Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Man of Substance

Saying goodbye to my dad was one tough challenge I had never wanted to experience...a dark hole of loss and a deep farewell. How could I let go of someone I loved so greatly, admired so completely and connected with so deeply? When I was debating a possible job change, he was the one who taught me that nothing is forever...don't be afraid of trying something new just because you may not like it. He was a role model of living with courage, dignity and faith while dealing with the harsh realities that life can send your way. This man was more than just a dad, he had become a major presence in my adult life. For so many years our family had lived with the fallout of his alcoholism, so when he began to live a life of sobriety, it was a joy getting to know the new person that continued to emerge!

When he was newly sober, I had lived in constant fear of Dad returning to what had become his common pattern over the years, a life revolving around alcohol. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of him being exposed to alcohol and not giving into his temptation to have just one drink. But as he steadily worked the AA program, he gradually evolved into a man who was comfortable in his own skin. Once I asked how he could go with Mom to parties where alcohol was being served, and he calmly responded, "I just explain that I am allergic to alcohol." I was thrown by the sheer simplicity of his reply, yet this sense of simplicity surrounded his days as he began to grow and change before our eyes. You need to understand that during this time it felt as though I was being introduced to the dad I had never met! Gone were the days of closed drapes that would prevent neighbors seeing him stumbling or falling as he maneuvered his way through the house...gone were the days of trying to help by sharing Mom's unbelievable stress of raising five children while trying everything humanly possible to control her husband's drinking...gone were the days of my brothers, sisters and me having to finally accept and live with the ugly reality that we also had no control over Dad's drinking yet we often had to witness the sometimes scary consequences of that drinking. Looking back, I think we had lived so many years feeling incomplete, that when the sense of unity and togetherness arrived, we each in our own quiet way rejoiced! We were whole again! Having a sober dad felt as though the windows of our life had been swung open and the fresh air of newness was in abundance! It was a new day in our family and we all celebrated this rebirth. Now do you more fully understand the depth of the love we share?

My dad had been an ever-present support on my journey with many follow-up "procedures" to wade through, with not one of them being a pleasant experience. He was not only physically present during these visits, but he was also emotionally supportive. I remember on one these visits, Dad appeared in the hall outside the Procedure Room where I was being prepped for yet another particularly icky surgery that was needed to remove all the affected tissue beneath a mole. The procedure would be long, involved and quite painful. "I'm looking for my daughter's room." I immediately recognized his voice, but that was all I heard before he calmly poked his head into the room and said, "Are you doing okay honey? Would you like me to stay in here with you?" His voice of strength and loving concern was all I needed to feel safe and better equipped to handle the next hours. How could I possibly let go of this man?

Of course I knew he had been dealing with a gradual weakening over the late spring months, but I was in denial about the possible seriousness of his condition until hearing the diagnosis of lung cancer. Even then my sister and I convinced ourselves that post-surgery he would need some extra TLC to help him fully recover, and we were more than willing to provide whatever was necessary to help in this healing. We were not yet willing or able to let go of this man we loved so completely. I know my heart was not prepared for this deep good-bye, so swallowing the bitter pill of this reality was more than I could initially handle. Jessica took a week away from her new job to spend time with the grandpa that had shared his house and heart in the early years of her life...such a close bond...such a heartfelt farewell.

One August morning Dad's doctor called us into the dreaded Conference Room. Gathering in this room was a certain sign that some serious news was about to be given, and this time was no different. He explained that there was no more they could do to help Dad...they had done everything in their power to heal him, and now it was up to us to formulate a new plan for his future care. I remember words like "nursing home" and "home health care" fill the air, before the final words of "possible months of painful lingering ahead"...who would ever want to hear those words, yet here they were hanging in the room around us! It didn't take Mom long before announcing, "I still believe in a miracle." Our miracle arrived the next afternoon when Dad died of a heart attack. No long months of suffering! Safe Home Dad!!