Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Man in the Rearview Mirror



My father died this morning at Lutheran Medical Center at 7:30 a.m.

The new year is one week old and with the passing of Little Christmas on Saturday, he died right after the holidays officially ended.

He had been in failing health for a long time, slowly falling apart after my mother's death.

The last few months have been especially bad, as he had suffered a TIA--a kind of preliminary stroke--over the summer, followed by a real stroke in October, and then the terrible fall in his bedroom last month that caused a seizure.

He went into the hospital for the last time shortly before Christmas and never came out.

My sister and I went to see him on Saturday night. My aunt had come over to Brooklyn so we could have our annual Little Christmas celebration, but then Edith, my dad's aide, called from the hospital to say he had taken a turn for the worse.

We went down there and saw the tubes coming of his mouth, his shallow breathing. The doctors told us he was critical but stable and that the next 48 hours would be very important.

My sister called the hospital later that evening and was told he was "holding his own," whatever the hell that means. The next morning a doctor called her to say that our father was dead.

We were back there this morning to view his body. They had to unzip the plastic bag and I felt my knees buckle as I looked as his colorless face.

God, it feels like just a few weeks ago he was carrying me around on his shoulders, and now, here he is a body bag, old, withered, lifeless. What happened to the last 45 years?

"He fought for his country," I blurted," for some odd reason, "which is more than that cocksucker in the White House ever did!"

I actually gave him a salute then because I felt somebody had to. You say and do rather strange things when your grieving. I called Mary, my father's daytime aide, to tell her the news. She expressed her sympathies and tried to comfort me.

"He's with your mother now," she said. "I don't know how your mother feels about that..."

We both laughed at that one. My father could bring great joy and great pain to those he loved. It was a very strange relationship being close to him--like taking a walk through a mine field that's covered in beautiful flowers. It's really a great place to be, but tread carefully.

I'd like to think that the good parts of my father are with my mom and that the bad parts of him, the parts that caused him so much pain, have been taken away so that she'll be with the man she first fell in love with for all eternity.

My sister and I began the funeral preparations, like we did five years ago for my mother. It seems all so painfully familiar.

We start making and receiving phone calls as news of my father's death spread. My phone rang late Sunday afternoon and I thought it was a relative or friend calling to offer sympathy.

It turns out I just won 20 free tickers to some comedy club after apparently filling out some contest form. So on the day my father died, I finally win something.

After coming out of the funeral parlor, my sister got a call from some stupid sow at the Medical Examiner's Officer. It seems that since my father's death was apparently caused by a fall, they had taken his body and now we have to go to a morgue in a godawful section of Brooklyn and ID him, like an episode of Law and Order.

I'm having a hard time dealing with this since the fall happened on my watch, so to speak. My shrink, my friends and family all say it wasn't my fault, that my father was going to fall or hurt himself sooner or later. And the logical side of me knows this is true.

Still, there is this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I failed pretty seriously. And that call from the Medical Examiner only makes me feel worse.

Show Me The Way

I have this terrible emptiness inside me. It is not the same heartache and pain I felt when my mother died, but I am hurting nonetheless. With both of them gone now, I feel something very precious has been wiped away.

I was looking through the family photos tonight looking for a photo to run with this post and seeing all these happy memories from so long ago made me so sad.

So our parents bring us into this world, love us and nuture us, give us direction and comfort, and then we lose them? It doesn't seem right somehow.

Things were so complicated with my father. He was a very difficult man, to put it mildly. I wish we hadn't fought as much as we did, but there's no undoing any of that. Let's just say for now that he could have been a better father and I could have been a better son and leave it at that.

I think my father and I had our best time when I moved to Pennsylvania to work for the Pocono Record. I was so nervous, so convinced I would fail, that he would call me every morning to see how I was doing.

When I came home on the weekends, I was treated like an honored guest. And on Sunday mornings, when I had to return to Stroudsburg for the afternoon shift, my father would always guide me as I backed my car down the alleyway.

I like to think I had the driving skills to navigate down our alley by myself, but it felt good seeing him in the rearview mirror, guiding me to the street like he was bringing in jumbo jet and then pointing forward, as if to say "you're good to go."

I remember on time on Father's Day, I was driving back to Stroudsburg and I was feeling guilty--what else is new, right?

I was angry because I had this stupid job that required me to work on a Sunday. If I had been a normal person, I thought, I would be living in New York and working a normal schedule so I could spend Father's Day with my dad.

As I was crossing the Verrazano, I heard this song called "Put it There" by Paul McCartney:

Put It There If It Weighs A Ton,
That's What The Father Said To His Younger Son.
I Don't Care If It Weighs A Ton,
As Long As You And I Are Here, Put It There.

Oh, God, I just started weeping and wailing to beat the band. I guess that was the best way to love my father--from a distance, because living under the same roof could be very stressful.

So now I'm alone in the family house. I've said before that I feel like a ghost in this place and now that feeling has intensified. Tonight I threw out the Christmas tree--the one my father didn't live to see--and I was so proud of myself for taking care of this unpleasant task.

Then I turned around and saw this empty space in the living room, the heart of this house, and my blood ran cold. Another life had been snuffed out.

I know I can't live here forever. My siblings want to sell the house and it makes sense. But I'm frightened of change, I don't have the safety net that I had most of my life when I screwed up job after job, or when I became so ill with Epstein-Barr that I could barely move. I'm really on my own now. I'm an orphan.

This isn't a time for decisions. We have to take care of my father's funeral and then we'll get to the business side of death.

My advice to anyone reading this is to tell you loved ones just how much you love them as often as you can. Don't waste a minute on anger or resentment because people grow old and die faster than you ever thought possible.

And I want to say thanks to that man in the mirror for guiding me all these years. Even though you're gone, it's nice to think that you're behind me, still giving me directions, still pointing the way.

Put it there...

10 comments:

Calamity Jen said...

I'm very sorry, Rob. I know how difficult this past little while has been for you and how guilt has been getting the upper hand lately. May it soothe you to know that your father's pain and confusion has ended.

You wrote a moving tribute to him, which is no mean feat in light of the difficulties in your relationship. Take comfort in those warmer memories that you have.

My thoughts are with you.

Rob K said...

Oh thank you so much, Jen. You're so kind and supportive--it means to me than I could ever put into words.

God bless you and yours and please do take care of yourself. If we had more people like you the world would be a much better place.

DesertPeace said...

I was very saddened to read this post Rob.... I know the pain you are feeling having been through it myself.
Please Rob... DON'T BLAME YOURSELF! You have done everythng humanly possible to keep your father as comfortable as he could have been under the circumstances. There is no way that the fall was your fault... it happened.
Take pride in the fact that you were a good son, loyal to your father. Take pride that you cared, despite the personal hardships it caused for you. Take pride that you are a gem of a human being that any man would appreciate having as a son.
Be strong now, the next period of time will be a difficult one for you, saying your 'goodbyes' to a man you loved.Be comforted that people throughout the world are with you in spirit and care for you.

Rob K said...

Thanks so much,Peace. You've been with me on this ride for a long time.

I go back and forth about what kind of person I am, but if I've got friends like you, I must be something right.

Anonymous said...

It's Donna posting ANON from the office.....

I'm so very sorry Rob. Take comfort that there are people who care about you, even those whom you do not know personally. Let yourslef feel the grief and then my friend, you must let it go. You are right in wanting some time before making big decisions but begin to think of change as an adventure rather than something daunting. You are much stronger than you think. As you begin to adjust to this change in your life, you will slowly let go of any unhappines in your past and will look forward to a different and happy future.

All my prayers are for you today. Please don't forget I am here if you need a shoulder.

Rob K said...

Thank you, Donna, you are very thoughtful.

I'm having trouble dealing with this now, but I know there'll be a time in the near future when I'll be able to move on and begin that adventure you write about.

If I've learned nothing else from this, at least I know there are still kind, lovely people like you in this world.

Marsha said...

Rob,

I am sorry for your loss. I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts.

Take care,

Marsha

Rob K said...

Marsha, thanks so much. You're very kind. I hope all is well with you and yours.

Babsbitchin said...

Something pulled me here tonite, even though I'm on duty and shouldn't be on my computer. You would be so much more distraught, had you not your faith. Did you realize this? You and I both know, that your Dad is happier now, than he's been in 5 years, 5 long years. Your Mom was there to greet him in that favorite dress he liked so well, with her hair just so, the way he remembered it when he thought long and hard and sat quietly reminiscing. He didn't say much but he missed her so. He would've gave up long ago if his heart had talked him into it. But he had to save face, he was a real man of honor. It worried him so that there is no dignity in dying and it made him so cranky. He just couldn't say the words, or express his fear. But he is just fine, smiling and calm. You are not an orphan, they are both still there. Your Mother thought you were all that and so did your Dad. He just couldn't find a way to say it. But he is now, ok? Understand? He, as well as your mother were always proud, especially when you won that spelling bee. They are walking hand in hand, right now and all is well. Do not be afraid, all is well.

I'm here for you Rob. I wish I could give you a really big hug.
Kisses!

Rob K said...

Oh, Babs, thanks so much for your concern and support.I like--I love--the idea of them still being with me and I will keep that thought in my mind at all times. It sures like you're right here, Babs, giving me that really big hug. Thanks for being in my life.