nonBlog - February 2008

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Aftermath—Sunday, February 17, 2008

Greta woke up this morning—the morning after my father’s memorial service—covered with red spots. Sandy took one look at her and said, “Scarlet fever.” I thought, Of course. No garden-variety colds for this gang. We need to worry about stuff like lasting brain damage.
 
We know Englewood Community Hospital’s emergency room well from previous vacation visits, and we were about to get the 2008 update. Tom wrapped Greta up and off they went. I called the condo people and asked for an extension so we wouldn’t have to check out of our rooms before Tom and Greta got back, and they said yes. Then we packed our bags and Olivia and I walked over to Shell Beach.
 
I think of Shell Beach as a Dad thing, but he and I were only there together once. It’s a longish walk from either my father’s condo or from the spot where he used to sit on the beach at his club, so he showed me where it was many years ago and then never went with me again. I’ve been visiting it with Tom or Olivia ever since. It’s a crazy expanse of sand where it looks like a big truck pulled up and unloaded several hundred pounds of shells. There was a time when it was less known, and you could just pick up purple welks and turkey wings for hours, but now you have to get there in the morning before the sand-dollar hunters have picked over the day’s bounty.
 
It was a hot, sunny day. Liv and I walked over the bridge, and there was another dolphin, swimming right next to the spot where we had poured my father’s ashes the night before. I just stared at it, dumbfounded. I could still make out the gray spot where the ashes landed. Are these dolphins really a sign of my father’s presence? How else do I explain their sudden ubiquity? I’ve been coming here for nearly 20 years and they never showed up before.
 
We walked on. At the spot where there are usually the most shells, there was nothing much. I was hunting exclusively for helmet conchs so that I could fill up the rest of my pottery bowl at home, which is half-high with the conchs I had collected on my last two visits to Shell Beach before my father sold his condo. I had been afraid I might never get the chance to go back again, so I was especially disconcerted not to find the shells of my choice. I kept complaining. “There are no helmet conchs. How can there be no helmet conchs?” Olivia was trying to help me, but she wasn’t having much luck. Suddenly we looked down, and there were half a dozen right at my feet. “Now you’re just showing off,” I said to my dad’s spirit.
 
We filled two bags with shells and walked back to the condo. Two hours later, Tom and Greta finally joined us. After four hours in the emergency room the doctors concluded Greta had a flu-like virus, and her red spots were something called petechiae and were likely unrelated. They might be an after-effect of the sunburn she got at Sharon’s house the first day of the trip. No scarlet fever. The doctors gave her antibiotics just in case she was incubating something else they hadn’t discovered.
 
My sisters and their families took off to drive across Alligator Alley, but we stayed behind. Tom said that between Greta’s fever on Saturday and red spots this morning, he had missed both beach walks and felt like he hadn’t really seen Boca Grande yet. So we drove to the end of the island where we had held the memorial and showed him where the dolphins swam up to us. Then we walked around the point and picked up some more shells and talked about Dad. Then we had more ice cream at my father’s favorite joint and got in the car. We drove and drove and drove, nary a store or restaurant to be seen for hours.
 
We arrived at Sharon’s house to find that my niece Piper was very ill. Soon I was too. We were about to spend the next four days—the rest of our time together—trapped in Sharon’s house, sick as dogs. We would not visit South Beach. We would not spend the day on the shore in Fort Lauderdale. We would not go out for dinner, lunch, or even coffee. Instead we would drag ourselves from bed to TV and back, the kids too sick even to swim in Sharon’s backyard pool. Then we would get on our respective flights home, where we would remain ill for days more. We had a lot to recover from—more than we realized.

 

A Perfect Disaster—Saturday, February 16, 2008

Greta started spiking fevers the night we arrived in Boca Grande for my father’s memorial service, which was fitting because we never managed to get through an entire visit to this place without somebody ending up in the emergency room. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
We woke up this morning after a tough night of trying to bring Greta’s temperature down and drove to town to go to my father’s favorite doughnut shop to load up on sugar and white flour. The front of the shop had changed since the last time I came, but the homemade pastries were just as amazing as I remembered. My father never drank coffee a day in his life—he didn’t like the taste—so he always ordered a hot chocolate. Adults and children seated to our left were drinking cocoa as we waited on line, and I took it as a wee sign of my father’s presence. It would be the first of many. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
 
We spent the day doing everything we used to do on a typical day spent in my father’s town. We swam in his condo complex’s pool and steamed in the hot tub. Dad’s brother, Uncle Bill, met us there, and it was the most bittersweet experience. They have a striking family resemblance, but when they used to get together I noticed only their differences (my father was much taller; Bill has a tiny little nose). But with Dad gone all we could see and hear in Uncle Bill were the commonalities between them. It got a little ridiculous; Bill even wipes his mouth the way my dad did—napkin folded into a square, neatly swiped straight across his pursed lips in one movement. If you had offered me a million bucks to describe from memory how my father wiped his mouth I would have walked away without a dime, but there it was.
 
We ate lunch at Dad’s favorite place—the Loose Caboose—and had ice cream at the Pink Pony. His favorite Indonesian importer was gone, and that made me sad. But most of our haunts were intact. It was a stunningly beautiful day. Even the locals were commenting on it. “It’s days like this that remind us why we live here,” I heard one say to another.
 
We returned to the condos to rest before the memorial, and Greta started to get worse. By the time she needed to get dressed, she was fast asleep on the sofa. When we roused her, she started screaming. She was pink with fever. There was no way she could attend the ceremony. Tom and I looked at each other in panic. He would have to miss the memorial to take care of her.
 
I was a bit undone before the afternoon took this turn; now I was an utter mess. Olivia and I got in the car after everyone else had already left. She started pointing out things she saw along the way that irritated her. I can’t remember what they were, but they were on the order of Why would anyone landscape with pink flowers? Gross! But I wasn’t in control of myself and I yelled at her. Close to the beach, I got stuck behind two cars that were inexplicably going 20 miles an hour. I became concerned I was making my relatives wait. Why wasn’t anyone driving in the faster lane? Fine, I’ll have it to myself. I moved into the left lane and passed the slow-poke drivers. Now I was getting somewhere. A few seconds later Liv said, “Mom, you’re going to crash into that guy!” I wasn’t driving in the fast lane. I was driving into oncoming traffic. I almost killed us. I wished I hadn’t yelled at Liv a few minutes before.
 
At the beach my father’s oldest friends were waiting for us, all dressed up in bright colors. The late afternoon sun glowed yellow and orange. We walked out to the water’s edge and stood in a circle. A couple of my father’s elderly friends brought club chairs. My uncle Bill handed out pamphlets of the short Episcopal service he would lead so that we could read along and follow the answer-response. My father despised organized religion, but we had decided that anyone could say anything they wanted. That’s what memorials are for. Plus, we thought that there were several people who would be comforted by the ritual.
 
When Uncle Bill was finished, Sharon tearfully read memories that friends and family had emailed for us to recite. Then we went around the circle and told stories about Dad. I had spent the day trying to think of the perfect beach story. There were so many; it was really hard to choose. So I told the group about the summer when I was 10 or 11 and fireworks had been declared illegal in New York State for personal use. We had a tradition every Fourth of July of going to our beach club on the South Shore of Long Island and setting off fireworks on the rocks of the jetty. What would we do that year? It wouldn’t be July 4th without Dad’s fireworks show.
 
One day Dad came home from work holding a big bag of fireworks. How in the world had he gotten them? He explained that he had gone downtown during his lunch hour, wearing a suit on a sweltering hot day. He saw some guys selling illegal fireworks out of the back of the truck. So he walked up to the truck, crossed his arms sternly, and stared at them. They took one look and put bunches of fireworks in his arms. They thought he was a plainclothes cop.
 
Everybody laughed, and the stories got lighter. Finally it was time to spread the ashes on the water, but we had been warned that ashes are not the fine dust we are led to believe by watching the movies. They’ve got chunks—scary chunks that the little grandchildren shouldn’t be allowed to see. So each of the grandchildren took some flowers and put them in the water instead. Dad’s cousin brought two little red glass hearts to throw in the water, hoping one day they’d come back as beach glass. Our ceremony was complete.
 
We turned to see where the flowers had drifted. The waves were cooperating nicely, pulling the flowers out toward the sunset. Then, in a direct line between us and the flowers, a dolphin appeared. It made a perfect arc up in the air and down again. We stared at its wake, trying to locate it. For the next twenty minutes it swam right near us, so close to shore we thought it might beach. Another appeared. “This is ridiculous,” my brother-in-law Tim said. “Cue the dolphins!”
 
In all the years I’ve been vacationing in Boca Grande, I’ve only had two dolphin sightings, and both were fleeting. Nothing like this. There was no other conclusion but that Dad had ordered them for the occasion. He must have liked his memorial service.
 
I called Tom, who said that Greta had a high fever and was scaring him; he was going to take her to the emergency room. Now I would have to go to dinner without him too, but I was much less frantic now that I felt assured we had made Dad happy. We had a reservation at Rum Bay, an island restaurant my father and grandfather used to take us to in what will forevermore be known as the good ole days, when they were both alive and caring for each other in this Gulf-side town. You get to the restaurant by a boat shuttle.
 
There were twelve of us—our families plus Uncle Bill along with Dad’s cousin Sharon and her husband. Sharon’s mother was my grandmother’s sister Alma. We sat at a long table and looked at the menu. It’s full of weird stuff like Alligator Bites—fried bits of alligator meat—and coconut-encrusted salmon. Our waiter greeted us quickly, told us he couldn’t take our order yet, and disappeared. We picked up our menus again. After 40 minutes, Tom appeared with Greta; they had taken the next boat when her fever unexpectedly went down again. I told him they weren’t late, since we hadn’t ordered yet. “You haven’t ordered yet? Do you know the last boat is a 9:15?” I knew.
 
After an hour and a half, the restaurant brought us a free round of drinks. After an hour an 45 minutes, they bought us bread. By now kids had fallen asleep on their parents’ laps. Even if the food came—which was far from certain—we’d have to rush to eat it. “We’re going to miss our boat,” we told the waiter. “What do you want me to do?” he asked, exasperated. Remember, he knew we were a group that had just come from the funeral of a regular patron we were honoring. We told him that holding the boat to make sure we got on it would be nice. He said he couldn’t promise anything.
 
We looked at each other. We looked at our sleeping kids. And we stood up, and walked out. We didn’t even pay for the drinks.
 
At the pier, a few people who had walked in after us, been served, finished their meals, and paid were waiting for the boat. “We still haven’t eaten,” we told them. We explained we had just come from our father’s memorial service. They were appalled. Dad’s cousin and her husband joined us, bringing up the rear. They had Styrofoam containers with the kids’ meals in them; the adult orders still weren’t ready. We had fries! Suddenly we started to laugh. Everbody hates rotten service, but our father was the worst. He was a pound-the-table type, especially as a younger man. As an older man, he would curse. He would have loved to see us walk out. With fries in our hands, no less!
 
The boat pulled up and we climbed in, fries and all. Once we started laughing, we couldn’t stop. We shared the kids’ fries and chicken fingers, and the one appetizer that had come at the same time—peel-and eat-shrimp. The moon glittered on the water and the wind was in our hair. We sensed Dad all over the place. Even Sharon, who hadn’t felt any better after the service, was beaming. “How come this worked for you when the memorial didn’t?” I asked. “I don’t know!” Sharon said, giggling. “It just does! I feel all fixed now!” And indeed, we did feel fixed. We had walked out on a check for the first time in our entire lives in honor of Dad, and he would have adored it. Even more than the Alligator Bites.
 
We said good-bye to Dad’s cousin, and took Bill back with us to the condos, where we ate last night’s leftover pizza, the morning’s leftover pastries, and ice cream Tom bought in a gas station quick-mart, plus bottles of beer and wine that we drank in short order. And that was Steve Losee’s Memorial Dinner. Liv decorated the top of the cardboard box with our father’s ashes in it so we could tear it off and throw it in the water with his ashes. Bill went home, and Sharon said, “So, should we do this thing?” We put Liv in charge of the little kids and walked, husbands in tow, to the water right near the condo complex. We each carried the box of ashes in turn.
 
We stood in the moonlight. What do we do now? Sandy’s husband started talking about how accepting Steve was of him, even though he and Sandy lived together for years before marrying and Steve was such a conservative guy. Sharon’s husband and Tom told similar stories. Then Sharon and Sandy and I talked about what it was like after we became adults, when Dad figured out what kind of a parent he wanted to be and never failed to follow through thereafter. How he would write all our important deadlines in his Datebook and then call us the night before to see how how we were doing. How he never took anything that bothered him to heart, and how he had a smile in his voice every time he answered the phone. Like everyone, our father was a pretty flawed man, but one thing that was clear was that he was always trying his best. You can’t say that about everyone.
 
It was time to spread his ashes. They were heavy, like Dad. We started pouring them in the water. They were fine and ethereal at first, then the rest fell at once with a big thunk. The splash caught me in the eye.
 
We walked back to the condos, contented. It had been a perfect day, disasters and all.

 

Non-Rain Non-Bow—Friday, February 15, 2008

My father sent us a rainbow; I’m absolutely convinced of it.
 
Today my sisters and our families and I drove across Alligator Alley—the unpopulated corridor that separates the west coast of Florida from the east—to spread my father’s ashes in the waters off the island where he finally found a measure of happiness after years of depression. It’s one of those trips that kids don’t cotton to; it’s boring and long, and there are no places to stop for ice cream along the way. By the time we made it to the Gulf, everybody was about fit to mutiny. But then we crossed the toll bridge to my father’s island and in the clouds was the oddest burst of rainbow. It was a circle, really, of greens and reds peeking out of a white puff, and it stayed there for the better part of two hours.
 
Sharon was very emotional when we arrived, because her last memories of the place are of dismantling the apartment where my father could no longer live because it was a third-floor walk-up and he had broken his ankle in several places and would never stand again. But I felt just the opposite. I felt even, smooth, contented, with the light of the rainbow upon us. It should have been disturbing to be on his island—in his very condo complex—without him. But as much as he found a life here on Boca Grande, it was ultimately a compromise. Past a certain point, he never really loved his life again. He is where he wants to be, and we are in the place where he lived when we created our best memories of him.
 
The condo where I write this has the same footprint as my father’s did and was furnished by the same decorator. But the three years that separate me from his last days here are enormous; insurmountable. They are also nothing. I don’t smell him; he is not here. But he is watching from somewhere nonphysical and far away. He observes us honoring his life and his time here. He sent us that strange rainbow, and he wants us to know that we should feel even and smooth, contented, just as I am convinced he is now.

 

Yaweh's New Contact—Thursday, February 14, 2008

Last night, before we left for the red-eye, I pulled out my Monster. All six of you faithful readers of this blog know that on my desk I have a glazed pottery monster that Olivia made for me in about the first grade. The Monster is blue and benevolent and has green snaggleteeth and a bell inside that can’t ring because it’s blocked by Post-It wishes. Like my father, I am areligious. But I have always had two avenues to The Force. The first is my monster, whose powers I treat with respect by making requests only when they are of dire importance. I write them down and shove them up into the monster’s belly.

I realized that the Monster had answered one of my wishes. So I cleaned out the Monster’s innards. There were three notes inside. The first said, “Please save Daisy, Sharon needs her.” Daisy is Sharon’s lovely Wheaton Terrier, and she has Addison’s disease. Not too long ago she nearly died, and since she is Sharon’s other child this was unthinkable, especially with all our other losses swirling around. But the Monster intervened. So the second note said, “Thank you.” You have to acknowledge the Monster’s miracles.

The third note said, “Please take him.” That was a hard note to write, and it’s a hard note to admit writing, because it’s tough to consider yourself a good person afterwards. But even my father’s brother had his church praying for Dad’s release, so my request was not the only one of its kind landing on The Force’s desk. I put aside that note, and put in another one that said, “Thank you.” Then I got in the car.

Besides the Monster, my other avenue to The Force is Yahweh. Dad was the keeper of Yahweh, and when even the Monster was not adequate to the task, I would ask Dad to relay a special request to Yahweh, who always granted it. Oh my God, I just realized something. Dad is gone, and I’m the oldest. I am now the keeper of Yahweh. I’ve had a lot of sad thoughts in the last week—in the last couple of years. But the fact that Dad and I can’t talk about his connection to Yahweh ever again is by far the saddest one.

 

Stupid Dad Tricks —Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I keep thinking about things my dad could do that nobody else could do, and that nobody will ever do again since the one person who could do them isn’t here anymore. So with apologies to David Letterman, I will tell you four things you never knew about Steven Thomas Losee, born March 11, 1938; died February 10, 2008.

    • He could wiggle his ears. It’s a talent cultivated by all Losee men and is related, perhaps, to the big sticky-outy ears thing. Maybe when you’re born with big ears, you think of funky things you can do with them. Upon request he and Grandpa, along with my dad’s brother Uncle Bill and their great uncle Tom, would all get this bizarre look on their faces and then, as if by puppeteer, wiggle their ears. We kids would then go crazy laughing.
    • He was a talented artist. His profession was salesman; he sold time for TV commercials on NBC—a job he despised. But his avocation was artist. At my childhood birthday parties I never had plain old Pin the Tail on the Donkey—no way. I had Pin the Bow on Cinderella, and the Cinderella in question was a hand-drawn poster Walt Disney himself would have been proud of. My friends were jealous.
    • He adored scary anything. In the days before cable, I spent my Saturday afternoons sharing our L-shaped orange-and-pink sofa with my dad while watching a Channel Eleven series called Creature Feature. There I discovered the joys of B monster movies like Sssss and Gargoyles, both of which I own on VHS today. He also dressed as Quasimodo every single Halloween, and carved world-class pumpkins, a skill he taught to me and which I practice today.
    • He was shy. I didn’t know this about my father until I was about twelve years old. It was so incongruous because he was such a big, imposing man. But every single time he had to do a pitch meeting for work—which was about five times a day—he had to walk around the block or steal off to the men’s room to screw up his courage before walking in the room. His best friend Vicki, whom he met through “the business,” as they always referred to it, always said he was a gentleman in the truest sense: a gentle man. And she was right. I think it was one of the most charming things about him.

    Tonight we’re getting on the red-eye to join the rest of the family at Sharon’s house in Weston, Florida. Then on Friday we’re driving across Alligator Alley to Boca Grande, the town my father retired to in 1989 and adored. We’re going to spread his ashes in the water there, just the way he wanted. We’re even staying in the condo complex where he lived. The fact that we’re doing exactly what he would have liked makes me feel better than I have in two years.

     

    Hospiceish—Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    I am so proud of my dad for dying, now that I know how hard he had to work at it. Most of the time I feel like I have an emotional flu; I am afflicted with fevered thoughts about how I’ll never hear his high, light voice again or how much he suffered or how sad it is that he won’t get to see any of his granddaughters go to college. But then a bright, shiny thought will pop up—he did it! He managed to die even though the entire medical and legal establishment seemed to band together to prevent it. Good for him.
     
    My dad was a hospice patient, but his doctors refused to stop treating him. I can’t even tell you how long he’s been DNR. Four years? He even drew up multiple papers to make absolutely sure they wouldn’t resuscitate him if he began to fail. When he was offered the option of entering hospice, he was positively cheered up by the possibility that it signaled he was close to the end. And indeed, when his MRSA staph flared up, his doctors suspended antibiotics. His knee, which was the site of the infection, was bigger than his head. But his body kept fighting. One day his knee drained, and he survived the crisis. He is a medical miracle; he conquered MRSA staph without antibiotics. One of his doctors said she was seriously considering writing up his case.
     
    Breaking his ankle had put him in a wheelchair, then bed—permanently. MRSA staph had failed to take his life. So he begged the nurses for more morphine. And indeed, they stepped up his dose. Then they stepped it up again. At one point one of the nurses told me that he was taking four times the level it takes to kill a normal person, but he had built up such a tolerance that it was only addressing his pain. But they wouldn’t increase it enough to depress his cardiopulmonary system, even though that seems to be the accepted, if unacknowledged, practice in such cases.
     
    Then he got pneumonia. This looked perversely promising. But they gave him antibiotics. Sharon said to the nurses, “Why are you treating his pneumonia? He’s a hospice patient. He doesn’t want to be treated any longer.” They were shocked as hell. I think that after watching the three of us daughters come and go over the years they concluded we were raised by wolves. Really feral ones, who eat their own. The nurse explained to Sharon that they consider antibiotics and oxygen for pneumonia to be palliative care. I would say that by the time my dad stopped drinking water it was because he had figured out it was his last option, but he was non compos mentis by then.
     
    After he died, I spoke to his best friend Vicki. She said, “I could never figure out why they didn’t just send him off on the pink cloud.” She was referring to morphine. “That’s what they did for my brother. That’s what they do for everybody, don’t they? But then, he was in a Catholic nursing home.” And my entire constitution went, Whaaaat? Vicki said, “Oh, you didn’t realize that? I could never understand what he was doing in one of those places but I didn’t want to say anything.”
     
    I have to tell you, my dad lived in that nursing home on and off for nearly three years, and never once did I see anything to indicate its affiliation. But it certainly explains a thing or two. A person would really have to work to get out of there, one way or another. And if there’s one thing you can say for my dad, he had an amazing work ethic.

     

    Gone. Gone.—Monday, February 11, 2008

    Here’s how you will know that someone who has long been dying is actually going to die: they will stop drinking water.
     
    I didn’t know this all the times I flew down on a few hours’ notice to say farewell to my father a year and a half ago. What I knew back then is that he had MRSA staph, which is the kind of staph that is resistant to antibiotics. And I knew that the hospice people and his doctors thought he had only a day or two to live. But if I had known about the water, I would not have flown all night in tears desperately afraid that he would die before I reached him. Because he was still drinking water and eating three meals a day then, plus dessert. He had more time left.
     
    What happened at the true end of my dad’s life is that his body sank into itself. My father’s cousin went to visit him and he was so changed that the only thing she recognized was his big ears—the big ears that all the Losee men have. That’s how she knew it was him. Plus he had a rare moment of clarity and spoke, and he seemed to recognize her and her husband. That was a week ago.
     
    Then on Friday the hospice people told my sisters that we should all fly down to say good-bye to our father; that he was close to the end. We’d heard this many times before, but we tried to take it seriously. One of my sisters replied, “We’ve all said our good-byes when our father was still himself, and we’re all at peace with his death. We won’t be flying down.” So of course the nurse thought we were a bunch of barbarians. But I think watching people watch their father die over the course of years is very different from actually watching your own father die for years—they just don’t realize it.
     
    On Sunday the hospice people called Sharon and asked her to come over, even though she had just been there the day before. At first she was considering not going, because she had a complicated day ahead of her, helping her failing mother-in-law. But then she went. Dad looked the same as he had on Friday, and she asked a nurse why she had been told to rush in. “Oh,” said the nurse. “There is something different. Your father hasn’t had anything to drink in two days.”
     
    Sharon started to cry. My father is violently opposed to everything having to do with organized religion, but Sharon felt like there needed to be some kind of ritual. She called my sister Sandy. Would Sandy mind if Sharon called in a chaplain? Sandy said of course not, do what feels right to you. So the chaplain came and Sharon and the chaplain said prayers together, outside of Dad’s room where he wouldn’t be able to hear. The chaplain said verses Sharon recognized, and she felt comforted. Then she left, and an hour later Dad died.
     
    When the hospice nurse called Sharon to tell her the news that our father was gone, Sharon was out to dinner and couldn’t hear her cell phone. So the nurse called me. I was sitting in a café in Mill Valley, working on my new book proposal and drinking peach tea. I was killing time until I had to pick Olivia up at her horseback-riding lesson nearby. I didn’t recognize the number, so for a half-second I considered letting the call go to voicemail. But since the call was coming from Florida, I had a funny feeling and I answered. The hospice nurse said my father had “passed,” and I was so shocked to hear the words that I didn’t ask her a single question beyond whether she had reached my sisters. She said she hadn’t, and I said I would call them, and I thanked her for the call, and she hung up.
     
    I looked out the window of the café, and had two thoughts. The first was that my father wasn’t here anymore, and I actually had a visual of his soul sweeping up and away from here, gone. I felt crushed and elated at the same time, also cold, and painfully by myself. My second thought was that Sharon wouldn’t have to shoulder this entire burden alone any longer, and I was relieved for her.
     
    Then I called Tom.

     

    That Goodnight Was Tonight—Sunday, February 10, 2008

    My dad died tonight. He was 69 years old.
     
    Everyone wishes that they could have their loved ones back for just one minute after they are gone so that they could say good-bye or say I love you. But I said I love you every time my father and I spoke and I said good-bye every time he and I thought he was about to die. Instead, I wish I could have my dad back for just one minute so I could tell him not to worry, he would indeed die before his 70th birthday, as he predicted and wished for at least a decade. It would have made him feel so much better.
     
    My father wanted to die for much longer than he had actually been dying. You could say he’d been dying for 18 months, which is when methicillin-resistant staph nearly killed him and he ended up a hospice patient for the first time. Or you could say he’d been dying for three years, which is when he badly broke his ankle and ended up bedridden—the tipping point of his declining health. Or you could say he’d been dying for almost exactly six years to the day—February 9, 2002—that his adored father, my grandfather, died and left him alone in their town on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Which is when I would peg it to. My father lasted six years and a day longer than his father. He grieved every one of those days.
     
    I think my mother, if I were to ask her, would say—understandably—that my father had been dying since 1977. That was the year he first felt the shooting pain down his right leg, the beginning of the end. He had arthritis in his spine and it impinged on his nerves, creating problems. None of those problems should have caused him to die at 69. But he didn’t really want to live once he knew he’d have to live with chronic pain. First he drank and abused prescription drugs to kill the pain. But later I realized he was drinking and taking so many drugs to kill himself. He just wasn’t the sort who could face such an act overtly—to take enough pills at once to end it all. He was a gun enthusiast who kept a loaded .38 in his car at all times, but he wasn’t the sort to put it to his head. He did talk about it, though—sometimes daily. “I’m going to put that gun to my head and pull the trigger,” he’d whisper. I never knew what to say. Once in a while I would burst into tears, it was so hard to hear. Other times I wished he would just do it and stop torturing me. If he was crying out for help, what more could I do?
     
    Here’s what I did. For nearly 20 years, after he sat my sisters and me down and apologized for the kind of father he had been during our childhood, I tried to be the best daughter I could imagine being. I visited him four times a year. I called him almost every day. I asked him questions about my childhood and his life and wrote down the answers. I recorded his voice on my answering machine. I gave him creative gifts that were inspired by his love of the military, even though I couldn’t relate to that love. I took him with us on vacation in Vancouver and pushed him all over Gastown in a wheelchair I borrowed from the hotel when he wasn’t ready to admit he couldn’t walk. I gave him a son-in-law he approved of. I made him a grandfather three times over. I cooked meals for him with lots of meat and garlic the way he liked them and forced him to eat a healthy breakfast the next morning. I wrote about how wonderful it was to have a dad who could beat up your dad. I learned from his mistakes, I told him what I'd learned, and he thanked me for seeing him clearly and making something good from the things he wished he had done differently.
     
    And I made him proud. I know that because he told me every chance he got.

     

     

     

New, or Practically New

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  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.