Sunday, January 6, 2013
EVEN AFTER DEATH, THE MESSAGE LIVES ON
I clearly remember my fathers last Christmas. he was close to death at that point from a long battle with colon cancer that eventually spread to his liver and was inoperable. So many thoughts come back thinking about the daily challenges and the strength both he and my mother showed throughout the years long battle. Trips to different hospitals and clinics looking for that miraculous silver bullet or experimental treatment that would save his life and keep him with us for a few more years.
Toward the end the reality finally set in and we realized that most means had been exhausted. It was suggested that he spend what was going to be his last Christmas at home in a more personal setting. It was set to release him two days before Christmas and my mother , who was always into the Christmas season, decorating, baking making sure everyone felt special with a personally chosen gift for them under the tree. was far from celebrating mood.
I am not sure how I did it, but I was able to leave the hospital before he was released, go buy a Christmas Tree, get to their house and set it up and decorated it before they got home. They were both surprised and I still remember my father sitting in his leather lounge chair Christmas morning before the tree, assuming his role as the head or our family one last time.
You need to understand a little background here. My parents were like newlyweds, even after 56 years of marriage. As kids, we never saw our parents argue. My father never complained about my mother, and his behavior showed that in his eyes, his wife could do no wrong. I never once heard him criticize her cooking or cleaning or anything, everything she did was perfect. I grew up with the Cleavers as my parents. And I mean that in an appreciative way.
I remember my mother up every morning having a hot breakfast ready for my father before he would leave for work and he worked for Connecticut Natural Gas, so during winter months his arrivals back home were usually pretty late as he handled "no heat calls".No matter what time he got home though my mother would have a hot meal being kept warm for Dad. This was long before microwaves so it took some effort on her part.
After he made it through Christmas that year, it was necessary to get him back to Hartford Hospital for his final days. His Birthday was January 4th, he died on January 6th. The day we knew it was ending was a constant flow of friends and family through his hospital,It seemed odd that the man lying in the bed in front of us was close to his last breath, but it seemed more like a celebration of his life. Almost everyone that came in brought food or something and the stories flowed freely all day.
One of the most comical points occurred later in the afternoon, if there can be a comical point at a time like that. My sister, who was always "daddy little girl" was leaning over my father sobbing as she realized the end was near. My father, who appeared out of it most of the afternoon, in a near comatose state.opened an eye and looked at her as she was sobbing and said loud enough for everyone to hear" don't get any of that snot on me ". The comedian right until the end, that was my dad
Many of our friends that came in had more stories to tell about the times they spent with my mother and father than they did with their own families. It is a tribute to my parents that most of our friends still call my parents "mom and dad" to this day.
Even my parents local priest was surprised when he came in to give my father the last rites. It wasn't real reassuring at the time, but he pointed out that this was exactly what death was supposed to be about. Remembering and celebrating the joy of my father's life and how many people he touched.
My mother knew she was about to lose her best friend, someone that had been by her side almost constantly for 56 years, but she has dealt very well and shows her strength everyday she faces her own challenges now.
As a Marine, his love for his country and the Marine Corp were always obvious, and probably one of the proudest moments of my life was when the Marine handed my mother the flag from his casket. It was about five degrees outside at the time of his burial.It was from the cold, but a tear had formed in the Marines eye, and I remember the tear running down his cheek as he handed my mother the folded flag
The ongoing years don't seem to make the loss any easier, but the life lessons my mother and father taught us seem to become more valuable every day and I see more and more of my fathers actions in me as I get older.
I feel sorry for people growing up that don't have the luck of a strong set of parents to teach right from wrong, and I am thankful everyday for mine