|1958: My dad, Garth (30 yrs old) and me (4 yrs old) playing checkers.|
(He quit smoking cold turkey shortly after this picture was taken)
He had a Grade 10 education, sailed on the tankers on the Great Lakes and quit for a land job at an oil company when I was born. He worked shift work all his life and made sure we all got through University—all five of us! When we were young my parents packed us up every summer to go camping. Later we got a trailer, then a cottage.
They were married on September 11, 1948 and three years later my older sister was born on September 11th which made 9/11 her 50th birthday. That day had always been a celebration in our house.
|Wedding Day: September 11th 1948.|
I don’t remember much of my childhood, bits and pieces that pop up every once and awhile. My dad was just there. He taught me to use tools, to change a tire and how to drive—with all the yelling and screaming. I build things like him. I fix things like him. As I get older, I also look like him. He was there to reassure us in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis when we all thought we were going to die in a nuclear war. He worked two jobs to support 5 kids and my mom. He loved Oh Henry bars and so do I. Sometimes when he worked afternoons, he would call my mom and have her keep us awake until midnight because he was bringing home Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC). A bucket with all the trimmings cost $4.99 (ok, it was the 60’s). He didn’t drink much but had a beer or three and loved hockey—the Detroit Red Wings were his team until Bobby Orr became the star of the Boston Bruin’s. He watched old war movies on Sunday’s and hunted deer and moose in the fall.
Life seemed to be going well for all of us until 1974 when my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was 45. I was 20. When I married in 1981, she was in a wheelchair and in 1986 we put her in a nursing home because of my dad’s ill health. She was only 58 and so was my dad, the age I am today. By the time they had enough money to travel, my mom was hit by MS and that never happened. They were able to go to Hawaii with her in the wheelchair. I think that is one reason I have tried to travel so much and have not waited until I am old. You might never reach “old” and even if you do you might not be healthy—my biggest fear.
My dad became ornery as he aged, angry at my mom’s illness, ticked off that all their retirement plans were now gone. He had angina, diabetes and a small stroke by his late 50’s and didn’t take good care of himself. He had a pot belly but wasn’t more than 30 pounds overweight. None of us kids were around much as most of us lived hours away and rarely visited. So the work of taking care of my mom fell to him. We all dealt differently with her illness but mostly avoidance of being with them. He continued to work but found it lonely which led to him having a girlfriend who cooked for him and travelled with him. When my mom found out, we kids were drawn down the deadly slope of choosing sides. Mom never forgave me for wanting to continue to have a relationship with my dad. She died in 2008, so no more guilt coming my way.
Diabetes did him in. That year (2000) he returned from a vacation with an infected toe which put him in the hospital. He was there about 2 weeks before anyone knew. He hadn’t even called my mom. In fact no one could get in touch with him to tell him his brother had died. He was devastated when he found out he had missed the funeral. After multiple tests, he had his toe amputated but they also discovered his circulation was so bad from the poorly controlled diabetes, he would have to go home to build his strength and then return for major bypass surgery.
The day he was leaving the hospital, he got up, collapsed and died of a blood clot to his lung. Quick. It’s how we all want to go.
It was a blessing because I knew in my heart that he would probably not survive the second surgery. I called him in the hospital before his toe was amputated and just before I hung up I said "I love you". I don't think I had ever said that to him before. I didn't get to speak with him again, but in thinking back, I guess I had said everything I needed to say.
As I sit here writing this, I think of what he went through. I used to think, why doesn’t my dad just do something to get healthy. Diabetes is preventable, so is high cholesterol, high BP and heart disease. Why doesn’t he lose weight, exercise and eat right. Well as I got older I started experiencing some of the same problems which I've sorta, kinda have under control but it took a long time to hear that inner voice repeating to me: “Why don’t you just lose weight, exercise and eat right”. I still have high blood pressure controlled by drugs. And after losing weight my cholesterol skyrocketed so again, now on drugs. But I do not have diabetes.
Seeing my dad die young from preventable diseases did kick my butt and look at my health. I can’t say if my dad is watching over me right now but I think so. I am a big believer in signs and they were evident in the days following his death. Some of those Woooo moments that you don't fully understand but seem to be signs from above. I see pennies on the ground and always say, “Hi Dad”. My hubby was in Sri Lanka at the time of dad's death and I had not been able to reach him by phone for the previous week. When I placed the call that Friday afternoon, it immediately connected. I was able to ask him to come home for the funeral and his business associate made all the travel arrangements. He made it home less than 48 hours later only hours before the funeral. I think it was my dad who made it possible for the phone to connect that day.
I also believe that we carry a part of those that have died in our hearts. No matter how hard we try not to be like them, it is inevitable that we will, in some small way. They are in the memories and pictures we have, the mementos that they left us and the lessons they taught us.
So I leave with a “Hi Dad, I’m working hard to be healthy”. I know you would have understood. And if any of you got this far, spend a moment to think of someone you have lost and just say Hi to them.
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