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My Dad

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Today is the last day of my "bereavement leave" from work, which means -- ready or not -- Monday I'll have to be in school early, polished and ready to meet my 3rd-grade students.

My dad passed away in the early morning hours after Christmas, so I was blessed with an *extra* long time off from work ... two weeks for winter break, and this next week for bereavement. Coupled with "snow days" and "family medical days" preceding winter break ... I haven't been at school for most of December.

And after explaining about all this "time off," I just wanted to note ... now ... the depression feels like it's really settling in.

I spent yesterday in tears going over budget matters and feeling a good bit of "overwhelm" re. bills I can't pay. A woman at my bank talked me into applying for a Home Equity Line of Credit, and we spent ... ever so long ... on the phone ... going through steps and details, discussion about interest rate, Prime, and other things that went over my head. Then I needed to gather insurance forms to FAX. Honestly, the process went on and on.

"So this is what it feels like," I thought, "to be an orphan ...." No one to turn to for counsel and advice. No one to help with decisions.

This morning? I rolled over my debt into a new zero-percent promotion credit card that's good until February of 2010. It took about five minutes. But the point? That I've felt I've not had enough time to grieve. Good grief (pardon the pun). Everyone's been in such a rush to empty out the house, and get things moving -- and this and that --

And I'm the one with All The Stuff In The Basement that needs addressing (in case you saw my earlier post) ... and I've barely been able to put one foot in front of another, and d*mn it, I'm not ready for work on Monday (and not ready ... don't have any kind of "work crew" assembled to help me) move things out of the homestead.

There is no room.

There is no time.

There is little ability to make decisions.

We're in the middle of snow storms.

Next week the temperatures are projected to be sub zero.

It's so sad ...

... that I haven't felt I've had anyone to help me. (And, no, my family is not a compassionate and understanding lot.)

That's one thing I guess we can thank my dad for. That he raised a raucous brood to be competitive and to fight with one another, and I'm including emotional, physical and sexual abuse with that (me, of course). There was a lot of yelling, screaming, and hair-pulling when I was growing up. (And a lot of trauma and shame. A lot of tears, oh my. A lot of estrangement and ... feelings of rejection and abandonment.) It was just awful, frankly, so why should any of us expect it would be any different today?

Years ago, when I was in my late 20s, I found myself doing secretarial work for the Department of Psychology at SUNY-Albany, and one day I braved a question of my boss, the department head. Did he "know anyone," that could "be of help for me?"

He referred me to a woman at ... Russel Sage, I believe. A bright, blonde, sunny woman. I'm sorry, I don't remember her name. I don't remember much about our work, either, except that she sent me home with a bunch of forms to fill out; one a "complete the sentence" form with things that read like this:

  • I'm most proud of ...
  • I wish I had more time for ...
  • In my spare time I like to ...

We use forms like this in our work with kiddos. (Or at least I do.) Funny how I never made the correlation to this earlier experience before now.

Anyhow, my response to one of these questions seemed to catch her by surprise. "Oh, Temmie," she asked, "When did your father die?"

"He hasn't," I said.

"But you wrote here, the saddest day of my life ... was the day my father died."

"Yes, I did," I said. "But he hasn't died yet."

* * * * *

That must have been ... 1982. Can you imagine? So I suppose, for the last 27 years, I've been doing everything I could to prepare, and to make sure ... that his last day wouldn't be my saddest. And I'm not so sure.

He did not make it easy to love him, or even to talk with or engage with him. He was controlling, and sometimes mean-spirited. I had to leave the room when he started saying disrespectful things ad laughing about the hospital social worker. "Why does he have to be so mean," I wailed into the phone to my sister.

I also refused to change his diaper on that last day in the hospital -- partly because I didn't want to get saddled into that responsibility. ("I'll be alright, Temmie can take care of me,"), and partly because I didn't want to remember him that way. I did not want to look down at his broken, bony form ... completely exposed. Already, were it not for my cancer surgery and my own issues of infirmity, he looked a man I could scoop up in my arms and carry away.

"You're getting awfully thin, Dad."

* * * * *

In those last three weeks, I cleaned the crusted mucous out of his eyes, held his hands, yelled into his face, "Open your eyes, Dad," and was delirious with joy when he did.

"He opened his eyes!"

That first night in the ER when the doctors said we had a choice to either go for "aggressive treatment," or "keep him comfortable," I bucked the tide to advocate for "giving him a chance." God. I just wanted him to make it through the night so I could get my son home to say goodbye.

Dad *did* make it through the night. And he responded to antibiotics for pneumonia and influenza, and ... later, when his belly filled with fluids, he made it into the surgical theater where they discovered the problem was that his "artificial urinary sphincter" following prostate cancer had been left in the "on" position, distending his bladder to nearly 2 liters of fluid, and causing a new host of problems.

Again, even though Dad had a "do not resuscitate" order, and "do not intubate," the surgeons said ... after discovering their error ... that while surgery wouldn't be necessary (thank God), they would still need to intubate to keep him breathing after administering anesthesia ... just as a matter of ethical protocal ...

So again, back to the ICU.... It took ever so long to metabolize the anesthesia, and with a machine breathing for Dad, family didn't think he'd make it.

"Dad, open your eyes! Can you hear me? Dad, hello!"

I held his hands, and my dad opened his eyes, and while he couldn't talk with the tube down his throat, he was able to communicate by nodding and shaking his head.

I asked if I could get him anything, and he nodded his head. I asked if he could write, and I brought him a pen.

I couldn't make sense of his penmanship, so I told him to "slow down," and "go letter by letter" until I could figure it out.

P - A - P - E - R ...

My dad wanted a newspaper.


Eventually respiratory specialists extubated Dad, got him "on," and then weaned him off a BiPap machine. Eventually he was doing pretty well with oxygen ... just breathing on his own. But that's when he got mad. He couldn't stand up. He couldn't dress himself. He couldn't pee by himself. His bladder was such a mess after the artificial device mishap. One morning I stopped in to see him and he was completely dejected.

"I'm useless."

I was with him through this humiliating experience, and others, in which doctors (and even one of my siblings) "dressed him down," and told him ... in essence ... that, even with the most expert care ...

And even with all of the King's horses, and all of the King's men ...

... the doctors couldn't restore him to the level of condition or independence he'd enjoyed before this hospitalization; and that, no, he would never be able to go home again. He was so let down.

I was with him, through various increments, when I could see ... he was just ... shutting down.

"I had a very good system at home," he said, and "Being straight-cathed every four hours isn't particularly comfortable."

When the doctors (and nurses) responded that they could help by "numbing him up," I helped him articulate his point. Couldn't he just use diapers? No. The trauma to the bladder left him unable to void completely. Wouldn't there be a medication that could help? "FloMax," he offered. No. You need to just get out of here, and get up on your feet again.

Well ... every four hours ... and taking 30-minutes or more at a crack ... "It's just not natural," he said. And again I could see him shutting down.

"I'm virtually useless."

* * * * *

The day before Christmas he was back at the nursing home where Mom died.

He was really wiped out.

Christmas day he seemed in good spirits. He'd had a whirlpool bath, and ... honestly ... I don't think he'd had a bath in years.

Christmas in the late afternoon, he didn't seem coherent on the phone, mixing me up with one of my sisters ... and Christmas night he didn't answer. I never saw him again.

The next thing I knew, the phone was ringing at 2 o'clock in the morning. "It's Jane," the voice said. "I just got a call from the nursing home, and I guess they just checked-in on Dad, and he's gone."

How did she say it? "The nurses just called, and they checked on Dad, and it seems ... he's died."

I can't remember how she said it ... but all day, I've been thinking, I'm so sorry, Dad. I certainly knew better, and should certainly have read the signs, but I so believed you were going to get better. I'm so sorry I didn't get a better chance to say goodbye.

It is a very sad day when the patriarch goes home. It was not a pleasant family, by any means ... and losing my mother nearly killed me. But losing Dad? He held on by sheer force of will and brute determination.

He made it to his 90th birthday.

He made it to Christmas.

He made it through visits with every one of his six children, assorted spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He made it through influenza.

He made it through pneumonia.

He made it through intubation ... and back out again ... able to breathe on his own.

In his last days, he worked crossword puzzles, and taught me how to do the "cryptoquote" in the daily newspaper. He sat up in bed and fed himself. He brushed his teeth. (I helped him.) While it might seem trivial or unnecessary to note -- in this one ... simple ... act -- he demonstrated to me issues of "self care" related to dignity and preservation of self that are so beyond what I myself might muster ... (a woman who would gladly never brush her teeth again, and just be left in bed alone, to sleep ... to sleep and sleep until such sadness passes).

He was able to feed himself ... and enjoy a nice bath ... and when Christmas was over and done, he was able to quietly close his eyes ... drift off ... and then open them to the world beyond.

I so miss you, Dad. It's been two weeks now, and I ... believe you're happy with Mom and experiencing all kinds of wonder, but I really, really miss you (and I never stopped hoping and believing).

Thank you for doing your best with me.

I know you did your best.


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Bless you for your post. Even tho parts of our life stories are different in many ways, our fathers final day were the same. Thanks you for putting it so lovingly and so wonderfully, your dad and mine would be proud. We are cleaning out the rest of dad's house Saturday, and I agree that I still feel overwhelmed. Believe in yourself and let me know if I can help you. Thank you again.


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Thank you, Patti ...

I am still learning how to navigate this site (and half the time I'm lost).

I am still learning how to navigate my loss (and feel lost all of the time).

I went to a party tonight, but was able to stay for only a little while. I think ... now that I have to go back to work, somehow it makes my dad's absence more real. I can't bear to think of going back to work. My work is so hard. (And not having my dad.) As if life should go on, without interruption. As if nothing happened. As if his absence was of no consequence.

I can't explain.

I got to wailing on the way home, and almost threw up. I made noises I never knew a human could make, were it not for something out of the movies (and the movies never get it right).

Now I know what keening is.

The only good thing that I can see in this ... is if this is how terribly devastating it is to lose an earthly father, how much more will we grieve were we to lose our Heavenly father. And ... how loss ... inspires us ... potentially ... to be on our very best behavior. In the names of our loved ones. As honor and tribute. In the spirit of their love. In a service to our dedication ... that we live, act, and behave ... in the name of love. (Because in the name of loss is too terrible.)

I feel sick, I feel sick. I have so much work to do that I've avoided. I don't know how I'll possibly pull it together and manage next week.

I am heartbroken.

There are certainly things I've gone through in the past that were despairing and difficult, but I don't remember feeling this ruined ... ever.

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Dear Temmie,

All I can say after reading your post is, "May God bless you." May He bless you for all your yesterdays and may He hold you in all your tomorrows. I can relate to your childhood on so many levels and your dad's hospital stay on so many more. I can understand your reasons to celebrate even his smallest accomplishments and your desire for your dad to have some semblance of dignity in the midst of it all. When I was young, I was told that for a child to disown a parent, however abusive, was equivalent to losing an arm. We learn to adapt and accept the trauma as "normal." I lived in silence and learned how to look good no matter what was happening inside. I learned to not feel.

The difference between us is that I'm not here because of my father's death. He's still here. Unfortunately, I often ask myself (most often after some crude, insulting joke) why he is here, but my husband isn't. And I found out that no matter how good I was at disguising my hurt, the depth of losing a loved one changes everything. Your bereavement leave was long enough for reality to sink in, but it is not nearly long enough to process all you have to do or what you are feeling. You write like Frank McCourt. It's probably the prose of the suffering Irish. (Don't be insulted, I say this with all my love and respect.) Journaling is a wonderful companion on this journey.

I am glad you are here. This site is full of wonderful, strong, encouraging friends. We understand what your siblings can't and we will do our best to help you through this. I have no doubt you will go through the motions of teaching and working. Kids are a great distraction. They make us laugh even when we think we never will again. But at the end of the day, sit in a tub of your own and let the tears fall. Find support and someone able to listen. There are no answers, only questions and uncertainties. But I recognize your inner strangth and I bet it comes from a power much greater than ourselves. Rely on that. It will be your greatest asset as you move through this. I wish you wellness and peace.


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Big (((((((((((((((Hugs))))))))))))))))) for your Temmie. I'm so sorry about your Dad.

Thank you so much for sharing your story here. And yes I also see a bunch of inner strength. And please in the coming days....weeks.... months..... remember that it is there and if you can't... come here and we will remind you.

I too have similar things in my past.. and I'll tell you... I came to the same blessed place you have come to:

Dad, "I know you did your best."

I'll be "with" you on Monday as you face your 3rd graders who will probably be so very excited to have you back. I hope their bright faces make Monday a bit more tolerable for you.


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My youngest daughter is also a teacher and last year at this time she had the whole month of Dec. until her dad's passing on Jan 18th and the rest of that week off. She would not be able to relate to the "abusive?" part of your story or a lot of the other parts, but she can related to the love she had for her dad. When she finally got back to school her kids were so glad to see her and she them. It was a good distraction for her and helped her get over the hump so to say. She still has her sad days, but mainly at home or if she comes to see me and I'm having a melt down. So I think you will probably find that the school day will be fine for the most part. It will be the coming home, the emptiness that will get you. Just take your time, relax, go through some more of the things you have to go through and before you know it, it will be bedtime. You will stumble along the way and have many a meltdown, but that's OK. Tears are God's way of cleansing our soul.

Good luck to you on Monday. Hey, who knows maybe there will be another snow day (kind of a reprieve)

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Thank you all, for your kind words here.

I don't know if I'm supposed to start a new "string" or "post," or to just keep spiraling along on this one. In any case, thank you.

This is the hard work of grieving. Riding the keening shrieks and wails, like a bird soaring on thermal air currents, and then suffering the devastation of feeling your very body has fallen against rocks, and been crushed and broken. Heartbroken.

Driving home last night, I held onto the steering wheel tight to keep myself from also lifting up into the air. I also worked to keep my car on the largely unplowed roads. Working to stay in my lane, not too much to the left, not too much to the right -- just plowing through right down the center -- also kept me grounded.

I honestly didn't know it was possible to make such noises, and wondered ... as this level of crying serves as a sort of alarm ... I was sure cars would pull over and get off the road as I came wailing through the snow .... I wonder if this sort of crying isn't an alarm that pierces the the very veils of Heaven, and if my Dad knew I was hurting ....

(Even if he did, there was no quick release from the torture of this wailing. I just couldn't stop, so I held onto the steering wheel, and just kept things moving forward, somehow, until I was home. And then I went to bed with my kitty.)

I do find myself wondering ... honestly ... what good does such torture such as this do, if not remind us, how much greater our suffering might be were we to lose our Heavenly Father? Of if you don't believe in "God," in the conventional, Christian sense -- if we lost our ability to connect with that place of still point, highest power, greatest peace, or wise self within?

I think the only antidote, remedy, or cure for such grief is to live with as much courage as we can muster, and to endeavor to live with kindness, and grace. It takes courage, and grace to push into and through the hard parts of life ... and it takes kindness and intention to work on expanding our hearts to deal with increasingly difficult situations ... because life CAN be hard ... and all that we do ... when we are broken, lost or confused ... we can do with a little more conviction if we do it do in the name and the spirit of the ones we love.

Along the lines of the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," my son and I used to talk at night about sending all the love of our hearts to the "Unknown, Suffering Someone," for surely, on this earth, there are others who are suffering even greater than we, who have no recourse, who have no talents, strengths or tools at the ready to know how to cope, nor family, nor friends, nor loved ones, nor hope.

So if not in the names of our loved ones ("Dad, I'm going to brush my teeth today, even though I don't feel like it (and I'll even throw in a floss) because you demonstrated the importance and necessity of self-care, and I'm going to dedicate all of my efforts this morning in your name with love") ... or in the name of the Unknown, Suffering, Someone.

Maybe then, in that deepening ... in time, we will open to an inflooding of Light and grace, and ... eventually ... our hearts be filled with a healing balm that flows through our fingertips, lights up our faces, and makes our presence a thing of joy. And then, we will know we've begun to experience the fruits of our labors.

Maybe in work such as this, grief paves the way, for I can think of no other benefit, than that it serves as an opening -- as it pierces us so -- that we might begin to transmute and relay more of the gifts from the unseen realms that others might not live in darkness ... but lift up into a higher experience of love, confidence, hope, peace ... because our work brings a greater light.

I can't think beyond this.

My stomach is shaky, and I have a full house full of "things" I can't deal with that I need to make decisions about today. I've just got to be ... ruthless ... going through papers ... putting like things together ... tossing and shredding things that are not relevant to anything current ... and then to box up, and start shifting things around in an already cramped floor space, because later this weekend ... and every day until the end of February, I have to sift through the same in the basement of my parents' home ... and bring whole lifetimes of work and collections ... into the tiny frame of this house, and honestly.

I don't know where to begin.

So grateful for this place to write, and for the friends who join me here.

Blessings. In the names of our loved ones.


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