Monday, March 24, 2008
Dad loved to play keepaway with me. It obviously started when I was quite young. I eventually got the hat ( photographic evidence), but he would tease me for-ev-er until I got my way. I usually did. Being daddy's little girl had certain perks.
6 years ago tonight that smile left forever, and the laughter with it. Even though the death certificate says March 26th, it was on a Monday night that I came home, went to bed and was awakened a few hours later by the call from my mother. Her words were nearly unintelligible - the gut wrenching sobs enough for me to know that he was gone.
Just a few days before Christmas, he and I had our last "real" conversation. I was in Las Vegas, celebrating Christmas a few days early with the in-laws. It was a Tuesday morning, sitting in a restaurant that no longer exists inside Treasure Island, speaking to Dad on my cell, that I knew something was terribly wrong with him and we needed to go there for Christmas.
It hadn't been in the plans. We hadn't been able to get a house sitter for the dogs. We get home, put in a day at work, pack up the Montero with dogs and luggage and head South. It's my mother's 75th birthday. She had always forbidden animals in the house. They had the run of it, except the master bedroom. We didn't know it at the time, but Dad had started throwing mini-clots. The man that could calculate a shopping cart full of groceries to the penny - for fun - couldn't figure out he had $28 in his wallet.
They would go to the hospital after Christmas - let's just get through the holidays. He hadn't been well, had had the flu. His appetite had been off. He'd be fine. I was in denial - and I should have taken him myself. They had never listened to me before; they weren't going to start now.
We headed home. There wasn't much else we could do. 3 days later, Dad was in the hospital. His idiot doctor told me, when I showed up at his office demanding an explanation, that he had already informed my brother (I'm an only child) that Dad was suffering from Alzheimer's. The doctor that was on call told me that Dad had congestive heart failure, said that because he stopped taking one of his blood thinners that he had been suffering from clotting and mini-strokes and that all we could do was make him comfortable. He probably wouldn't be with us for another 6 months. Dad's cardiologist was furious. He wanted to know why Dad had stopped taking the meds that he had prescribed. You see, 6 months earlier Dad had received an on-demand pace maker. His cardiologist said he would probably live to be 100! His General Practitioner, the one that had spoken to my brother, had removed Dad from some of his meds. Dad wasn't the one suffering from Alzheimer's, it would seem. The doctor retired from practice later that Spring. A lawsuit would have killed Mom.
That last Saturday before he passed, I insisted that my Mom go out for the day with her best friend. I would sit with Dad. I worked on my laptop, had the TV on with a show he would like. I talked to him throughout the day. He responded with nods or shakes of his head to questions I would ask. I made him lunch, that he could barely get down. Swallowing had become very difficult at this point. I spent some time working on a knitted blanket that I had started when he was in the hospital. It covers our bed now in warmer months.
That Monday when I was getting ready to leave, I told him I would be back in a few days. I knew that it wouldn't be much longer. He shook his head. I took it to mean that I shouldn't rush back. I insisted that he would see me again soon. He shook his head again. I kissed his cheek and told him that I loved him. It was at that moment that he uttered the first full sentence to me since that Tuesday morning in Vegas. The first time I knew in my heart that he saw me, that he knew who I was. "I love you too......"
Alone with my thoughts, and my tears, I retraced the path back to Southern California. I arrived back at the house, where less than 24 hours earlier my family was in tact. Like thieves in the night, the people from Hospice Care had seen to it that all traces of his illness, of his death, were removed. It was almost like a terrible dream.
Over the next few days Mom and I did what we had too. I went through papers. We met with the funeral home director. We made the necessary plans. We had the service and then we opened the house to any who wanted to stop by. My friends were wonderful that day, with one in particular who stole some older ladies hearts with his hosting skills. At the end, we toasted Dad with Norwegian Linie Aquavit. It had been a regular cargo on his ships, so it seemed appropriate.
So, tonight, I raise a glass to him in memory. I try not to think of those last few months. I would rather remember him as he was in the picture - laughing and enjoying a game of keepaway.