On birthdays and remembering

Today would have been my dad’s 75th birthday – here he is on his 73rd. He fully planned to live to be at least 100 and told us so all the time. There were a lot of things, I guess, that he still wanted to do.

This is probably the only pic I have of my dad sitting in front of a birthday cake, and it’s a sad one for me to look at. He looks so frail and sick; I wish I couldn’t see his catheter for dialysis poking out of the collar of his shirt. We’re standing around him there in the darkness, watching him make his wish before blowing out the candles. I wonder what he wished for on his last birthday.

I’m still at the point where I can’t think of my dad without thinking of the burdens of sickness he faced during the last months of his life. I want to be done with this part of remembering. His life was not about being sick and dying – I want to be able to think of all the rest.

I hardly remember my dad ever being sick; until the hospital got a hold of him. We brought him in because his feet and lower legs were swollen and full of sores. The doctors kept talking about cancer and kidney failure and heart problems. All my dad wanted was for the doctors to fix his feet! He told them so and refused most of the tests they wanted.

He was doing pretty well when I first brought him home with me, even though the swelling in his feet and legs never much improved. Within a month he was sick and back in the hospital and on dialysis. Dialysis, at least, took away the swelling, but made him so weak. He refused any treatment for the cancer; always said he wanted to wait until he was stronger. Only, he never got stronger, just weaker and more frail. Then he got shingles, lost his appetite, stopped being himself.

My friend Debbie lost her father early this year. She used to see my dad on his dialysis days when she was at the hospital visiting her own dad. She often told me how good he looked and that she always saw him smiling and concerned with others. That was his way.

There are some happy memories from that time: the way my dog Buddy would greet my dad each morning, tail wagging, when I went in to wake him and my dad’s greeting to us, “There’s the sunshine”; driving from my brother’s to my house with my dad on Thursday nights and passing the horse farms and the one field planted with giant sunflowers; my dad calling the bus that brought him to dialysis the “scat-wagon” (SCAT stands for senior citizen activity transportation); the pretty flowered finger bowl my dad insisted on having his meds served in, otherwise he might not take them; packing a lunch bag on dialysis days with anything my dad might eat, even if it was on the *prohibited* list – sometimes I would add a little love note or a chocolate for him to find.

This is the type of remembering I ought to be doing – it makes me smile to think of these things. My friend Debbie, with the loss of her dad, is a few steps behind me. She is marking the milestones of the first year without her dad. It’s so very hard for her, I know. I am anxious to see her get to where she can remember her dad with a smile, rather than tears; but I am hardly there myself.

13 thoughts on “On birthdays and remembering”

  1. Sigh…so much of this post I can empathize with. But my Dad got sick and was gone a month later.
    It is maybe a bit trite to say “it gets better”, but it’s also true. With me, the first full year was the worst, with all the holidays, his birthday.
    But remembering all the good and the bad keeps them with us, don’t you think?

  2. Remembering the good things can sometimes make it seem like those who have passed on are only just around the corner.

    As they are.

    Peace to you, and to your father in the pain-free, illness-free place where he resides now. We all end up in the same place eventually, so it’s not like the separation is forever. It only seems like that sometimes.

  3. thanks laura. i know that you really understand. you are such a good friend. so on the mark. so thoughtful. i love reading your blog. so quiet but so deep..i love that you express yourslf like this.what a peaceful place.

    love debbie

  4. I think the best tribute we can pay to someone we loved is to keep them in our hearts and memories. Wherever he is now, I’m sure your dad is smiling.

  5. I lost my dad when he was 73, as well. That was fourteen years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him in some way. The pain and grief diminishes over time, but that love stays forever.

  6. Happy Birthday to your dad, Laura! Too bad he didn’t make to 100 like he wanted, but I deeply believe he was set free from all that pain and medical intervention. I have yet to cross that bridge, but it occurs to me more often now that the time will come, as it comes to us all. Your thoughtful and loving words are a beacon.

  7. I’m always moved by your posts about your dad. It’s sad you’ve lost him, but you’re lucky to have the love and fondness you feel. Not everyone had such a great relationship with their parents.

    To echo Laura, the love you and your family share for your dad may be what keeps his spitit alive.

  8. Laura — July 22nd was my Dad’s birthday too. He died seven years ago, a few months after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. I guess we were lucky in that he had about 4 or 5 good months after diagnosis and surgery before he became very ill again. He wanted to remain at home, so that’s what we did, although it was very difficult to manage towards the end. There are still times when it makes me very sad to think about the last couple of months. However, yes, Robin spoke well when she said, “The pain and grief diminishes over time, but that love stays forever.” How very true.

  9. Thanks, Bev.

    My dad wasn’t able to live in his own home alone, so my one brother and I *shared* him each week, according to our work schedules and his dialysis days. It worked out much better than we could have hoped, I think.

    My dad knew, or decided, that the end was near and chose to go to the hospital’s hospice unit at the last. His was a gentle passing, I think. We played Frank Sinatra music for him, drank coffee, laughed some, watched the sun rise over the ocean as he began his journey. It was right.

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