother became like a second mother to me, even though I was 27 at the time they married.
Dad could tell stories from his WWII years as a Navy flight instructor training cadets to fly in Corpus Christi, Texas, that would keep you spellbound. And he had framed pictures of the planes he flew in WWII hanging on the walls in their home. He was rarely at a loss for words, and he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t know a stranger. And everybody loved him.
Unfortunately, by the time he reached his current age (95) most of his friends and the people he knew from his past had all died. But I think what hit him the hardest was when my stepmother died. That really took a toll on him. So did losing my stepbrother back in 2008. But Dad was a survivor, and he never complained, and he moved on with his life.
He was raised as the oldest son of my paternal grandparents, who were actually his aunt and uncle as his birth mother died a few days after giving birth to Dad. His birth mother and my paternal grandmother were sisters. His dad was a Free Methodist minister who could give “hellfire and brimstone” sermons with the best of them back during that time. I remember Dad talking about all the times his father made him walk down the aisle at church when he would give an “alter call” hoping to inspire others in the audience to follow. Or when he did something wrong and he ended up being taken to the woodshed and whipped by his father (a common form of punishment for kids back in that time), or worse yet, being forced to pray for hours on end as penance. Needless to say, once he got out from under all that hellfire and brimstone preaching when he joined the Navy during WWII, he became more of a party guy. I can’t say that I blame him since I was raised in the church, too. It’s a fine line we have to walk between extremes on either side. He tilted on the party side of that fence. I tend to sometimes, too, but not as extreme as Dad did it as I acquired too much guilt when I was a kid, and I was sure if I had sex outside of marriage that I’d be struck by lightening, and that one alcoholic drink would lead to hell. The church could be a very tough place to grow up in.
While there were extremes in the church when I was growing up, just like Dad had when he was growing up, at least Dad was not a hellfire and brimstone preacher like Grandpa was which was my saving grace. But my parents’ marriage hit the rocks when I was way too young, and the division that started between us back then ended up lasting a lifetime. Dad always saw my mother in me, and it made our relationship difficult. I loved both of my parents but they were as opposite as night and day. I got caught in the middle as the only girl in my family and Dad thought I always sided with Mom. Little did either of them know that I didn’t want to have to pick sides at all. I was only 12 when they divorced.
Life is what it is and we have little control over the things or people we think we should be able to have control over. We can’t control others. We are lucky if we can control ourselves most of the time. When I was awarded a one-year doctoral fellowship at a private university in Florida when I turned 40 and I left Iowa in 1992, I ended up finding work in Florida after my fellowship year was over and I remained there for over two decades. It was during this time that the divide between Dad and I widened, but I never wanted it that way. Still, as I said above, we cannot control others. Dad was not happy when I left for that doctoral fellowship in Florida, but my stepmother was thrilled for me. She was the buffer between us although I am sure it was an awkward position for her at times.
I always wanted to mend the rift with Dad and I prayed that it would happen. In fact, I felt sure that before he died (or if I died first) that we would come to some type of reconciliation because I desperately wanted it. He just wasn’t able to ever separate me from my mother. I was told that he didn’t want to see me when he was dying.
And life goes on.
I love Dad with every fabric of my being. I loved Mom, too. And I loved my stepmother, who was the best “second mother” I ever could have asked for. I can’t fix what was or what is, but I can accept life as it has been handed to me and move forward. Dad had a great life, and I am grateful for that and for him, too. I learned a lot from him over the years; he just didn’t know it or he didn’t choose to believe it (even though I told him often enough). That was his choice.
I’m not exactly sure how to end a eulogy as I’ve never written one before. Dad would want it to be upbeat. He’d probably tell a funny joke. I guess I’ll just say that despite our difficulties over the years, I am grateful that he was my dad, and I learned a lot about life from him. I love you, Dad. I really, really do…
And life . . .
Goes . . .
On . . . .
YouTube Video: “Talladega” by Eric Church (“Talladega” video makes a visual out of a song that is about a lot more than racing. The clip spans one man’s entire lifetime while he lays in a hospital bed, reminiscing before his death–longer explanation available at this link):
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit: family photo