"He's Up There, Playing His Music"

I suppose it's time I finally publish the post I've been struggling to write. I honestly wanted to write this post weeks ago in the immediate aftermath, but I had tremendous difficulty sorting through the myriad of emotions enough to clearly and succinctly separate them. Tonight, I stayed up way past my bedtime, which coincidentally is when my writing juices typically start flowing.

I lost my Daddy on Tuesday, October 30, 2018.

I mentioned my Dad only a few times on my blog- in Life with 5 Dads, The Longest Day, and most recently was just over a year ago when I mentioned my motivation for trying the Whole30 because of my Dad's scary and traumatic health issues. I haven't talked about him much here, or truthfully in my real life either. I've dealt with some difficult things in my young life, but watching my Daddy die slowly and painfully over several years is by far the thing that has hurt the most. I've held him close to my heart, because it was too painful and vulnerable to share, even with those I love.

I adored my Dad. Even after he became disabled from a massive stroke 20 years ago, we shared a connectedness and kindred spiritedness that's hard to put into words. I am 100% my father's child in both looks and personality.

I have a tendency to put him on a pedestal and I have to remind myself that he was a flawed human being. But the truth is, I admire so much about my Dad. He worked professionally as a carpenter. It's something I've never had the patience or skill for, but the smell of sawdust is the most comforting, familiar smell in the world to me. My Dad was sarcastic as hell. He was witty and smart, and always had a sassy comment or comeback for everyone. Above all else, he was a beautiful musician. He was a singer, a guitar player, and a gifted songwriter (is it any wonder where I get my love of writing?). My fondest childhood memories are of him playing silly songs for us on his guitar while my sister and I erupted into fits of giggles. He never made it big, but he did open for a few big-name bands back in his day and was a tremendously gifted performer. His talent led him to become a bit of a music snob. Unfortunately, I inherited the musical snobbery, and none of the talent.

My Dad understood me. Which is something I've learned in my short 30 years that is rare. There are few people in a person's life who will truly understand them deep down to their soul. My Dad did. Which is why I think his fate was so painful for me. Not only did I "lose" my Dad in a sense at the age of 10 when he became disabled. But I then had to spend 20 years watching this man whom I so loved and adored deteriorate. My Dad died a horrifically slow and painful death and I will never be able to make sense of it.

His diabetes was responsible for most of his health issues. Back in 2017, among other ailments, he contracted gangrene which would lead to him having both of his legs amputated. Up until that point, he had been in assisted living with the help of home healthcare aides. Upon his hospitalization, it was determined that he could no longer live independently and he was released to a nursing home. I am thankful that my sister was able to locate a high-quality facility that provided him the best care in his last days (I still need to write them a thank you note). Once he moved into his nursing home, we knew it was only a matter of time.

Because she lived closer and served as his primary healthcare proxy, my sister would receive periodic phone calls from his nurses about his condition as it worsened. But a few weeks ago they informed her that due to a respiratory infection, he had become unresponsive. With our permission, they were removing him from all medications and were switching to "comfort care" which was essentially a steady diet of morphine to ease his pain. We didn't know how long it would take for him to pass, but my sister spoke to the nurses regularly to get updates (or lack thereof) on his condition.

On Tuesday morning around 10:00 am, Kelly asked the nurses what I should do since I live out-of-state. Never once had they given us any kind of timeline, but that morning they told us that if I wanted to say goodbye, I should hurry. I let my team know what was going on and promptly left work. I drove home, threw a random assortment of clean clothes in a backpack and hit the road. I drove 9.5 hours straight (the last half hour my phone had died and I got lost trying to navigate to his nursing home in pitch black with no GPS). Visiting hours ended at 8:00 PM, but they said they would let me in whenever I arrived.

I exited my car into the frigid air of Upstate New York and rang the doorbell outside the locked, automatic doors. An employee let me in, escorted me to his room and brought me a chair to place beside his bed. He was completely unresponsive, save for his steady, ragged breaths. I sat, holding his hand in silence for some time, just taking in the sight of my dying Daddy before I realized that he needed to hear my voice. I hugged him and kissed his cheek and told him how much I loved him. A skeptic would say that he was unconscious and had no way of knowing I was even there. But as his eyes imperceptibly flickered as I spoke, I knew he felt my presence. I think I stayed a total of a half hour before I said my "see you later." I waited for the employee to escort me back out of the building and I got back in my car to drive two more hours to my sister's apartment.

It was after 11:00 PM and after spending an entire day driving, I was concerned about falling asleep behind the wheel. I called Chuck to keep me company and he was the one to read my sister's text that she got the call- he had passed. She hadn't wanted to tell me while I was driving. I began to cry, not out of sadness. I cried because it had been a mere hour since I left him. And I knew that he had waited all day for me to arrive. He had waited for me to say goodbye. My Dad left his earthly body knowing how loved he was by his daughters, and knowing that we knew how much he loved us.

The days after were filled with logistics. My sister and I returned to the nursing home to gather what little belongings were left after we moved him from his apartment a year ago. Kelly found a local funeral home and made the arrangements to have him cremated. His will stipulated that half his ashes were to be sprinkled over his mother's grave, while the other half were to be given to his best friend in California (the homeland) to be sprinkled in the Pacific Ocean. We drove to the cemetery where our grandma is buried and blindly located her headstone. When the time came for a "ceremony," both Kelly and I were at a loss for words. I had the idea to play Blackbird by The Beatles as we shared in a moment of prayerful silence. We laughed as the YouTube video I selected blasted an obnoxious advertisement at the start of the song, and knelt beside each other, tears streaming down our faces as Paul McCartney sang the words that seemed to supernaturally and so poetically describe my Dad's release from his "broken wings."

It's now been a few weeks and I've gone through seemingly all of the stages of grief- denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. The minutiae of my everyday life hasn't changed since his passing, so 95% of the time, I'm doing well. I'm not dwelling on it and I feel peace that he's finally free. And then I'll see a picture of us together, and the grief physically hurts. I have to remind myself that while my Dad was alive, our connection was severed by his disability. Now, I know he's always with me and as a friend of his so aptly stated, he's "up there, playing his music."

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