When My Dad Died

Every year at this time I get a little melancholy.  It’s the time of year between my father’s birth and his death.

I think of this time as the Season Of My Dad.

He was born on September 28th and he died on October 11th.

There seems to be truth to what I was told after he died.  You never get over it, you just learn how to deal with it.  I hope this writing gives you a sense of love and appreciation.  I’ve learned since his leaving us that what he left us is of value still.   And likely, I appreciate it more now, then during the living of it.   We didn’t see it coming.  I had never lost anyone this close to me.   Though “moments” have always been important to me it wasn’t until dad died that I realized how necessary they are to survive the loss of someone you love.

September 1998 we celebrated dad’s 65th birthday.   At my house.

It was a very good night.   A no stress kind of party and night.  It was perfect weather.  Dad was pleased we were there just for him.  We had a cookout/pot luck.   Interestingly, we had fireworks.   When we were children dad used to get fireworks for the 4th of July and set them off in our backyard.  For us.  I’m pretty sure we were cool like that.  The neighbors would come over.  But this night, one of his kids was setting them off for him.   I remember him taking the green plastic chair (remember this chair) and moving it, sitting in it to quietly watch while one of his son’s set off fireworks.

The grandkids were happy to be out in the country, with cousins, and little restrictions.  Four wheeler rides.  No noise restrictions.  Just playing and fun.

We had a wonderful evening.

The day of his actual birthday I was driving home from work.  I was pulling in to the lane that led to his house and my house.  It was private property and no other houses were there.  I saw him coming out of the lane so I pulled over as he pulled up alongside me.  He was heading out to the Eagles, one of his favorite gathering places.  I asked if he had heard from any of the “other kids” for his birthday, and wished him a happy birthday.  He said no, his phone wasn’t working.  It dawned on me that I had passed a telephone repair crew at the intersection.  I told him about this and knew there would be no phone service.  This was just prior to the cell phone boom.  We chatted a minute but I could tell he was on his way so I said my good byes.

It was the last time I spoke directly to my dad.   I worked days.  Dad usually “went to town” in the evening.   Our contact was usually by window.  A honk from him and a wave from me.

It was my custom at night to sit at my desk in my living room, by the front window, after my children went to sleep.  I would read and write my emails.   If dad drove by I would flip up the curtain and stick my hand up and wave.   Dad was a non-intruder.  He did not believe in “dropping in” or “disturbing” people.  We could never get him to believe he was not a disturbance, but a welcome sight.   But he would toot the horn or flash his lights if he saw me.

One day in October after his birthday mom came for a visit.   My parents were divorced.   It had been years since the divorce.  They had no communication.

My mom and my sister and I spent some time going shopping (not my idea) and eating (probably my idea).  When we returned to my home we sat on the porch.  On our green plastic, four legged chairs.   My mom sat in one chair, the green plastic chair next to her was empty.   My sister and I sat across from her in the other 2 green plastic chairs.

Before mom left we talked about her and dad.   “I wish I could go say hi to your father but I know he wouldn’t like that.”   She told us how dad use to love to play cards.  I had no idea.  I did not recall ever seeing dad play cards.  I wish I had known that.   It was a very nice talk about dad.  I could tell she really did wish she could have said hello to him.  When she got up to leave, she walked down the steps from the porch.

The empty green chair next to her started to rock forward.  And back.  And forward.  Remember, it is sitting on four legs.   I said to my sister “look at that chair”.   She looked, mom was getting in her car to leave.  We both looked at the chair as it went back, and forward one more time, then stopped.   My sister said “well whoever was in it left”.

Mom drove away.

Sister went home.

I went to work hanging things on my daughter’s bedroom wall that I had bought while out shopping.

The phone rang.   One of dad’s friends who had been expecting him last night called my sister to tell her he did not show up and they couldn’t get hold of  him.  Sister said we would go check.  She called to tell me.

I went outside and waited for my sister to walk to my house.  We then walked to his house.

Dad was a very private man.   He kept his house locked even when he was awake and sitting there.  We knocked.  No answer.  We both had keys to the basement door.  I had done this numerous times over the years.  I’ve had to let myself in to do something for him, or to wake him up.

We went in through the basement.  Up the stairs.  To his bedroom.   Where he lay sleeping in the arms of God.

Dad was in a better place.

We, however, were in an unknown place.  We entered unknown territory.  Unknown feelings.

A world without dad.

But.

It also started a chain reaction that brought out the best of what dad did for us, gave to us and was, to us.

Every single one of his eight children converged on dad’s home.  Whether local or from out of state-we were drawn to dad’s place.  To one another.

We filled his house.  My house.  My sister’s house.  We were together for a solid week.

We started to grieve.   Together.

This would have made dad very happy.   Not the grieving part.  The together part.  One thing dad took great pride in was having eight children.    There was pride in us as individuals and pride in us as the mass of Irish Catholic off spring of his.

Decisions had to be made.  We made them.  No fighting or bickering.  Compromise.  Differences?   Yes.  But nothing that we didn’t work through.

The funeral home was full of music dad loved.  And we all knew what music he loved.  We could sing songs together and know it was dad’s music.

We each took pen to paper to write down funny memories of dad.  I still have those papers.  And we crafted a eulogy of laughter for him.   As we sat in the church and the oldest of us gave a wonderful eulogy the eight of us, his children, sat, laughing out loud, with tears running down our faces.  He was funny.  And he gave us that.  Thank you dad.   If not for that laughter I have no idea how we would have survived.   Later we found out there were others in the church who could not hear the eulogy.  It was a large church.  Bad acoustics.  And us laughing.   It made for some explaining to others as we gathered together later in the day.

The eight of us rode in a limousine together to the cemetery.  I had volunteered us all to be pall bearers.  Dad would have appreciated this.   On the way to the cemetery we each donned one of dad’s wool plaid shirts.  We exited from the limousine together.  Resembling him in our dad wear.   We carried him, together, to his resting place on earth.   But it’s just a space for us here.   It’s a place to mark he was here.  Though he will be remembered here by a different means.   By people with memories.  Marked in our hearts.

When we left the cemetery we went to a bar.  A bar that had already been closed and would soon be demolished and no longer a part of a small town’s make up.  No more gatherings.  No more cheese plates with dad.  No more home baked rolls or cinnamon rolls.  Yes, that is what some of us went to bars for.  The owner had a 12 pack of dad’s beer in the cooler.  He served his last ever to be served beer in his bar -to us.  In memory of  our dad and his friend.

It was a fitting tribute to his friend who sat across from him for years.  A fitting tribute to dad who himself had owned numerous bars.   I don’t even drink and I had a beer.   It was not good.  But it’s part of the picture.  Part of the memories.

The years since, I’ve learned about grief and mourning.  It doesn’t go away.  It doesn’t get easier to handle.  Though I do believe you learn how to handle it with more strength.   I’ve spent these past years thinking about dad.  Wondering about his life before “us”.  Wondering about that part of his life that I didn’t pay attention to or know about.  As a child we don’t know about or even picture our parent’s lives without “us”.  We just assume their lives are all about us.

I have spent these years wondering about decisions he made in regards to work and career.   How did he decide to start a business?  How did he have the courage?  Why did he go to school, then leave to go to the Army?  I always thought he loved the Army.   To learn after he died, by reading his letters to his parents, that maybe he didn’t love the GI life so much.  But he sure enjoyed holding GI Parties for us kids!  And no,  we didn’t dress up like soldiers and play army.   GI Parties were all about cleaning!  Yeah we were fooled by that too.

How’s come all I ever heard him do was brag on my brothers?  Just to find out after he died my brother said all he heard was him bragging about me.  Really?

Why did he insist on wearing white socks with his black shoes?   Though we honored his “style” as he was dressed for eternity, we put black socks in his casket with him.  We also sent with him a roll of quarters so he could always call us.  We made sure he had a beer and a Diet Pepsi.  We sent grass from the farm.  Pictures of the grandkids.   And quite a bit more.  You would have thought him to be an Egyptian Pharaoh  and not an Irish Catholic-almost became a priest-but chose fatherhood instead-man of the twentieth century.

I’ve spent all of these years since his death pestering my uncle about their lives as children.  I found out my dad fought with his brother.  That’s right dad, we know now that your eight children did not invent sibling fighting.

I always felt I knew the man as my dad.   Since his passing I’ve learned about my dad the man.

He was friends with people I never knew.

He had jobs I never knew about.

He was a kid once too.

He played cards.

He use to travel by train.  And bus.

He taught my Grandfather about hockey.

His leaving us was quite by surprise.  And I’ve grown enough in the last few years to know that what happened was what happened.  It was part of a plan greater than us and one that we didn’t have a say in.

Every year at this time I get sad about his passing.   But I am fortified by what he gave us.  Dad could tell a great story, he could give a wicked quiet lecture to put a hurting on your ridiculous and selfish ways, he could own up to all that he felt he did wrong or knew he did wrong.  He wasn’t perfect.  He was as flawed as any of us.  His laughter and jokes were more than just a passing moment.  His lessons in morals and values, his strengths and his failures in life, they were moments he lived.  And all moments he shared with us, passed on to us.

To help us live a life without him.

But always we have him as part of our lives.

Because he left

But he never left us.