Tag Archives: father

Every day is Fathers Day…

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Not long ago, I found a letter that my dad wrote to me in April, 1987. The reason for the letter was my high school senior retreat day at Padua High School. It was a beautiful surprise to see my dad’s handwriting again, all confident, cheerful and scrawly, and to “hear” his voice again in those words. When I saved this letter and put it away, I’m sure I never gave his words another thought. The thing is, though, I didn’t have to remember his words, because every single day, he told me the same things in his actions. It amazes me how much his own words mirror the words I used later in his eulogy to describe him and his life. This is vintage Hap, solid advice! And it reminds me that while we may think the most important thing we can say to someone while they’re here is “I love you,” the greater gift may be to say, “I know that you love me.” The letter is pictured here, but difficult to read, so I will transcribe his words: (spoiler alert!! He spills the “secret of life.”)

Mary Beth,

Time for our Father Daughter talk! (Equal billing)

Mary, the whole world is yours if you shut out the negatives. Don’t think the bad of anything. Enjoy your work–your school, now or ever. Please try & be happy with any situation you’re in. I know it sounds stupid but you can make or train yourself to accept & enjoy all challenges. It’s never too hot, too cold, too far, too anything. Don’t be afraid to reach out. I enjoy you & I love you & I want you to be a doer. Mary, honest, the secret of life is to love man and God, don’t dislike, nothing is worth the emotion of hate. I tease you about your loving me. I know you do. I get a lot of mileage out of teasing you about it. It’s really more important to me to know that I love you. You & your sisters have always thought of me & are nice to me, you all know I loved you. What I really want you to realize is how special Dolores Mae is. None of us can comprehend how much she loves. The nicest thing you can ever do for me is to treat mom as the special person she is. Then treat yourself as the special person you are. Reach out & enjoy. Please care enough about the people you know & live with to be a positive influence on their lives. I truly believe you are special. Take whatever school or job you may & love it & enjoy it until the next one. Try to enjoy everything & every one. I wish I had realized much earlier in life how special the gifts of God are. End of lecture. I love you. I will never not love you. -Hap

 

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Beam Me Up

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Beam Me Up

“Beam me up…

Gimme a minute

I don’t know what I’d say in it…

I’d probably just stare, happy just to be there

Holding your face.

Beam me up…

Let me be lighter, I’m tired of being a fighter

I think…

A minute’s enough

 

Just beam me up.”

She fell in love with the song from Pink’s “The Truth About Love” album as soon as she heard it. The dramatic instrumentation, the tender, heartfelt vocal, the melody soft but strong with those minor keys of angst, building the feeling. She shared Pink’s song and the lyrics with plenty of people, because the song reminded her of profound losses: her sister’s baby, eventually her own father (…in my head I see your baby blues.)

The only detail that didn’t sit well in a song so perfect it always drew a tear and required a replay was the part about a minute being enough. What is that about? How could a minute be enough when you long for and miss someone so desperately, and then you get to be “beamed up” to see them again? A minute could never be enough.

Her dad is in her dreams, sometimes. Fairly regularly, in fact, but never the focus. His presence there is purely incidental: it is a holiday at home, so of course he is in the family room in his chair, or outside with the grandkids. She hears his voice in reply to someone’s question, catches a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye smoothing back his shock of white hair the way he always did. He’s there, as he should be, but in the dreams she is always conscious of the looming dementia. In the dramatic irony of a dream, she knows about the dementia because it has come and gone. She knows everything about it, about what’s coming, but he does not. She awakens troubled and anxious, vestiges of her sleep-self worrying that he is still driving but losing his sense of direction, still talking but sometimes seeing things. She’s afraid he will mention a puppy under the table or a bug skittering in the corner. In the dreams, she’s stressed, holding it all together and not sure what to do. But some part of her consciousness always knows it is a dream, because she knows how all of this ends. She simply can’t stop it this time, any more than she could in real life. The dream isn’t about him, so it doesn’t matter. She’s just dreaming, and he is there. Just like the pets and the kids and the occasional former co-worker or high-school classmate. Like intricate puzzles put together with a few of the wrong pieces, forced in awkwardly, dreams are.

One September night, still warm enough to sleep with the bedroom window open for the sleek purring body of her black cat to somehow relax into the tracks of the frame, she understood what it meant to be beamed up.

She dreamed, and this time it was just her and her dad. There was no context, no preface. They stood outside in the darkness facing each other, as suddenly as if they had both been dropped there like a slide from an old projector. Outside of what or where, she didn’t know, couldn’t tell. A place, a building maybe? They were a mere few strides apart, facing each other in the almost-blackness. In a fraction of a second she understood that this dream was different: he had already died, and he knew it. The dementia had come and gone again, and he knew it. And he knew that she knew it all. Revelation was instantaneous. They rushed to approach each other with arms open, no time to waste. He wore a shirt she didn’t recognize, the only thing that wasn’t familiar to her. They hugged, and her dad was once again the right size; the right height, a bit shorter than his youngest daughter in adulthood (he had introduced her around the dementia ward as “the tall one”) so her face was over his shoulder at the crook of his neck, the right density. His back and shoulders were smooth and strong and bullish, the way their dad had always been. Robust, immovable in a hug. He smelled like dad, the cloud of soap and toothpaste and shaving cream that had always breezed behind him as he rushed down the stairs, the last one to shower in a houseful of females. Somehow she could even see his tan in the darkness, sense rather than see the glossy blue-against-white of his mischievous eyes. They hugged strongly—tightly, but not hard, he was so staunch and she gripped the muscles of his back for emphasis. She knew this would be brief, and she rushed her tearful, joyful words, “oh, we love you and miss you so much!” And because she had always joked with him, added, “we don’t want to, but we do!”

He chuckled, still in the hug, unable to see each other’s faces except in mind’s eye, and said, “I know.”

Then they pulled back, still linking forearms but facing each other in this unnamed night-place. His smile was perfect, lighting up his face in its familiar jocularity, and he said to her, with just a trace of disbelief and humility, “I really love it here.”

Her heart spilled over to hear those words. She had already believed he was in a better place, THE better place, and it was what he had believed too. But to see him, feel him, smell him, and recognize the same wonder in his voice that she had heard him use in the past to describe a mountain, or a golf shot, or a talented child, or a great meal, convinced her down to her soul. She grabbed him again, sliding her arms around his shoulders and squeezing his meaty clavicles with her fingertips.

“I’m so glad,” she choked out near his ear. And she meant it. And she wanted him to know that she meant it. She was so happy for him, and she was desperate to impart the whole remaining family’s love and joy to him in what she inherently knew was a very brief opportunity. She squeezed him tighter, burying her face in him. He squeezed too.

She woke up.

Just like that, she was back in her bed at around three in the morning, her husband asleep next to her, her cat curled up and humming, the sounds of the night falling softly through the screen. The whole thing had taken no time at all. A hug, a few words. But now she could feel her dad in her arms. His voice and scent and warm, living skin lingered. She hadn’t hugged her dad that often when he was alive; she would be more inclined to chuck him on the shoulder, while he would have yanked a piece of her long hair from behind and then dodged her retaliation. She felt, for a moment, what she supposed could be called bliss.

The vestigial flavor of that dream lingers, and she deliberately goes inside her thoughts to enjoy it from time to time. She had her dad back, her real dad, tangible in her arms. And then one day, a couple of weeks later, her earbuds delivered that beloved Pink song while she was walking to one of her sister’s houses, to collect the mail or let out the dog, on a sunny, end-of-summer day. Now, it all made sense, and the lyrics didn’t leave her frustrated any more. A minute was all it took.

A minute was enough.

Hap, Hap, Happy.

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Hap, Hap, Happy.

Today, when I visited my dad (Hap) in his nursing home, I had a bit of an epiphany. For the longest time it was just torture to visit him in such a place, but now while it still makes me cry as I am leaving, it is a more bittersweet feeling and today I think I realized why. Now that he is more “gone,” when he does have a good day (as he did yesterday, a good day being one in which he is sitting upright, his eyes are open, he is speaking intelligibly) I cannot help but smile to see his laugh, his sparkling blue eyes, catch just a glimpse of the man who used to be in there. More specifically, as I delighted in a few of his actions and comments, I realized that the sweet half of the bittersweet is that I now get to see my dad as if he were a toddler. What he does and how I react to it reminds me of how it was to be with the kids as they were first experiencing the world. When a child hears some background conversation not meant for him at all, and then supplies a completely apt response, we as adults laugh and clap and his cleverness. So it is with Hap. When a child gets a particularly bulky forkful of food to his mouth successfully, if laboriously, and then his face clearly shows his triumph, we delight in his accomplishment. So it is with Hap. I could see things dawning on him, or see him coming back to things and slowly registering what they meant – “oh, that’s the spoon…I’m going to try THAT for the fruit instead of the fork.” In children, we watch in rapt appreciation, knowing that the world is opening up for them, that they will learn each of these things one at a time and become smarter, stronger, faster, lose their childlike wonder and amazement. For my dad, he will instead learn and re-learn, but then hang on to less… the world is instead closing up for him. But to see the man whom I only knew as omniscient, omnipotent, full of strength and wit and wisdom as if he were the child-Hap I never knew is still a beautiful opportunity to appreciate his frailty, the frailty which we all share as human beings. Before he was my dad, man of the house, ruler of our little kingdom, he was a tiny, helpless child, an athletic, stocky, stubborn, willful little boy-sponge soaking up all that life had to show him. And, lucky for all of us who knew him in adulthood, he really did soak it all in and celebrate it. So, I celebrate this time with him now, too. He has the attention span of an 18-month old, but that was cute on the kids and so it’s cute on him, too. He wears it well, because even though he spills food on his front and becomes frustrated like those children did, he also erupts into a chuckle when he thinks of something that he thinks is clever. Often he will say something nonsensical, although now it is interspersed with the familiar adult Hap-speak. His first comment to me yesterday was, “typical Florida real estate!” and then he went on to reasonably explain some transaction that he thought went wrong. In the next breath he mentioned the Carolinas, another favorite place of his, and then he pointed to the empty space in front of us and said, “didja see that guy? He almost kicked him in the nose!” and he smiled and shook his head. So, it looked like my smiling, joking daddy, but it was a child as well. That brings tears to my eyes, but they aren’t tears of agony anymore, they are tears of bittersweet joy. It’s bitter, yes, but it is so sweet to see him as this child. I snapped a photo of him with my iPhone and said, “I’m just gonna send this to mom…” he shook his head and chuckled, and said (in a typical Hap move, mocking in his tone, embodying his old philosophy of “old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill”) “wouldn’t it just be easier to take it down the hall and show her?” That comforted me, because it made me feel (right or wrong, I’ll take it) as if when we are not in the room with him, he still feels like we all still live together in this “home” and when we visit, it’s as if we just came into the room again. The television was on in the lunch room with the other residents, and “The Young and Restless” was playing. He thought soaps were ridiculous, of course. I said, referring to his next door neighbor of 45 years, “one of Eleanor’s stories is on.” He said, “I find them interesting.” If that’s not proof that he has lost his mind, I don’t know what is! Of course, I don’t believe he watches the soap, he barely glanced at it – and as I said, his attention span is no longer there for an entire storyline (even one that hasn’t changed in 25 years.) But what’s miraculous is that for a second, my real dad is there, choosing to be/speak/think positively about whatever subject is brought up. Later, in the hallway, his roommate Ed was trying to give us candy. Ed will take his dollar bills to the vending machine and buy gum and candy, walk around with it displayed on the table/seat of his walker, and try to share it. He’s very sweet. He leaves his money sitting there too, though, so it looks as if he is a walking candy counter. As he passed, and I declined his offer of chocolate, my dad reached toward him to get his attention, and out of the side of his mouth asked, “hey, do they sell cigarettes there?” My dad hasn’t smoked in 25 years, but he always said he missed it, and it is so very like his cocky, childish side to try and score smokes. How can that not be funny, sweet, and appreciated by me? Yeah, it sucks to see my brilliant dad this way. He is too young and strong and had way too much more to give to his grandchildren. No doubt about that. But now that I’ve realized how rare and beautiful this glimpse of Hap as a rambunctious child can be, I will drink in the bittersweet and be glad for every last minute of these visits, the worst best hour of my day.

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