Found out yesterday that my dad had died on Wednesday. When my brother found him it looked like he was sleeping on his couch.
I guess I am thankful for things — he didn’t seem to have suffered, he was his goofy, grumpy, sweet, funny self right up until the very end. But no warning, completely unexpected. I’m alternating between coping, reeling, and stunned.
Last I saw him was right after Christmas. He had left my sister’s on the day of the family celebration when he had “had enough,” as was his wont, without saying goodbye to anyone except to those in the direct vicinity (I was not one of them), and I thought later, “oh, I didn’t get to say good-bye to Dad.” But it was okay, because there’s always next time.
Until there isn’t.
Every year on the 4th of July holiday there is a big camp out at my dad’s. Everybody who wants to, friends and family alike (I believe that strangers and passers-by would also be welcome, which precludes me from divulging the address), brings their tent or their camper or whatever !!! and camps out at Dad’s. He lived on a river, so there would be tubing, and “corn hole” (google it), and a fair bit of drinking (daiquiri made with the lawn-mower-engine-powered blender anyone?) and cigar smoking and fishing and lots of inventive cooking over campfires, and tall tales spun around the fire long into the night (don’t ask me how I know this). Last summer I had a student at Interlochen Arts Camp performing on the Prairie Home Companion show being broadcast live on the only night I had free, so I sat on stage with my student, and watched Garrison Keillor in action, and didn’t make it to my dad’s that night. Mom and dad were both there.
And now they’re gone.
He was, as my brother put on facebook, the salt of the earth.
Practical, hardworking, with zero tolerance for bullshit in either direction and a sweet kindness toward everyone he loved. He didn’t always agree with you, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you when he didn’t, but you never felt like he loved you any less for it.
This is a rare gift. I wish I had it.
There’s a picture hanging in his extra bedroom that we had made for him many many years ago, with one of his favorite sayings: “It’s a tough life, and it’s gonna get tougher” on it, signed “The toughies” with 8 little potatoes in a piled up little row and each of our names in a potato (we grew up on a potato farm, and yes, we’re all pretty darn tough.) If anyone would have made any kind of suggestion regarding boosting one of his “toughies” self esteem he would have sputtered and scoffed and suggested he/she earned it. Spot on, dad.
He loved a good Polish joke, even more so when we pointed out that he was 50% Polish. Husband had a few he had saved up. Guess he’ll have to just tell them to me, again. (Sigh.)
When we stayed with him he would growl at our dog, “C’mere!” because he loved dogs, and wanted Dexter to come up on his chair with him, and Dexter would growl and prance around and try to decide if he dared or not. Gruff, grouchy, and the sweetest man in the world.
I know this has to happen. But I wasn’t ready for this. Not yet. I haven’t even figured out how I feel about my mom dying yet.
I’m 48 years old. I talk to my dad four times a year. Why does it feel like I’ve been left out in the cold, completely unprotected?
I’m trying to figure out why I’m writing this, if anybody cares to read it, if it isn’t just self-pitying emotional drivel, whether there’s any kind of universal message to it that would make anyone but me care.
I just know it’s like there was a roof over you and now there isn’t, but even that doesn’t make sense. It’s not like I was going to call him tomorrow and ask him for money. Although, I guess if I would have had to, I know that I could have.
And I keep thinking I’m okay, and then I’m not.
I guess that’s okay, too.
Although I can hear him telling me to stop blubbering. Not like it’s doing me any good or anything.
Love you, Dad. Hope you know, knew, how much.