Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Just Missing Him

I have had a tough day today, yesterday and this week. Not because the kids were screaming or running all over the place. Not because my hair wouldn't do what I wanted it to. Not because the internet was down for a while and I couldn't surf the www. But because I have been missing my dad something awful.

For those of you who do not know me or what I have gone through in the last year I will bring you up to speed. Short version: In June of 2007, my 72 year old father called me in a panic; "Baby? (That's what he used to call me), I think I just had a stroke. I called 911." He was slurring his words and sounded truly, sincerely panicked. I have NEVER, never heard my dad panicked.

I rushed to the ER where he lay there naked under a bed sheet hooked up to wires and beeping things. What seemed like an eternity later, the doctors confirmed he had had a stroke. But they found a "something" in his brain that needed to be looked at closer and with bigger, smarter machines. Probably just scar tissue from the thyroid cancer he suffered and survived 15 years earlier.

It wasn't. And I have wished a thousand wishes that it would've just been a scratch on the CT's lens. After weeks in different hospitals, he was diagnosed on July 20th with terminal brain cancer.

"Terminal...?" I kept trying to make the word mean something else; trying to rewrite Webster in my mind.

"Terminal." I still kept coming up with a very dark word. A word that didn't spell hope, chance, maybe, or even possibly. It leaves a grimy feeling in the pit of your stomach just saying it. I hate this word.

Overnight, he went from a vibrant, stout and strong older man who could stand for hours and tell you jokes, to not being able to walk by himself or even speak in english. He was confined to his bed. And now, all of a sudden when he needed something he said:

*Blank look from me and my brothers*.
"What did you say, dad?"

"Repeating" himself politely he said:

*Blank looks again*.
Dad looked at us firmly, as if to say, Well, what are you waiting on?

We hesitated to ask again because we didn't want to embarass him. But we had to. This time we leaned in closer to him, (like leaning in would help us decipher some secret code hidden beneath the layers of numbers)...
"Say, that again, dad. Just one more time, please."

Now he was a tad irritated.
"96, 15, 82, water, 47."

Aha! We were all on it! To the kitchen we flew with wings on our feet, however confused from this point on we would be.

It never got better.

Finally, one day he figured out that every time he spoke it was not something we could comprehend. Eventually, we figured out a bit of his language code. 70 meant Okay. 52 meant no. We started playing guessing games to figure out what else he needed. Eventually, he just stopped talking. Just a laugh or a nod was all we got.

My brothers and I took care of him for 2 months in his home rotating shifts. We were all in agreeance and bound and determined NOT to put him in a nursing home. Although, I will admit, it tested me in so many ways. I grew from this experience, but there were many times during this short period I thought I'd failed my father.

I'll never forget one of the last "conversations" I had with him. I was feeling really crummy one day about a lot of personal stuff involving dad. I wanted to make sure he knew that I loved him beyond a shadow of a doubt. I peeked into his room and saw that he was awake watching TV...
"Hey there, dad. How are you today?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Good," I said awkwardly and crawled up on the bed beside him. I held his hand. It had been so long since I did that. I began to cry and I do not like to cry publicly so I decided my confession had to wait and stared at the TV screen. Minutes passed and I figured, what the heck. With tears streaming down my face, I told my father how much I loved and appreciated him and all that he had done for me during this life. I told him how sorry I was for certain things and how much I didn't want him to go and to hold on as long as he could.
Then, something truly astonishing happened. He patted my knee, looked me square in the face and spoke as plain as he had just months before math took over his tongue and said, 

"It's ok, Baby, everybody dies."

I felt like saying, "Gee, dad! Thanks for the update", and in any other circumstance I might have. LOL!
Instead, I sobbed very loudly, much like a toddler who hadn't gotten their way,
"But, I don't want you to die!"
More numbers....

He died on Sept. 18th, 2007. 1 month and 1 day till his 73rd birthday. By the time he passed on he was completely blind and deaf and just the shell of the gentle giant I remembered him being as a child. But he went quickly. That's what he would've wanted.
For his funeral, I decided to give his eulogy. I would like to share it with you here so that you can be introduced to this wonderful man I got to call Dad.

"There are many of you here today that I could've pictured standing up here talking about my father. But if you'll forgive me, I chose to be a little selfish today because there are a lot of things I wish to say about him. My dad was a man of few words. He didn't say much, but then again at times, he said volumes. Right now for me, there are not enough adjectives in the english language to express how I feel about a man I had the priviledge of calling Dad.

He came into my life at a time that was most crucial, not only for me as an unborn child, but for my mother and her 13 year old son at the time, as well. For those of you who do not know the goodness of my dad's heart, you must know he married my mother when she was 7 months pregnant with me after she had been widowed by the very sudden passing of my biological father, Charles Lee Warthen, several months prior.

I am reminded of a song by Brad Paisley, "He Didn't Have To Be". As cliche as it might be right now to quote a country song, I can't think of a better way on my own to describe how he affected my life and that of my older brother, Brad. Allow me to read a verse or two:

'When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new,
it always winds up feeling more like a job interview.
My momma used to wonder if she'd ever meet someone
who wouldn't find out about me and then turn around and run.
And then all of a sudden, oh, it seemed so strange to me,
how we went from something's missing to a family.
Lookin' back all I can say about all the things he did for me,
is I hope I'm at least half the dad
that he didn't have to be.
Because he didn't have to be.'

Because of my dad's example and influence I feel I am a better mother. He had the patience of Job and I'm sure all of you here will concur with that statement. Because of my dad I was able to grow up in a completed family. I grew up being able to have a choice of whether to run to my mom OR my dad in a time of crisis. I grew up knowing some of life's greatest joys because he was there. This single unselfish and honorable action he committed to, instilled in me the deeply rooted subconscious desire to want and expect nothing less than a whole family of my own one day.

Those who DO know my dad know that for him, life was just a bowl of Hershey's. There was not a night that passed that dad did not have his fix of Hershey's kisses and Oreo cookies while watching the big game or an old war movie, preferrably starring John Wayne. But in another sense each day was nothing short of a treat for my dad. He was a happy human being and rarely did anything other than sweetness fall from his lips. Maybe the Hershey's had something do with that.

I'll never forget the little Charlie Chaplin-like dance he used to do for the grandkids when we would come over to visit. I even got this dance from him a time or two, as well.

And I don't ever want to forget dad's laugh. His was distinctive and contagious. If your joke or story was funny, there was no mistaking it. Everyone in the neighborhood or around the block knew someone had just said something genuinely funny when dad laughed.

And I'll never forget his dimples that accompanied his big gracious smile. I loved his handsome dimples.

I can remember every birthday I had he'd always ask me how old I was, just throwing out a number, "What are you, 10, this year?" with a question mark in his eye and his elvis-lipped grin hung on the corner of his mouth. Even up until my last birthday he was guessing I was only 15.

I can also remember every morning as a little girl I would crawl up in bed with my mom and dad and cuddle for a time and start my day off with butterfly kisses from dad. It used to be our morning ritual. Now, it's something I wish I'd never grown out of.

I cry for him not because I'm sad that he's dead, but because I'm sad that he's gone. And I'm not sad because I know he's in a better place, but I AM sad that that place is not here with me.
However, I know that because of God's plan for us and the sacrifice of our elder brother, Jesus Christ, that one day we will be together again, forever. But for now, just for now, my heart aches to have him here with me again.

I hope more than anything that everyone here in this audience today can feel the love I have for this man. I also hope that the many things that I haven't been able to say about him today are speaking loud and clear to you now, resonating in your hearts. If you could see straight through to my heart right now, what you would find there is an engraved image of my father holding a piece of my soul. It's the least I could give to him for all he gave to me.

I love and miss you daddy."


kelly said...

I don't know you (our husbands play x-box together at night) but I was so touched by this post.
Such sweet memories of your dad.
Sad and sweet all at the same time.
Thanks for sharing.

Matthew said...

Wow... Amazing post and wonderful tribute to your father! He sounds like an incredible man.

I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

Thanks for sharing!

Matt (from Utah)

BakerBloggers-Matt & Jenny said...

Wow, that was amazing. I would love to meet your dad (after I meet you of
course). He's sounds like a great guy. Thank heaven we have that knowledge that we get to see our loved ones again. What a great reunion that will be.
Jenny (Matt's wife from Utah)

Steph said...

I hate the word terminal, too. said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I found it moving. My own father passed away three years ago. We certainly miss him. Oddly, my wife Abby seems to miss him the most. We were fortunate that there was nothing unfinished between us.

I found your blog through Steph Gibson. It's been a pleasure reading your musings. :>)


okmft said...

I didn't know your Dad well, but I do remember his generosity and sense of humor. He helped me out once and went the extra mile for me, and we shared some laughs as well. Very nice man, your Dad. He is missed.
- Geoff

Heather @ Gerber Days said...

I don't even know you personally (or your Dad for that matter) but this story touched me. I haven't lost someone really close to me, but I know that it will happen someday... Like your dad said "Everybody dies." I'm sure you look at life quite differently after experiencing that.

You seem like such a special girl, who was a great daughter to an amazing dad! Thanks so much for sharing, and helping me remember to cherish every moment with loved ones.

Michele {The Scrap Shoppe} said...

Oh my goodness, huge hugs to you, my dear. I don't think its possible for anyone to read that and not know exactly how you felt about your father.

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