The past eight days has been a bag of cats for me, but new perspectives come from the loss of a loved one.
My father died fairly suddenly last week after fighting Parkinson’s Disease for the past eight years. We could see the toll the neurological disease was taking on him and we saw some pretty heavy suffering on his part, and on the part of my mother. She became a 24/7 caregiver almost the moment she retired from teaching after 30+ years in the Danville system.
I watched as his mobility decreased and his emotional and functional capacities became subservient to the damage being done in his brain. He had a stimulator put in about four years ago that functioned as a calibrator of tremors in his brain. Regularly, the doctors would adjust the stimulation to his brain through the probes surgically implanted under his skull, to control shakes and weaknesses.
He also fought off thyroid cancer and, at a minimum, two heart attacks and bypass surgery. At the end, he had just had enough. He was a bull of a man. With Popeye forearms built by year-after-year of torquing wrenches, be it on engines or working on boilers and turbines with Trane, Coppus Murray, Dresser-Rand, before being purchased by Siemens.
He traveled the world servicing products sold by his company. He loved the travel. He brought my mom turquoise and jewels when he traveled to Costa Rica, one of his most favorite places on the earth. The trips to Haiti…not so much.
But that was his professional side. He was a different man in real life, a bit self-consumed but a very, very brave man.
My biological dad died when I was six from Type 1 Diabetes, but he was separated from my mother even before that so I have no working memory of him. This Randy fella stepped in as a father figure shortly after that. He was married at the time to another woman but invited us into his family as friends. We spent summers at his home on North Hill in Burlington. We lived in a trailer at the time and the thought of being at a real home with a real garage provided plenty of antics for four young boys.
I’ll never forget one birthday when he was grilling out on North Hill. I always got a porterhouse steak with mushrooms grilled on a special red birthday plate. As far back as I can remember, he grilled that for me on my birthday. On this one special day, he opened the garage door and rolled out a revamped bicycle. He took my old bike and painted it black and white with a racing stripe, new tires, and racing streamers on it. For a young boy who grew up with three brothers on a single mom’s teaching salary, I was never comfortable asking for anything on birthdays and Christmas. That was something.
There were many a day when us boys (all four of us at times) would just wail on this guy. He’d usually start it by buzzing us with a nub. A nub was one of his two fingers that had been cut off in a butcher shop when he was grinding beef. Horrific childhood yarns were regularly spun by this guy as to how he lost those fingers, typically as a result of a large parrot he kept caged at the house. I didn’t go near that damned thing.
So those were the nubs and he would randomly buzz us in the ribs when we walked by. These fingers had been cut off at the main knuckle, so it was just bone there. He’d hit us with that and then we’d turn and he’d have this wide-eyed grin ready for retaliation. We’d punch this guy in the arm and leg and his muscles would not even dent. Literally, our little fists would just turn sideways on the mass.
We thought grabbing him and trying to tackle him was the way to go, but he just shucked us off with a crazy laugh and a ‘there you go’.
He followed us through Boy Scouts, high school, driving, college and all the crap kids our age could get into. But he never just came along for the ride. He got involved everywhere he could. He took us on vacations around the country…Pike’s Peak, the Badlands, New Mexico, Tennessee. And when we were younger, we camped in tents and later in pop-up campers. All of those things that we would never had done with just our mother.
But in 1988 this guy, who for most of his life had things his way, married my mother. Before that, he knew where his peanut butter was, where the remote was, and where all his tools were at. He asks to be married into a family with four boys, three of whom were teenagers at the time. Most men would run the other direction…fast.
After that day, he not only didn’t know where the peanut butter was supposed to be, there usually wasn’t any. The remote, forget it buried in the chair, under the sofa, on the counter, on the floor…but that really didn’t matter, there was no time for television. With four teenage boys, there really wasn’t any place to even sit. No one faulted him for working in the garage most of the time, or building something, fixing something..what have you.
Things weren’t always great, there was a lot of emotion in that time. We were teenagers and we played a lot of sports. We had grown up to that point sharing the load of being the men of the house. He was an intruder, but it’s what my mom wanted and we got in line…for the most part.
As we all started families of our own he played the role of grandpa, put up with sleepovers at grandma’s and grandpa’s, played school bus for some of the grandkids, and did an admirable job. My oldest was pretty close to him and had a chance to talk to him at the end by me putting the phone to his ear. He was pretty morphined up at that point, but she cried through it and told him she loved him. Two minutes later, after the message found its way through the haze of comforting narcotics, his eyebrows lifted. My oldest brother called about an hour later and went through the same routine. Again, roughly two minutes later, his eyebrows lifted. I saw it several times in the last 48 hours as we waited together with friends as his body gave out.
The room cleared at several instances and one person stayed with him so someone was always with him. Overnight, mom reclined in the chair next to the bed and held his hand. I finally got a chance to sit with him for a couple minutes by myself.
“Thanks for being there for us. We’ll love you forever….and thanks for the bike old man.”
He was proud of the company my wife and I are building and always asked how it was going. He said I was a good business man who always took care of my customers.
I need to thank those customers today…our readership and our advertisers who patiently allowed us to spend time with our family during this tough time. There’s so much more than the mourning…so much so that I haven’t mourned his loss yet.
It will come when it comes….but that’s Beside the Point.