Sunday, May 01, 2011

a little bit of enlightenment

i'm sitting here weighing my options--

blog? or go put up the laundry that is currently stacked in piles across our bed?

and honestly, as i look over at the little monthly updates on the right hand side that shows i've written four posts in the last two months and honestly, the laundry will still be there tomorrow. a moment of peace and quiet when i am kinda feeling like writing? might not be. i should take advantage of it while it's here.

so i feel like i should give some background information about my dad and his recent passing. i've gotten so good at telling this story in person that i can usually make it all the way through without my voice cracking. i have people who care about us and want to know about him, and though it wasn't often publicized, my dad was sick and had been sick for quite some time. it just a matter of how much he was letting it affect him at the time.

my dad was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a type of lymphoma cancer, for the first time when i was like 8 or 9, i think. all i really remember from this was visiting him in the hospital a few times while he had treatments and from then on, he had a long scar on his chest that we saw while we were playing at the pool or on the beach. he was in remission for about 11 years, and it came back while i was in college. i remember at the time he was working as a cook in a local restaurant where he lived, and he wasn't really aware that he was sick because he figured he was losing weight and feeling crappy from the heat in the kitchen. he was so happy cooking there, too, and i hate that this interrupted that time period for him.

so he continued chemo treatments at the hospital in fayetteville, losing his hair and getting his port put in and fighting it with all his might. after about a year of treatment, they thought it was gone.

and a scan showed that no, they were wrong. off to duke for treatment this time, where he would go from there on out for any major medical work. only the best for my dad (and a very nice hook-up from his brother and sister-in-law, who work at duke hospital.) he always commented that it was tough to go there as a carolina fan, but he knew it's where he needed to be.

around the same time, his second marriage fell apart and he moved out into his own apartment. there's nothing quite as ironic as moving your father out from his second marriage and seeing wedding gifts from his first marriage in the moving boxes (plus the added irony that the apartments he moved into? they were the same ones he and my mom lived in after they were first married.) needless to say, this was an odd stage for all of us. dad would introduce us to a few women he was "talking to" after that, one of which was thankfully joy. more on her later.

they finally got rid of the hodgkin's disease and decided to focus on his heart. the damage from the radiation from the first round of treatments, now almost 14 or 15 years ago, was creating some issues for him. they scheduled him for open heart surgery to fix it, and alan and i would take turns staying with him following the surgery during that summer. i was just graduating from my masters program, and still had the summer off until i started my new job the following school year.

the first surgery went okay with him spending many hours "open" on the table, but they were keeping an eye on his heart performance as something seemed a little off. i went up there to visit the day afterward, and i remember bringing him his favorite popsicles--the minute maid ones in the wax paper tubes. there were some complications that day, and i was in the hallway, making a phone call when my aunt mary anne ran up and turned me away from the gurney flying past. it was dad--they were taking him into emergency surgery again. they later told me that he "coded" on the table, but they were able to resuscitate him and fix the heart valve that wasn't working. they put him into a medically induced coma for a couple of weeks, hoping that the rest would allow his body to recover. i went home, crying in justin's arms, scared that i was going to lose my father that summer. it was 2005.

and he made it. he came back to that little apartment, letting me and alan run errands, pick up prescriptions, visit his favorite cashiers at food lion (they all knew him by name there) and help him recover that summer. he had survived, when in all likelihood, he shouldn't have.

and it seems like where his life should've ended, it really just began.

over the next six years, he walked me down the aisle in my wedding and stood by proudly during alan's wedding.

he continued his relationship with joy, a kindred spirit in her love of music, food, carolina and... well, life. knowing his health concerns and the fact that he was "one bad CT scan away from the hospital or nursing home," as he used to say, she loved him and wanted to marry him. and they did, in a small ceremony downeast where my grandparents could attend in the fall of 2008.

carl frazier, one of my mom and dad's friends from growing up in the united methodist youth program and our pastor at my home church all during my high school years, was able to officiate all three of our weddings. he also led the memorial service a few weeks ago. i am so thankful for his ability to be there for our family at our highest--and lowest--points, and to narrate those times so beautifully with the most personal touches.

and dad got to see davis. he was a proud grandfather and loved his new grandson so much--you could see it looking at the pictures of him holding davis after he was first born, and then a few months later as davis was able to look back at him, staring puzzled at his goatee--something he hadn't seen often on others ;)

but all during the last five years, there were regular hospital visits where dad would go in for "tune ups." he would begin retaining water weight, sometimes gaining 30 or more pounds as his belly started to grow. sometimes it was for a valid reason (just recently he began significantly reducing his salt intake) and other times it made no sense at all. there was one particular visit where the cause of his stay was potentially traced back to him eating too much citrus fruit and plums over the prior weeks. my uncle billy would call me with updates and more than once, he would relay a story about how the doctors were scratching their heads, trying to figure out what went wrong, why dad was suddenly getting better, and how they were going to treat it the next time.

these visits, unfortunately, became so commonplace to me that i stopped alerting friends when they occurred. that's why many of my friends weren't aware that my dad was in the hospital this last time, but i think we all assumed it would be just like the other times. he goes in, he gets fluids, drops the water weight, doctors scratch their heads, he gets better and is out again within a week or so.

this time was different, though. his kidney had begun to fail, and they attempted dialysis for the first time the day before he passed. it was unsuccessful and his body was failing to get rid of the fluids this time. (all of this information is in lay terms--i sure my uncle or aunt could provide more medically sound terminology, but that's not me.) i spoke to dad briefly on thursday night before they were going to do the dialysis, and then to my uncle on friday, who told me that because his body wasn't getting rid of the fluids, some of the medication was building up as well. because of that, dad was having some pretty wacky hallucinations and had entertained them during the dialysis with whipping cords across the room and other antics. (we had similar stories of dad's dreams during his medically induced coma, as well as coming out of sedation from surgery--he didn't handle those well.) i decided not to call that night, figuring it wouldn't be a productive conversation.

he passed away around 6 am the next morning, quickly, quietly...and finally without pain.

i am grateful that my dad is no longer burdened with his health problems, living from one hospital visit to another. i am grateful for the life that he lived in between hospital visits, not missing those milestone moments over the past six years, creating new memories, a new marriage, being a part of a new life. he didn't let that first brush with death hold him back.

i grieve our loss, though. so thankful that davis will have pictures with his grandfather, yet not get to grow up with him. i miss our phone calls and family lunches and seeing the things that made him happy but not being able to share them--a new recipe or review of a restaurant, a food network show, an update on the carolina basketball team, a classic rock song or even an old standby from one of his favorite musicians.

we had two wonderful memorial services for him--one downeast, where my grandparents could attend, where he grew up and was known and loved, and in the place that he loved. and then one yesterday, further inland, where his friends, family and coworkers from the past could remember him.

and so though the "official" services are over, my therapeutic side knowingly says that the grieving has just begun. it will continue to ache, tears will continue to well up, memories will continue to flood in. being a therapist and grieving doesn't necessarily make it easier, but it's a comfort to know the stages and process and just get used to actually experiencing them yourself, instead of leading someone else through it.

and i promise that this will not be a frequent topic for me to write about, but i figured i owed the situation one lengthy post. thanks for sticking with me--through this post and just in general. four posts in two months? hopefully that will be a thing of the past :) i think i need the community of blogging as much as i need the cathartic process of blogging.