So, this probably won’t be like what I have been writing here, but I felt the need to write this down somewhere.
Today is the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death. I’m going to try to not overwhelm you with all the details. Suffice it to say that he had been on dialysis for 5 years before his death and decided that he was having more bad days than good ones and that it was time to stop the dialysis.
Hospice was called and my brothers and I took turns staying at his home to care for him in his home and to help my step-mom. After just a few short days, it became apparent that more than one of us would have to stay because the care-taking was very physically demanding and it took two people to move my dad from bed to chair to bathroom.
As overwhelmingly sad as that time was, I have to say that it brought me some of the most wonderful memories of time spent with my 4 brothers. We were there, in various combinations, in the middle of the long nights, not sleeping, watching bad, bad infomercials and goofing on them and then trying not to giggle too loudly. We had meals and meals and meals together-something that hadn’t happened for years. We came and went and knew that someone would be with my dad when the others of us couldn’t be. We watched and waited and gave medicine and asked each other for advice about how to deal with different medical issues that arrived. We talked about how we would want the end of our lives to look like. We talked about the olden days when we were all children. We discovered that we all had the same parents, but that didn’t mean we all had the same memories or perceptions of long ago events.
And all the while we cared for our father. The man who gave us all the love of laughing and joke telling. The man who taught us the value of hard work. The man who loved our mother. The man who taught us to love food and cooking.
That last one is important because it speaks to who he was. If he was feeding you, he was loving you. He had very strong opinons about food and cooking and spent much of his time in the kitchen. Whether he was teaching you how to properly slice a ham (“thin. No, thinner than that! You should be able to see through it!”) or clean a rack of ribs for grilling (“get rid of all that silver skin. That’s what makes ribs tough!”) or how to make dressing (“You can always put more salt in, but you can’t take it out once it’s in there.”), he loved teaching about food. And food was another way to entertain you. I can’t think of many occasions with my father that didn’t revolve around food. He was happiest when there were many people around his table, enjoying good food and laughing at some joke or story that he was telling.
So it was appropriate that at the exact moment my father took his last breath, my brothers and I had just sat down to a wonderful dinner of the best pork steaks (“thick! have the butcher cut them from the pork butt. don’t buy those prepackaged ones.”) that my second oldest brother had cooked. Along with garlic bread and a salad. I didn’t think I was hungry. I had spent about a half hour with my dad singing the Holden Evening Prayer service, holding his hand, watching him slowly slip away. We all knew it wasn’t going to be much longer. My sister-in-law (god bless her) came in and said dinner was ready and that she would sit with him while “the kids” all went into the dining room to eat. The smell of the smoke from the grill was drifting into the house (yes, there was grilling. In the snow even!) and the garlic bread smelled heavenly and I remember the sweetness of the sauce and the tenderness of the meat and the crunch of the crust on the bread. And the salad dressing-made by my dad from some vinegar and oil and spices-sweet and vinegary and a little peppery. And we were laughing. And I remember also crying. And eating and telling stories and when were almost finished, my sister-law came in to tell us that my dad was gone. She was coming to get us because it looked like my dad’s fight was almost over, but then he had just stopped breathing.
So none of us were by him when he died. And I felt terribly guilty for that. Until my sister-in-law (god bless her.) told me that she thought it was the sounds of us all together, talking, eating, laughing, crying, that let my dad know that he could leave us. That he had given us all we needed to live good lives and that we would be there for each other in the years to come. And I think that is right.
I love you, Pops!