The 50th Anniversary of My Dad's Death
May 8, 2014. Fifty years have gone by since the day my Dad died.
Millions of words have been written about the love between a Dad and his little girl. So I wonder if I have anything new to add. Then I close my eyes and I see him standing tall and lean, towering over me and yet in many ways, just my size. I know then, that there will never be enough words to describe how much my Dad meant to me in the few, short years, I had him.
Its been fifty years since the day that Sr. Angela called me to her office to tell me that he had died. I remember sitting in her office knowing why. I remember her kindness and the stiffness of that nun's collar as she held me in her arms as I cried.
I remember feeling glad that he had finally been freed of the terrible pain of cancer, but scared and sad very much alone too. Fifty years is a lifetime. In those dark days of his dying, I learned that the human spirit is strong and that it can withstand a lot. I learned that love fights thru the strongest adversary. I learned patience and humility for facing death is a humbling experience.
My Dad served in World War II and although he wasnt a war hero, I never tired of looking at the medals and pictures from his war days. My Dad was always there for family and friends.
He was fun.
He'd do things like make a quarter disappear and then re-appear behind his ear. Im not sure when I figured out how he did it, but I never let him know. He taught me how to fish and bait a hook and eventually how to gut and clean what we had caught. We went fishing on most Saturday mornings. Me with my bamboo pole, him with his rod and reel and a thermos full of coffee. He tended bar in Cincinnati with his cousin and when the 45 records were replaced from the jukebox, he would bring them home to me. I still have Blueberry Hill and Green Door in a box.
He took me to old Crosley Field to watch the Cincinnati Reds and made sure I knew the names of all the players. I loved being there with my Dad. I knew in some strange way that it didnt matter to him that I wasnt a boy. He took pride in knowing that I loved baseball just the way he did.
He and my Mom went out a lot. They would go to Newport and visit the clubs and casinos and when they were dressed for their night out, I would hug him goodbye so that I could smell the Old Spice that he always wore. On Sunday's he was an usher for our church and in those days, you dressed when you went to church on Sunday and for my Dad, that meant his best blue suit. I would sit in the pew and watch him go up and down the aisle with the collection basket thinking that my Dad was handsome and in some weird, little girl way, it made me proud to be his kid.
He loved to sing. He taught me to harmonize and instilled in me a life-long love of music. To this day there are a few songs that can easily make me cry when I hear them because they remind me so much of him. That Old Gang of Mine, Smile, Peg O' My Heart and of course that old corny Daddy's Little Girl, are songs that when I hear I can almost hear him singing them. I remember lying in the hammock, on warm summer nights, with my Dad, looking up at the stars and singing those songs with him. I dont think Ive ever felt so much peace and contentment as I did then...before it all changed.
Dad was a great storyteller. I loved hearing his stories about his childhood. They were my link to our family's history that might otherwise have been lost. He would tell me about swimming across the Ohio River with his brothers. I was never really sure whether to believe that one or not. I never distinguished between man and saint. In my mind there was no need to.
I know how much I meant to him and how he loved me. What a wonderful thing to know that you are a loved child while growing up! When I miss him most, I think not only of how much I lost, but also how much he lost too. Family was everything to him. Strong, Lebanese roots meant that family came first and he never forgot that and was “Dad” to many in our family. His love was returned many times over by assorted nieces and nephews. I look at my own 4 children and know how much they would have loved and admired him and how much that love would have been returned. I wish they had known him.
You believe, because you are told to, that time heals all hurts. Perhaps that is true to some extent. But I look on the death of my Dad and the intervening years and I am convinced that someone said that just to make death easier for those who are left behind because there are few days that I dont think of him.
His unconditional love for my mother, who leaned on him as Ive never seen a woman lean on a man and his tender caring for her despite her insecurities and flaws, his patience, his laughter, his ability to see only the good in life, his hands, are all part of something that for me is almost holy.
Joe Raymond died in 1964 at the age of 45 from cancer. He died before there were marches protesting the Viet Nam war and before man walked on the moon and just after the Beatles invaded America. I look back at that time and marvel at how much was happening in the world at that time while in my own, little world only one thing seemed to matter. The funeral home in our neighborhood offered us a second night of viewing because there were so many people who came to pay their respects that they couldnt accommodate all of them in one night. I remember thinking that he would have laughed at that because he never thought of himself as special or anything other than just “Joe”.
My Dad died just after my 13th birthday, so I wasnt a full fledged teenager yet. I often wonder what it might have been like to have had him around during those years. I often wonder what it would have been like had he been there for so many things. He wasnt there when I graduated or on my wedding day. My cousin Ronnie, walked me down the aisle. Ronnie knew why I was crying. I think he was too, because his own Dad had died when he was young and my Dad stepped in and became Ronnie's dad. What goes around, comes around as they say.
He died too young, too soon. The times a parent waits and works for were robbed from him. Milestones are something you share with those you love and especially with those who helped make them happen.
In 1964 so little was known about cancer and so much was beyond hope. There was no chemotherapy, only debilitating cobalt treatments which left him more dead than alive. His last years were spent in constant pain and yet he remained the same Daddy I had always known and did his best to make sure that I knew how much he loved me...in so many ways. He knew that I would need that love to hang onto in the years to come.
He never contributed much to the world at large. The measure of his success in his short life is the fact that his legacy lives on in me and my children and hopefully my grandchildren as well as other family members who were loved by him. Whatever I might be, much of it is in large part because of my Dad and the influence he was on me.
He didnt discover a miracle drug for polio or make lots of money. He didnt write the great American novel. Im not even sure he read one. None of this was necessary, however, because in my own, little world he was Salk and Hemingway and yes, even God all rolled into one.
Today is like any other day. Nothing remarkable about it. I will go about my normal routine but every once in awhile, I will think back and remember this day, 50 years ago, when my life changed forever.
RIP Joseph Edward Raymond