I have often been asked if I am a pessimist or an optimist and my normal response is that I am a pessimistic optimist. How does a person define a pessimistic optimist? In my mind it is person who is happy, but always waiting for the other shoe to drop. This person tries to see the good in everyone, but has seen so many people hurt or taken advantage of that they view everyone is a wary eye. In a nutshell, I am the quintessential pessimistic optimist.
Why do I mention this? Last night I spoke to my mom on the phone. We are both working on dealing with the loss of my dad. It is much more difficult for her as she witnessed his slow decay towards his eventual death. She tried in vain on many occasions to get my father to stop drinking. Near the end, before she found him in the garage, she was having a very difficult time dealing with him as he sat at home and did nothing. Since we live in separate states, she has no immediate family in the area to lean on if she needs help. It was our plan to move her up with us in few years after she retired. This would allow her to be with us and be closer to our daughter. Over the past few months, we have shared our good days and bad days, slowly walking towards our hopeful reconciliation with what my dad did to us and to himself. She called me last night to let me know that her endocrinologist had found two large nodules on her thyroid. This represents the third time that her thyroid has regenerated after surgery and the nuclear shake.
Here is where my pessimistic optimist personality comes into play. On the two earlier occasions when her thyroid was removed, the results were completely benign. In each of the prior occasions, the doctor chose a conservative route in diagnosing and treating the issue. An ultrasound was ordered and then they attempted the kill it with the nuclear shake. After that didn’t work, they surgically removed her thyroid. The optimist says this time will be the same as the last two. The pessimist wonders why the doctor ordered the biopsy before any ultrasound. Also, why did he try a new procedure where alcohol is injected straight into one of the nodules in an attempt to kill it?
The pessimist in me is also starting to wonder how much more of this I can take. It seems that for every step I take forward is promptly followed by a step or two back. I am worried to death about my mom and I can’t do a damn thing about it. In prior years, while my dad may have been drinking, he was also there to take care of her and call me if anything happened. He is now gone and I am left to worry about my mom, now more than ever. She gets her results in 7 business days, so now I wait and worry and fret. I am also pissed at my dad. In a time where my mom really needs him, he is gone. Not only do I miss him, but I know my mom misses right now as well.
On Saturday, I stood on small observation deck at our regional airport. My ten-year old daughter stood beside me, peering down the runway. At the end of the runway, a B-17 named “Nine O Nine” increased power in its four piston engines and began to head down the runway. We watched together as this beautiful plane lumbered down the runway and slowly climbed into the clear blue sky of that crisp autumn afternoon. We stood there for a few moments, watching the plane before heading towards the steps to head down from the deck. My daughter was talking excitedly about the plane she just saw taking off and clutching her small die-cast model of the same plane. Never in a million years did I imagine she would enjoy looking at vintage aircraft and listen to me ramble on about the plane and the crew and missions they flew over Germany over 60 years ago.
As we drove home, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my daughter holding the plane in one hand and looking out the window and up at the sky, almost like she was trying to see the plane all over again. I was great seeing her like this, and it was at that moment I realized that this is probably how my father felt after taking me to my first air show as a kid. For the briefest of moments, I was happy. I almost felt like a normal person again, as this happiness replaced and anger and sadness.
I wish I could say this feeling lasted for a long time. I wish I could say that I was no longer filled with anger at my dad for his selfish behavior that ultimately led to his death. I wish my dad were still here, so I could call him and let my daughter tell him all about the planes she saw and how we watched it take off. But, as of right now, none of these can happen. My dad, who taught me so much in life, but also gave me a love of flying and of history, drank away these opportunities. He left a void in my life that I am having a hard time filling. It seems every step forward I make along this painful journey is promptly followed by one step back. This leaves me treading water and I am getting tired of treading water.
But, for the first time since this ordeal began several months ago, instead of struggling while treading water, I was thrown a life vest. It was unknowingly thrown to me by my wife and daughter. My wife helped by simply insisting that I go see the planes, and my daughter helped by simply wanting to come with me. It was the two of them, by these smallest of gestures or actions, which buoyed my spirits and let me know that while this disease is horrible and it will take a long time for me to come to terms with loss of my father, it is not all bleak and dreary. I am still very angry at my father for the choices he made and I am still sad that he is gone. But I will continue moving forward, enjoying these moments that I shared with my daughter. I know that the next time there is a moment like this, it will last just a bit longer than the last. This will be how I heal and this will be how I move forward.
While my dad is not here, I know he shared this moment with me and he is smiling as well. As always, I still miss my dad.
As time continues to move on, I find myself becoming more and more wrapped up by how my dad’s last days were. I last saw my dad alive on Sunday, August 28th. Later that night, I got on an airplane and headed home, with the knowledge that I would never see him alive again. Before I left, my mother and I agreed that we should start trying to make him comfortable versus trying to treat his condition. This was due to the horrible effects of the alcohol finally catching up with him. To make him comfortable, we decided to move him to a hospice center, as he could not go home in his condition. On Monday, August 29th, he was moved by ambulance to the hospice center. Two days later, he would take his last breath.
It is these last few days that have piqued my curiosity. I know I will never know the answers, but it will not stop me from asking. When I left, the doctors had informed us that there was a high concentration of ammonia on the brain and everything they tried had not worked. The longer the ammonia stayed on his brain, the more permanent damage was done. Knowing it would be the last time I would get to talk to him, before I left I took a few minutes with my dad to say goodbye and to thank him for everything he had done for me. Even though the alcohol was always present, he was good man with a big heart. I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the forehead and he grabbed my wrist and asked if everything was okay. I told him everything was good but my wife and I were getting ready to leave and wanted to say goodbye. As we walked out of the room, I told him that I loved him and replied “Love you too.”
The questions I have start at this point. Did he maybe know the end was soon or was he already so far gone that he didn’t know? The following day, he was moved to the hospice center. Did he know where he was going? My mom told me the he kidding around with the ambulance drivers and seemed in a good mood. When he arrived at the center, they bathed him and put him in a clean gown. The removed all of the IV’s and gave him something to make him comfortable. He slept all day Tuesday and on Wednesday he started to struggle to breathe. My mom was in the room with him and she said he opened his eyes, mumbled “I love you” and took his last breath. Did he know it was his last breath? While he was lying there, did he know what was happening? Did he have time to regret what he had done to himself and us? Did he…….
I don’t know any of the answers and I hate asking these questions because I know I will never get them answered. But as I continue to move forward and work to deal with has happened, I have determined I will not keep things pent up inside. I will talk to my wife, I will pray and I will continue to write. I know a lot of people do not read this, but by putting this into words, I am helping myself move forward. And through it all, I miss my dad.
I was reading an article by Stephanie Watson the other day about how a person becomes an alcoholic. I was curious to see if there was truly a genetic cause or did outside events play a larger role. And while scientists have determined there is a genetic link, they have yet to pinpoint the exact genes. Where the article caught my attention was where it laid out that alcohol alters the chemicals in the brain’s reward center, and over a prolonged period of time, the body craves alcohol to restore pleasurable feelings and to avoid any negative feelings.
This leads me to my dad. Since his death, I have been trying to come to terms with what he did to himself, as well as try to figure out what drove my dad to a bottle for comfort. The more I look for answers, the more frustrated I get and the more questioning I get of myself. As I said in one of my first posts, my dad drank for my entire life. I was always running to the fridge to get him a beer, whether he was watching TV or working out in his shed. But, to the best of my memory, I cannot recall anything more than beer being in the house. I first noticed his desire for harder alcohol when I returned from an overseas assignment with the Marine Corps. I had not seen my parents in nearly a year, and they flew up to Quantico to see me. That night, while I was sitting in the hotel room with my parents, my dad asked me to join him at the hotel bar. He would like to buy me a beer, since I turned 21 while I was overseas. That is my first memory of my dad adding a shot of whiskey with his beer.
Over the following years, every time we went out to dinner, he would always have a shot of Jack Daniels with the meal, followed by a glass of B&B (Benedictine & Brandy). Soon, the shot turned into a double shot, which soon turned to two double shots. I learned to dread helping my dad with any type of home repair. Because, regardless of what we were working on, we always needed to go to the hardware store to get a missing tool. On the way back, we always stopped at a bar where he would have one beer and two double shots.
The question I find myself asking is what drove him to drink and increase the quantity and strength of what he drank. Was it my joining the Marines? Was he unhappy at home? Was he completely miserable at work? But, more than these questions, I find myself asking why didn’t I see it and could I have done more? I know the answer to both these questions, but it still does not stop me from asking if I could have done more. On two occasions I confronted my father about his drinking. On both occasions, he lied to me and I took him at his word. In the years leading up to his death, I told myself that I did my part and if he died, I know I tried. But did I try hard enough?
In the end, I guess it really doesn’t matter, as he is dead and I am left to putting my feelings on paper. I keep waiting for it to get easier, but it has not happened. I am getting frustrated which leads me to get angry at my dad. I feel like I am living in a viscous circle and I don’t know when I will get out. Through patience, faith and the love of my family, I will get there, hopefully sooner rather than later. Through it all, I still find myself missing my dad.
I was sitting at the dining room table, when I heard my dad call for me in the garage. When I walked into the garage, I saw my dad standing on the other side of my mom’s car. He was talking about what I would need to get in order to fix something in the house. But, before I could understand what he was talking about, I woke up. For the first time since his death, I dreamed of my dad.
As I laid there in bed, staring at the big red numbers on my alarm clock, I found myself overcome with all the emotions I have been feeling since his hospitalization and passing. Feelings of anger, resentment and sorrow have been normal for me over the past few weeks. But, in a strange twist on the emotional roller coaster I have been on the past few months, I was, for a brief, fleeting moment, happy.
Why would I feel happy, even for the briefest of moments? Looking back at the events over the past week, I think I tie it to one occasion as I drove home from work. Since this whole ordeal began, I have found myself driving home with the radio off. I find that I am enjoying the peace and quiet during the drive, and it allows me time to process my thoughts. While driving home last week, I realized that I had already forgotten how my dad’s voice sounded. I remember the sound of it from his stay in the hospital, very slurred and garbled. Most of what he said was unintelligible. But, before you could ask him to repeat what he said, he would fall asleep. But, I did not remember his voice, unmasked by alcohol-induced brain damage. I couldn’t remember how he sounded on the phone or when I last saw him in person.
With this dream, I got to remember the sound of voice and see him in one of favorite places in the house, his workbench. He was surrounded by all the tools of his trade from the past 30+ years, as well as other tools, such as a chainsaw and car jacks. It was this image from my dream and that brief moment of happiness that, for the briefest of moments, replaced the anger I have had building. It helped replace the sorrow I have felt since the day my mom called to say that he was gone. For the briefest moments, I was happy. And, while I still harbor a lot of anger and resentment over what he did to himself and us, I still miss him.
Monday marked the one month anniversary of when my dad was admitted to the hospital. It is hard to believe, that in less than two weeks, my dad would take his last breath. As time goes by, I have my good days and my bad days. What I am having a hard time with is how some of the simplest things trigger memories of my dad. For instance, last night I tucked my daughter into bed and gave her kiss and wished her good night. As I walked out of the room, she asked me if she could keep a quarter she found earlier in the day as an emergency quarter. I told her sure, closed the door and almost started to cry. The reason was simply her saying emergency, which triggered a flood of memories.
As a kid, my mom and dad watched all of the great television shows of the era, included one called “Emergency”. During our last visit with my parents in April, both of them were excited about a new television channel that was showing all of the shows from the past. Shows like “Emergency”, “Dragnet” and “Bonanza”. One of my dad’s favorite shows was “Adam 12”. During our visit, he watched the show every day. I knew my dad missed those shows, but other than “Cheers”, and “M.A.S.H.”, I had never seen him so hooked by a television show.
As I mentioned earlier, my dad was hospitalized on August 19th, which was a Friday and I flew down the next morning. We visited my dad in hospital, and it was obvious he was not doing well. I was shocked at how much he had degraded from the last time I saw him in April. But, mentally, he was still with us. Over the next couple days, we watched as his condition slowly deteriorated. He was not eating, started having hallucinations and slept all the time. He tried to read the newspaper, but his hand shook so bad, he couldn’t read more than an article or two. On that Sunday, as he lay in bed, he was watching the television. My mom asked him if there was anything he wanted to watch. He turned to her and asked her if “Adam 12” was on. When she told him that they did not have that channel in the hospital, he made a face, rolled over and dozed off.
Now, he is gone and as each day goes by, I miss him more and I become angrier and angrier. If he had the strength to put down the bottle, he would have been able to watch “Adam 12”. If had the strength to put down the bottle, he would know that his granddaughter won a school spelling bee. If he had the strength to put down the bottle, he would get to enjoy the new dog my mom got while he was in the hospital. If he only had the strength…..
And this is what drives my anger. My father was a strong man, both mentally and physically, so I struggle to understand how this beat him. I struggle to understand how a man who would go to work every day, whether he was sick or fine, could let the liquid in a bottle beat him. I struggle to understand how the person, who taught me to be a man, could be so weak. I struggle when I talk to my mom; because for 40 years, the man she was with, chose a bottle over her. I guess I am just really struggling.
My father passed away on 8/31/2011. Since receiving the phone call from my mom to let me know he was gone, I have cried twice. I cried once when I received the news and the other day as I drove home. I did not shed a tear at his memorial service, nor did I shed a tear when comforting my mom during this horrible time. I did not shed a tear cleaning out his closets or his dresser. I did not shed a tear while standing in the garage, surrounded by the tools my father had accumulated over 30+ years as a plastics processing engineer. I seem dull or unmoved by everything happening around me and I sometimes find myself wondering if this how my dad felt over the past few months of his life. Except for him, the dullness was alcohol induced.
All of this is say that the question I find myself continually asking is when do I get to mourn the loss of my father? When do I get the opportunity to be sad and really let it out? In place of sadness, I just feel anger and resentment. I hate how I feel and I am worried about the people who love me. I do not want to lash out at them, but each that goes by, I feel like I am bottling up more and more anger. The more I keep it bottled up, the more lost I feel and the more I feel like I will not be able to find my way out.
I keep telling myself to hold on; it will get better over time. Actually, I am not telling myself that, I am asking myself if it will get better over time. And I don’t know the answer. I miss my dad.