As many of my friends and acquaintances know, my dad passed away early Saturday morning. This is not the first death in our immediate family. In fact death has been a constant companion. My mom was diagnosed with lupus in the summer of 1970, and battled in the rest of her life until complications from a prior stroke took her in 1997. There were times in the early 1970s when us kids would spend the night at our neighbors’ house for weeks with our mom in the hospital 70 miles away, not knowing if we were going to be told she was gone when we woke up. When you are 8 or 9 years old, that tends to have an impact on how you view life.
Death tried to take dad in 1978 when he was diagnosed with cancer, but death was again thwarted. So in January 1979 it struck my parents’ oldest child. My older sister died a couple months before her 22nd birthday and being the first in the family to get a college degree. The circumstances were mysterious (she died in an apartment fire), but there was really nothing anyone could prove. CSI only works on television. So my sister died in 1979, my mom in 1997, and now my dad in 2014.
We all handle death differently, and through experience I have learned we handle each death differently. When my sister died, I was literally in shock for a few months. We had been woken up early in the morning by people from our church coming to tell us what had happened. My dad’s Uncle Bob was the one to tell my brother and I that “there had been an accident and Debby was gone”. I was the last one to break down after holding it in for months. It was not until late one night, I am not sure if I had turned 15 yet or not, and I could not hold it in any longer. The tears flowed, and I had to go upstairs (my brother and I shared a bedroom in the basement) to find my mom for comfort.
It was different when my mom died. I had watched her suffer with all kinds of chronic illnesses for years, several of which could have claimed her life at any point. When she had a stroke in 1995, she fought through it for two years. If anything, it freed her to be more vocal about some of the things we had only mentioned in the house. Or at least she now had an excuse. I was living in Houston at the time, and flew back to bury her next to my sister. It was strange when mom passed…we had anticipated it for years. When she was gone, I missed her but I also felt a sense of relief for her. I had watched her suffer for so long, with little or no break from the pain, discomfort, and exhaustion that accompany chronic illness. I am sure I cried at missing her at some point, but I cannot remember when I did.
And now our dad is gone. Many people know he had to deal with a pseudo-aneurysm around his heart this past March. He had “arrested” (died) several times then, but they had always brought him back. He successfully went through surgery, and although he had some setbacks and was severely weakened by the experience, he was continuing to improve. My sister had even seen him with doctors and Friday and he was in good spirits and had a decent prognosis. And then he was gone. The attendants at the rest home he was at had just been in his room, and had gone to get him something and returned to find him on his room’s floor. They tried CPR, but there was no rhythm at all coming from his heart. There was nothing to shock back into working order.
And so we are all returning home to northern Idaho to bury another family member. My brother is flying in from Oman with his wife. Their daughter is flying in from elsewhere in the country, and my son lives in Seattle so he will be able to drive over. I live in Ohio, and I had a decision to make on how to get home. I chose to drive the 2,000 miles. It’s a four day drive, but I find the solitude refreshing. I have often been accused of thinking too much (when I find such a notion ridiculous). It gives me time to think and reflect on life, on my parents, my sister who’s gone, what I have done with my own life. I know I am still a little in shock about dad’s death. It was not unexpected. I had anticipated receiving the news ever since his episode in March.
But no matter how much you anticipate someone’s passing, it still comes as a shock when it occurs.
So today I drove the first 725 miles of the trip back, sitting here in my hotel room in Albert Lea, Minnesota, thinking about the things that ran through my mind on the road: my dad, my mom, my sister, my living siblings, my son and his fiance, my new grandson, where I am at in life, the beautiful formations clouds make as they prepare for summer storms, the unique beauty of the rolling prairies of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa as I drive through them.
How do I feel? I honestly do not know yet. I miss my dad, and I knew many people would. The text messages and posts I have received on Facebook all tell the story of a man who had a huge impact on the lives of countless people by just being himself. Do I miss him? Absolutely. But in a sense he is not dead. He lives on in the memories of all the people he touched, and the lives of people he never met because of those people who knew him. He lives on in me and my brother and my sister. He lives on in my son, and he will live on in my grandson because of my son, and not just genetically. He will live on in my brother’s daughter and her daughter, in my sister’s son. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, his spirit lives on in us.
I will try to post again tomorrow from Spearfish, South Dakota. I am on Interstate 90 now, so no road changes from here to Idaho.