This is probably the hardest post I've ever tried to write. It's been a jam-packed summer, full of fun activities, travel, family, and good friends. It's also been a time of loss and sorrow. Last month, on August 14th at 2:45 pm, my dad let go of his long, 20-plus year battle with prostate cancer. He was a strong and valient warrior for sure. He did not let go easily, although in the end he was able to go quietly and peacefully. A tender mercy.
To back up, the summer had consisted of a road trip with old friends (see previous post) to Seattle and Victoria. During that week, my dad's one remaining sibling, Uncle Nick, passed away. That was a hard day for Dad, I think. It meant he was the last man standing of his siblings.
A month later, and L and I were off again on a cruise with his family to Alaska. Both of these trips had been planned a year in advance, and although I had misgivings about going at this particular time due to Dad's failing health, he encouraged me to go and do. The cruise was so much fun - I really enjoy L's siblings - and we were able to see why people love living in Alaska.
A few weeks after the Alaska trip, we had scheduled a four day visit to NYC to meet our newest grandson, Lincoln. Again, I was worried about going, but plans were already set, so off we went. We met and bonded with our little bean Lincoln and had some fun in NYC. Thanks to Tim and Autumn for being such great hosts - and to Lincoln for putting up with many hugs and kisses.
Now THAT is a place where you can get some really amazing gluten-free and vegan food, and I was newly encouraged to learn to cook a new way. There's an amazing restaurant on the Upper West Side called the Candle Cafe. If you're ever there, DO stop in. You would never know you were eating vegan food, it's that good. Bare Burger is another. Yes, my friends, there is still a delicious life after being sentenced to a gluten/dairy/egg-free diet.
We returned home, and Dad had started to decline even more. Lots of sleeping, more mental confusion, lots of frustration. Mom was having a hard time managing, but it was hard for her to want to accept/pay for the help she needed. At one point, they both decided that they didn't need the caregivers for so many hours, and they stopped having someone there overnight. I think that lasted for 2 nights before Mom realized she just couldn't do it alone. She is tiny, and couldn't have handled Dad if he fell getting up, and by that time he was a serious fall risk. She couldn't sleep well always listening for him to need to get up, and so her own health was declining. All of us siblings tag teamed her and got her to agree that she needed the help, even though it was unpleasant to have to pay for it. L was the most instrumental in talking to her - he is really good with her. So patient! There were points in time where I'd have to just walk out of the room to keep from shaking her in frustration. I know - that sounds terrible - but she has what my sibs and I call the "Miller Stubborn Gene." Or - she gets in the "Miller Mood." Whatever you call it, it's a trial for anyone trying to deal with it. I've seen it with my aunt (her sister) as I've cared for her these past 4 years. I was HOPING it would be different with my mom, but it's not, darn it. So L, with his infinite patience, deals with her best in the most loving way you could imagine. And she adores him. Win/win.
The middle of August came, and Katie and her family had moved back to California - WOOT! I had scheduled a week to drive up (about an hour and a half - two hours away) and help her get her house in order, and have some fun with the kids. Again, GRAVE misgivings about going, as Dad had noticeably declined. He was on morphine and another painkiller (the name eludes me now) so he slept almost constantly, and wasn't really eating much. The hospice nurse had talked about the end coming at any time, although at times he was completely alert and functioning, and would actually eat and drink something. Mom encouraged me to go, as Katie really needed the help, and there wasn't really anything I could do for Dad at that point. So off I went on Monday, August 10th. The drive up was beautiful, and I was so happy to see the beautiful new area where she is living. One of my favorite areas of California - one I wouldn't mind moving up to one day. We unpacked, purged, tidied, and played. I was just starting to feel like we'd really made progress, and one more day would really do it. This was on Thursday the 13th. We'd given ourselves the afternoon off to go over to the big neighborhood pool with the kids. Gorgeous day, and the girls made a couple of good friends who ended up being in their school classes. Dresden just ran around throwing toys in the pool. (He's happiest when he's throwing something. Anything.)
And that's when I got the text that Dad had slipped into a coma and wasn't expected to last the night. I lost it. I started to cry, and Katie, bless her heart, just rushed me back to the house, packed me up, and sent me flying south on the 101 freeway toward home. I hated to leave her and the kids, but I don't think I could have borne it if I had not gotten home to see Dad one last time. I prayed all the way home that I would get there in time. I stopped off long enough at home to pick up L, and we flew down to the beach where my family had all gathered. They didn't know I was coming, so they looked a bit surprised when I rushed in. Dad was still there, but not conscious. So I just held his hand, and talked softly to him, and told him how much I loved him, and that it was okay to go, and that we'd take care of Mom. And he just hung on... Thinking he might be more at peace if we weren't all in the room distracting him from being called away, we all left one by one. Except Mom. Hard to leave her alone, but she seemed pretty stoic, and Geoffrey the caregiver was there for the night.
The next morning (August 14 - coincidentally my Grandmother's birthday) he was still hanging on. I got dressed and made my sad way down to hold vigil. One of my brothers kept insisting that we stay out of Dad's room so he would feel more free to let go. My mother seemed to agree so I had to abide by that. But I couldn't bear to think of him all alone, so I sat on the stairs right outside the room and listened to him breathe. And every once in a while I'd sneak in and hold his hand so he'd know we were there with him, supporting his transition. I had just walked away from him and was talking to another brother in the living room, when my mom came in looking noticeably stressed. She said to the two of us "You might want to come in now." Brent and I walked up to Dad's bedside with Mom, and watched him take two last breaths. And... he was gone. Just that quietly. Just that peacefully. I stroked his hair, and whispered that I loved him. We had Mom sit down and just hold his hand while we went into the kitchen and got Chris. He called the hospice nurse to come and make it all official so we could call the mortuary, and we also called my Mom's good friends to come over and give her some support and much needed love and hugs. It was such a surreal series of events.
Eventually, the mortuary came and took Dad. My sister in law came over and asked if we wanted to see Dad before they took him away. I declined but I also went and got Mom, who was starting to watch them transition Dad from the bed to the body bag. She didn't need to watch that so I took her out. Right after they drove off, I had a moment of panic, realizing that I'd just seen the last of him. We weren't going to have any kind of viewing, so my last stroke of the hair, and my head on his chest had been it. I regretted not wanting to see him one last time. But now I'm glad I didn't because now my memories are of him alive and well and alert.
Mom didn't want anyone spending the night with her, and she didn't want to come to anyone's house for the night. Truth to tell, she was exhausted, and she had a busy few days ahead of her. We all did. My tasks were to contact friends and family and to write and place the obituaries. I was touched at the outpouring of love from all I contacted - especially from old friends I hadn't talked to in years, and my cousin (daughter of one of my dad's sisters) in Utah. She helped spread the word to family members I wouldn't have had any idea of how to contact, and she wrote me the most beautiful email telling me how much my dad had meant to her. It was lovely to read.
Dad had kind of an unusual story: he was one of a set of twins born to a couple in Utah in1930. They were the last siblings born into that family, as his mother died the next day, leaving her husband (a sheepherder) with newborn twins plus 7 other siblings ranging from age 15 to toddler age. My grandfather wasn't even remotely prepared to deal with all of that, so he asked his best friends, who lived around the corner, to take the twins until he could get on his feet. Fast forward about two years, and the friends still had the twins. They approached my grandfather and told him he either needed to take over their care, or they would be happy to take them on a permanent basis (they had never been able to have surviving children of their own.) My grandfather told them to make it a permanent arrangement, as he wasn't able to properly care for them on his own. What an act of selfless love! What a wonderful opportunity for the people who were the only active father and mother that my dad and his twin brother knew. And what an opportunity for two little boys who would never have had the advantages they did growing up without these two parents providing for their needs. As you can imagine, however, it did cause a bit of emotional conflict for my dad, growing up with one set of parents and his twin, yet having his biological father just around the corner, plus siblings who seemed more like cousins. It's an unusual story, and my dad was an unusual man. Rocket science intelligent, handsome, and quirky. As a teenager, "quirky" isn't a quality you appreciate in your dad, but I have treasured that quality as I've grown older. Sometimes we'd all just shake our heads as we walked away, but we've also gotten a lot of mileage out of "dad stories" and our family lore is richer because of my dad and his quirkiness.
Dad was always there for every big event, every milestone. Kids and grandkids alike.
Even great grandkids' events, such as births and baptisms did not go unnoticed. Dad was proud of his family, and he especially loved babies and small children. Yes, he was a famous baby lover.
The service we had for him was beautiful. I know Dad must have loved it. So many friends and family gathered in his honor, so many wonderful stories told. And the music... don't get me started. The closing song was "Nearer My God To Thee." It started with just a violin playing through the first verse. Then the piano joined in. Next the organ came in softly, and then the congregation was invited to sing. I made it through the first verse, and then my emotions overcame me. It was so beautiful, and my heart...my heart just missed him, and I wanted my Daddy just one more time. But I know we will see him again. I know he is always there, right behind me, just around the corner in the next room, watching over us, his family. I feel he will always guide and direct me, and help me. Grief isn't like I imagined it would be. I had thought it would be an overwhelming all-day every-day thing. But it's not. I am fine most of the time. But every so often, at the most random times, something will hit me, and I am awash with tears. I just miss him.
My birthday was on September 7th. My mom gave me a birthday card, and one of those random times hit me. It was the first birthday card I'd ever gotten without his signature on it. I'll never have one again with his signature on it, and I was glad that I'd been crazy enough to save the one I got LAST year that had his signature and a message from him in it. I will treasure that card always. Silly little things like that. But knowing he is out of pain, that his body is released from that horrible cancer, that he is with beloved friends and family (and getting to know that mother he never got to know in his lifetime!) - all of these things make me smile. I like thinking of the three mothers he is now reunited with: his birth mother, his "parent" mother, and my mother's mother/my grandmother, who loved him like her own. As I said, he passed out of this life on her birthday, and I could very well imagine that little lady elbowing her way to the front of the line to meet him as he arrived. THAT made me even laugh a little bit.
So it's been quite a year so far, 2015. In addition to all of the above, we have also been dealing with the relapse of our youngest son, who suffers from mental illness. He suffered a breakdown the day of Dad's funeral, and so L and I dealt with that in addition to everything else. It never rains, but it pours... He is currently in a facility recovering, and should be ready to take the next step to a less restrictive facility sometime next week. He's had a hard time stabilizing this time, but it looks like things are finally coming around. So hard to see him struggling with this yet another time, and harder still to figure out how to help him have greater insight into what he can and cannot handle, what he can, and can NEVER do.
I am grateful for good friends. I am grateful for family. I am grateful for the feelings of unity my dad's passing has had on our remaining family, and especially on me. I want to try harder to stay connected to cousins and those who loved my dad, and who still tell the stories of those of his generation. I want to do better, live better. Have greater patience and unconditional love. And I suppose those are common reactions to the death of someone close to you. Life is precious, and
tenuous. And I don't ever want to look back and feel like I've wasted a day of it. I miss my Dad, but he taught me so many things that will make my life more rich and full. Love your family unconditionally, work hard, never lose your curiosity, never stop learning. Thanks, Dad, for a good life. For being my first love. For being my champion. Until we meet again...