Tuesday, January 29, 2008

R.I.P. Dad - July 7th, 1939-January 26th, 2005

This month marks 3 years since my dad passed away. He died while he was hospitalized after having a series of increasingly worse strokes over the course of a few months. The last stroke left him paralyzed on his right side, unable to walk, unable to eat without choking on his food, and unable to talk without great difficulty. I still get tears in my eyes seeing how he much he suffered before he died. I'm glad though that God took him painlessly, as he died quietly in his sleep of an apparent heart attack. When my family and I met at the hospital the morning he died, I saw my dad's body, and he had a peaceful expression on his face. I think he was ready to go home to be with God.

My dad died on January 26th, 2005, but his funeral unfortunately fell on my daughter's 7th birthday (my son was 2), January 29th. It was the most horrible experience, to have to bury my dad on my daughter's birthday. Her birthdays ever since have been bittersweet for me. The pain of losing my dad is no longer raw like it was right after he died, but I still miss him every day.

For a long time after my dad died, I felt cheated that I didn't have longer with him (I was 31 when he died). I would see people in their 40's, 50's, even 60's with parents, and sometimes even grandparents still alive, and I would wonder why I never got to know any of my grandparents (my grandfathers both died before my brothers and sisters and I were born, and my grandmothers both died when I was too young to remember them), and why my dad had to die when I was barely past 30.

Now though, I think about how my husband lost his mother to breast cancer when he was only 19, and his youngest sister and brother were only 7 and 9 years old. I think about that same brother of his, who was murdered at the age of 24, when I was pregnant with my daughter. He was only a year older than me. He was shot in the head one night while he was walking home from a bus stop, and died on the sidewalk right in front of his house. He left behind two little kids. The police never found his killer. And I think about my husband's niece, who was killed in a car accident just this past September, at the age of 23, while she was driving home from work one evening. She was right around the corner from her house. She left behind a husband, a 6 month old son, and a 4 year son, who was just a couple of months older than my Dominic. I also think about people who grew up without their dads around, or who never met their dads at all. And now I feel thankful for the 31 years I did have with my dad.

I'd like to tell you about what kind of a person my dad was, but I think this eulogy my older sister Desiree wrote for his funeral says it better then I ever could:

Our dad was a man who dedicated his life to taking care of others – his wife, six children, a foster child, countless animals, and even strangers in the street. He would give the shirt off his back to a complete stranger if he thought it would help. When he saw someone stranded on the road, he pulled over to offer assistance. When he learned of people who were going to spend a holiday alone, he invited them over for Christmas dinner. When we drove past a local homeless person, he went through the Burger King drive-thru, purchased a meal for them, and turned around to hand-deliver it. Dad couldn't stand to anyone or anything suffering. He rescued and nurtured everything he could, whether it was a baby bird with a broken wing or a litter of kittens left in a cardboard box. He was a Good Samaritan with a huge heart. He taught us that no matter how down and out you are yourself, you can always reach out to help someone more in need. It’s no coincidence that so many of us went into the helping professions.

Dad taught us to love and respect nature. As children we could identify just about any species of tree, bird, butterfly, or wildflower. A walk through the park with Dad wasn’t merely a walk. It was an educational and spiritual journey that arose all of one’s senses. Dad also passed on his love of art and his drawing talent to several of his children and grandchildren. He was a great artist and a great cook. Sunday rigatoni dinners were always our favorite, hours of being allured by the sweet and spicy aroma that filled the house. Every Sunday he put up with us asking 52 times, “Is it done yet?!” “You can’t rush homemade sauce”, he’d tell us. We spent years trying to get that recipe out of him, but Dad would explain, “There’s no recipe, you just make it”. It was in his Italian genes.

He gave us all these gifts of life and expected so little in return. Year after year, we’d ask him what he wanted for his birthday and we always got the same answer: “Nothing, don’t spend your money on me”. After 40 years of receiving flannel shirts and socks, you’d think he’d request something else. But material things weren’t important to him. All he wanted was to see his children happy. He tried so hard to give us the best he could yet he still seemed to feel inadequate. He didn’t realize what a hero he truly was – 36 years of hard work and dedication to his factory job, waking up at 4 AM to pack six lunches before work, staying up all night with sick kids, taxiing us around town, pacing the kitchen floor until we all safely returned home at night.

To us, he was more than a man than most fathers and grandfathers dream of being. He always had time for us and never stopped giving. He was and always will be an inspiration, a role model, and a consistent reminder of the unselfish love that the human spirit is capable of.

I have so much admiration for my dad, not only for what my sister mentioned above, but also for his quitting smoking (cold turkey too) in his 50's, after smoking heavily for nearly 40 years. I only wish that he had quit sooner so that he might have avoided some of the health problems that ultimately led to his death. I have so much admiration for him too, for, although he had a difficult time at first accepting my husband when we first started dating (because my husband is black), that he not only grew to accept him, but treated him like his own son. I felt so proud when, after my Bethany was born, my mom told me my dad put a photo of Bethany in his wallet, and took it to work with him to show his coworkers, and brag about his new granddaughter. I know how hard it must have been for him, then in his 50's when my husband and I started dating, so overcome his fears and prejudices.I know that he did it because he loved me, and I'm eternally grateful for that. At my dad's funeral, my husband served as one of the pallbearers right alongside my brothers and brothers-in-law.

As much as I miss my dad, I take comfort in knowing that he's no longer suffering or in pain. I truly believe that although his physical body is gone that his soul lives on with God, and I know that one day we'll be reunited.

I love you, Dad.


Bezzie said...

Aw, I'm all misty. Your dad sounds like a great guy.

Christina said...

Your dad sounds like he was a wonderful man. I'm glad you have so many good memories of him.

River Glorious said...

Bless you, sweetie... I lost my Dad back in '86 and understand. I pray the Lord gives you the comfort He has given me throughout the years. You have wonderful memories to take out of your "memory box" and smile over... :)

naida said...

Your dad sounds like he was really great. You are lucky to have good memories of him to cherish.

Katrina said...

Your Dad sounds like a wonderful man. I lost my Dad to cancer 10/7/06 and miss him terribly. However, the wonderful memories I have are a treasure. It seems as you have some wonderful memories to hold on too as well. I'd always thought I didn't know what I would do when I lost my Dad but God is a good God and I realize now that a year leading up to my Dad's passing he was putting things in motion to allow me to be with him for a month before he died. Such precious memories. I like you do realize how blessed I am to have had him for my 32 years because some poeple can't say that or didn't have such a wonderful Man/ Father in their life. I was just so touched by your post that I had to respond. Also, I was just getting misty thinking about my Dad earlier today. I'm enjoying reading your blog.

knittyauntie said...

I get it. I lost my dad (suicide) almost 5 years ago. My wedding is this week and all I can think is that he should be here, and he's not , and it's his fault. I hate him a little bit right now.I still love him, but it's hard at such a time where he would have been such a big part and he's just not.I guess 15 years is better than none,but I just can't help but miss him.