The Hard Stuff
September 1, 2010, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My dad was 44 when I was born. I am his 2nd child, my brother being 13 years my senior. Having an older dad was hard as a kid, but I think it’s harder as an adult.

We butted heads through my teens. It was a mix of he and I having the same stubborn personality, the fact that I was an asshole teenager, and the fact that he had zero patience, understanding or respect for me. It was frustrating, and I don’t know if we’ll ever have the kind of close father-daughter relationship I see my friends have. That was hard. That is still hard, even though we no longer scream at each other over the dinner table.

My dad is 68 now. I am 24.

Five years ago this summer, my father was in the hospital for 6 weeks. It started one afternoon, while I was at work. He took a stumble, as my mother put it, and scraped up his knees. Shortly before that, he was a real dick to my mom, completely out of character.

Later that night, he lost the ability to speak, altogether.

He didn’t speak for a week, and my mom tried to pretend like it was okay.

It wasn’t okay, not even a little bit. I tried to argue with her about it, that that’s not normal. It’s not okay. He stumbled, he had a personality change, and he stopped speaking. I escaped the crazy by working at the fish market constantly, and sitting in the living rooms of my friends.

I was 19. It was hard.

The day I decided that I was going to call my brother and tell him what was wrong, and that they weren’t doing anything about it, and ask him to play the Big Brother card and make them come to their senses and take Dad to the hospital, my mom called and left a message on my phone at work saying that she was taking him to the hospital.

That was the first time I cried, but it wasn’t the  last.

There was something very wrong, but it took them a while to figure out what it was. First, they thought he lost the ability to speak because he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his head because of a GI bleed. They did a full endoscopic test on his GI, and didn’t find any bleeds, but they did find cancer, in his colon.

The day my mom told me that was June 29, 2005. It was their 21st wedding anniversary. My friend Jerri and I took her to dinner at the Catholic Bar, where a lot of people from our church would gather. The owner, a fellow parishioner, sat and listened to our tale of woe, gave us free french fries and my mom a beer, and offered her prayers. I hugged my mom that night as she cried, and I didn’t know what to say. How do you know what to say to that?

I was only 19.

They found the cancer, but they hadn’t figured out why my dad couldn’t speak. It was coming back, though.

They operated on him the next night, and took out 15 cm of his colon, and also all of the cancer. That night, my mom crawled into his hospital bed with him, waiting for him to be taken into surgery. I stayed at home.

While on the operating table, he suffered 2 strokes. They discovered (decided?) that what caused all the problems to begin with was a stroke. His stroke count was up to 3. They were minor, but they again affected his speech, and also the right side of his body.

Because of all the anti-stroke drugs they put him on, he had a hard time recovering from the surgery. Because he had a hard time recovering from the surgery, he had a hard time recovering from the strokes. I visited him infrequently, because it was hard. I was only 19. My friend Jerri and I went to visit him, and found him in the physical therapy room, doing some sort of exercise. He had lost a lot of weight, was pale and drawn. It was scary. As we were leaving, I blacked out for a few seconds and fell to the ground. Luckily nobody medical noticed. It was the first time I’d ever done that, and I’m fairly certain it’s because I stopped breathing while I was there.

I was only 19. My dad was in the hospital after having 3 strokes, major surgery and cancer.

While this was all going on, my Grandma took to calling every day. No one remembers if it was my dad or my aunt who decided she wasn’t to be told, but there was a decision made by the grown-ups that it would just worry her. After three weeks of her calling every day, and me having to lie to my dear, sweet, sainted grandmother about why her son couldn’t come to the phone, my brother and I made an executive decision to ignore the grownups and tell her the truth. That was hard, but not nearly as hard as lying to her, knowing that she knew I was lying. My father is not the kind of son who ignores his mother for 3 weeks, and we both knew that.

My mom spent all her time not at work at the hospital. I spent all my time selling fish to wealthy people, trying to pretend that this wasn’t my first college summer. I cried to my boyfriend over the phone, and he tried his best. But he was only 19, and his parents weren’t in their 60’s. He couldn’t understand.

While this was happening, everything else fell apart, mechanically speaking. The dryer stopped working. The hot water heater stopped working. The windows in the car got stuck in the down position, in the summer. We didn’t have the money to fix these things, nor the time to figure it out ourselves. I spent a lot of time sitting with my dog, Bandit, the most loyal and loving dog. She lay next to me, letting me pet her as I cried. She understood.

When my dad finally came home, it was even harder. He couldn’t do anything, and it made him so angry. He would yell at my mom, and she would yell back, and I would escape to other people’s houses without telling them where I was going. I was 19, after all. He sat in the kitchen, as my mother’s kind hair dresser came to give him a hair cut and trim his beard. She refused to take any payment, and I haven’t ever seen my parents so embarrassed. Her actions were kind, but also a little cruel.

The first weekend he was home, my boyfriend came to visit. The plan was that he was going to drive out Friday morning. Thursday night, I called him, only to find out that he was sitting in the emergency room because he had totaled the car by driving through a red light. He had no way of coming out. It looked like the trip was canceled. I cried, because nothing was working out. I needed him with me, and he drove his car right into someone else’s. I should have been grateful that no one was hurt. But I needed something to work that summer. His best friend canceled his plans for the weekend to drive him out, instead. He canceled a date with a hot girl and gave up his work hours, so that I could have a few days of normalcy. We took my cousin to Hershey Park, and while we were flying on the rollercoasters, I tried to pretend like they could fly me away from everything at home. I have never been so grateful to him as I was that weekend, for giving me the touchstone I needed then, and have come to rely on every year after.

The next week, my father started having visiting nurses come to take care of his wound from the surgery, the one that wasn’t healing. My mom went back to work. I was going back to college in a few weeks, an escape I needed. He thought it was a good idea to take off his bandage himself in the shower, before the nurse arrived. I don’t know what possessed him to do that, but he bled all over the bathroom. The bathtub, the floor. I have never seen so much blood. I got up that morning to go to the bathroom and shower before meeting my childhood best friend for breakfast. I was late for that breakfast, but I never screamed when I saw that much blood. I believe it was more of an exhale. My parents oddly have carpet in their bathroom, and I vowed then to never follow that trend, as I knelt on the floor in my pajamas trying to scrub the blood out of the carpet. I knew that if I let it set, my parents would have blood stains in their carpet forever, and that was not something I wanted to haunt my mother. I grew up as I cleaned the bathroom. I set my teeth, and I did what I had to. When the nurse arrived she gave me some tips to lift the blood. I will never forget that morning.

I left to go back to college. It was a breath of fresh air to not be in that house, to not be the 19 year old daughter of a sick, 63 year old man.

A few weeks into college, my dad had another stroke. A minor one, but this time, my mom took him to the hospital right away. He hasn’t had another. You wouldn’t know he had any strokes by looking at him. He has some weakness on the right side, but only he knows it. He has a hard time recalling words, but you only know that if you knew how precise he was with his language before the stroke. He is weakened. He is stronger than he was 5 years ago, though.

A few weeks after that, I got a call from my mom after an organic chemistry exam saying that my dog was dead. The dog I had had since I was 11, the dog who chose me in the animal rescue league, the dog who didn’t need to be trained because she was already perfect. My dad had taken her for a walk in the park, and as he got her out of the car, something happened. Either she darted into the street, something she never did, because she was perfect, or someone swerved into the shoulder of the road and hit her. It was the capstone of an awful summer, an awful  year.

I was only 19. My dad was 63, and had had 4 strokes, cancer, major surgery, and a wound that wouldn’t heal until the next spring. He got the hiccups for weeks. My dog was dead. My boyfriend, who has since become my fiance, totaled his car and barely avoided disaster himself. It was an awful year.

I have never been so humbled as I was that year, and I hope never to again. I learned how it felt to close my eyes in the face of an unrelenting storm, to breathe through it and hope we all would come out the other side in one piece. I learned how to kneel and pray my way through a blood soaked bathroom. I learned at an early age how hard old age is. I learned how perfect my life had been, how blessed I have always been, and how blessed I would continue to be. My dog may not have made it through that year, but my dad did. My family did.

This year, I am getting married. The one thing I have worried the most about, and prayed the hardest over, is my father walking me down the aisle. He has had some scary medical emergencies since 2005, one involving bad interactions in his drugs that caused his blood pressure to drop very very low, and one where he caught pneumonia and almost died. I have learned to dread late night phone calls. I dread getting one between now and October 23. I dread not having him at wedding, not having him walk me down the aisle.

We might not have the strongest or closest relationship. But I want him in my life. I want him at my wedding, at my side. But I learned from 2005 that events are not in our control, and if that is something I have to give up, I will have to close my eyes and let the pain wash over me, and walk myself down the aisle. It will be okay.

I worry so about this, anyway.

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4 Comments so far
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Hugs to you. Your post made me get all weepy and Teary and I’m sorry you had to go through that.
You are stronger than you know. Hold your wish close to your heart and set the intention that your father WILL walk you down the aisle to your new life. And it will be AWESOME!

Comment by Dina

I worried too. I got married last fall & I was worried about my dad. He has a neurological condition that makes it hard for him to walk. It frustrates him & is so hard to watch, knowing how much he’s hurting. I’ve been there too…cleaning up, panicking when the phone rings, worried that he’ll fall and seriously hurt himself. He walks slowly with a cane and he doesn’t like to walk in front of people…so I’m sure walking me down the aisle wasn’t something he was looking forward to. It was something I thought about before I was even engaged…of course I wanted him to, but I knew how uncomfortable he would be…and I didn’t want that at all. So, I didn’t know what to do & I didn’t want to talk about it. My dad decided for me though…he stayed about halfway up the aisle and I met him there…he walked me the rest of the way. He decided to do it & practiced at his therapy sessions…we even practiced together in our church. It meant a lot that he did that for me. I still panic when I get late calls & I still worry constantly, but it was one thing we got through.

So, all of that to say that it will work out. I know how hard it is to stop worrying, so I won’t tell you to do that. I will say some prayers for you though leading up to your big day!

Comment by JP

oh hon. I have been there. He will be there, with bells on. You must not think any other way.

Someday I will tell you all about my dad. Ever see Big Fish?

Comment by TwinMamaTeb

[…] do. What’s strange is I’m feeling this a lot more intensely than I remember feeling my dad’s illness 6 years ago. Perhaps I have blocked that out; perhaps I was blocking it out when it was happening. Perhaps it […]

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