The day I lost my father: Remembering Dad on Father's Day and always
The day I lost my father: Remembering Dad on Father's Day and always
The day I lost my father: Remmbering Dad on Father's Day and always
Five years ago, my father passed away on this day at age 74. He had lung cancer, which later spread to his brain. I used to think it was so unfair since my father had never smoked a day in his life! But then what part of anyone's life is ever fair? Certainly not mine. I do wonder, though, if it might have been from all that second hand smoking he'd had to suffer throughout the years because my mom was a smoker or maybe it was the result of having served in two wars (Korean and Vietnam) where he was probably exposed to asbestos, Agent Orange, depleted uranium or other radioactive materials (recent studies show that veterans have a 25-75% higher chance of developing lung cancer than those who never served). Guess I would never know.
I had always been daddy's little girl or at least I thought I was. I can't really be sure anymore because things had changed so much since my parents divorced and my dad remarried when I was 13. Thirteen. Tough age. My mom was never a very good mom and I never felt close or loved by her, so the divorce itself wasn't what was so hard on me. What really messed me up was my father remarrying. Of course, I didn't have a say. Turned out my stepmother and I never really got along. There was one time when we had a fight and stopped talking for months and my poor dad, being the middle person, had to endure our cold, silent battle of will.
But then my dad and I also had our differences. Loads of differences. First, there was the huge age gap. He had me when he was 43, old enough to be my grandfather. He came from a very different background -- born during the great depression, came from a poor, working class family (I believe he mentioned he had his first job at 6 years old delivering newspapers), dropped out of high school at 17 when his mom died, and joined the Air Force where he served for 25 years during which time he got his GED, his BA and later MA. I think his life experiences and background made him a strict disciplinarian and sometimes bitter and resentful (being married to my mom, an alcoholic who abused him nearly daily for 13 years didn't help). Unfortunately, those qualities in a father didn't satisfy my emotional needs at that age. Needless to say, I believe my teenage years caused him lots of pain and heartache as they did me.
When I went off to college, things improved. I was officially an adult and I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, but the biggest reason was probably because we weren't living under the same roof anymore. I graduated, got a job, moved to Japan and life went on pretty much the way it should. But then I had to go out and completely ruin everything.
My dad and me
High School graduation
It was spring of 2003. I had been dating and living with my then-boyfriend (now husband) for 5 years at that time. I was 28 and my boyfriend was 34. Basically, I thought it was time we were married and started thinking about having kids. My now-husband at that time wasn't quite ready. There were a couple of other problems in our relationship as well, but I won't go into them here. And so it happened that during that very confusing and emotionally turbulent time, someone showed an interest in me. I was flattered by his attention and got distracted. Who knew that also at that very same time, my dad had also developed a chronic illness (he had kept it a secret from me). I decided then to break it off with my boyfriend of 5 years and started going out with the new guy, who of course, turned out to be a complete loser (served me right). In the span of those two very horrible and painful years of my life that followed, as I jumped in and out of bad and unhealthy relationships, my dad's cancer got worse and worse. In the spring of 2004 (I was in yet another relationship that wasn't going anywhere), my stepmother e-mailed me that my dad had cancer and that it's affecting his brain so much that he started talking nonsense and incoherently at times, going to toilet on himself and couldn't type very well anymore. Incidentally, at that time, I was having too many problems of my own and was way too self-absorbed, and I think I was in denial about my father, to even think that he really might not have much time anymore.
I went home for a month in May 2004 to be with my dad, or at least that was the plan, but as I have mentioned, I was too self-absorbed to really BE there for my dad. He didn't seem all that bad to me then. Yes, he was weak and wobbly and sometimes seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, but other than that, he just looked and acted like any other 73-year-old. After I got back to Japan, I managed somehow to make my stepmother mad at me, and all of a sudden, I got an e-mail from my dad that he wasn't going to talk to me anymore and that I shouldn't be emailing him anymore. He signed his email "John", not his usual "love, dad".
I cannot begin to describe the hurt and pain I felt. Even if I could, I doubt that words could do my feelings justice. I continued to email him and would still get a reply, though they were often curt and cold. And the name was always "John".
Books about fathers
One More Day
I went back to the States again from March-May, 2005. I didn't go home, but stayed at a friend's house in the next town. I didn't have courage to go see my dad. What if they threw me out? What would I even say when I see my dad? I did finally work up enough guts to call the house. My stepmother answered the phone and when I asked to talk to my dad, she just said, "He won't talk." I made up an excuse about wanting to stop by to pick up some of my things since I'm back in town and she just said come on over. So, I went there, not knowing really what to expect. I was in for the most shocking, heartbreaking sight of my life.
When I rang the doorbell and the door opened, what I saw was my dad sitting in a chair, facing the other door that looks out into our back yard. I don't really remember what happened much after that, but my dad was pretty much in a vegetative state. He couldn't move or speak and seeing him that way, neither could I. I didn't cry. I just sat down and massaged his feet. I don't know what kind of expression I had on my face nor did I know if my dad was mentally conscious of who I was or of my existence, but I did feel his eyes looking at me. My stepmother told me to talk to him since he still understands, but I was literally choked up that I couldn't say a word. I don't think I even said, "Hi" or "I'm home" or what I had really wanted to say the most, which was "I'm sorry for everything and I love you." That was May 11, 2005.
I left much later than I thought I would and told them that I would come back the next day. I went back the next day, May 12th, in the early afternoon. I arrived at an empty house with a note on the front door. The note was from one of our neighbors saying that my dad was rushed to the hospital in the morning and to phone them. Since I couldn't get into the house, I went to the neighbors (or maybe they found me, I don't remember), borrowed their phone and called the hospital. I think it was the hospital that informed me that my dad had passed away earlier and that he had been transferred over to a funeral home. Not long after, my stepmother arrived back in a car with another neighbor. She told me that my dad was rushed to the hospital early in the morning and that he passed away at 11:55 AM. We burst out crying together. I was about a little over an hour too late.
The funeral was held on May 17th, 2005 at a national cemetery in our state. It was a military funeral with honor guards, Taps, a 3-volley salute, the folding and presenting of the flag (which was draped over his casket) to my stepmother, and he was then buried in the suit outfit he had had tailored with the same fabric for the three of us some 14 years ago. It was a very dignified and honorable funeral, just like his life had been.
A few nights after his death, I had a very vivid dream of him. He came with a personal message for me and one for my stepmother. I have never been one with any kind of psychic potential or any extrasensory perceptions, but there was one time when, for a fleeting moment, I strongly felt his presence. It was the night I gave birth to my daughter. I "saw" him standing at the foot of my hospital bed. It might have helped that it was a Friday the thirteenth and that I was still a little drugged from my c-section.
My dad once asked me a rhetorical question: "if you still love and miss someone even if that person is dead, is that person really dead?" So, perhaps my dad is still not really dead because I still love and miss him everyday.
I like to think that his passing away just one day after he saw me holds implications that he had forgiven me and that he was just hanging on all that time only to see me one more time. One of my best friends wrote me a very short but sweet message after I told her about my dad's death that I should be happy to know that he waited to see me before he let go. Even my stepmother saw the significance of the timing of his passing and mentioned something similar.
My biggest regret is that I never did get to tell him that I was sorry and that I love him. I'm sure he knows so in his heart, but I still wish I had said it. My other regret is that my daughter will never get to know her Grandpa. My daughter is at the age (3 and a half) where she starts asking questions about family and I tell her some simple things about him like what food Grandpa likes (I use the present tense) or what songs Grandpa used to sing to mommy when she was a little girl (and I would sing those same songs). She enjoys hearing about him and that makes me happy. There is so much more about Grandpa's life that I would like to tell her when she gets older. I still can't help but wish my dad were here, though. He would have been so very proud of my sweet little girl.