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Cleaning up

I was sitting in my mom’s car in the garage the other day.  In the trunk of the car were roughly 30 polo shirts, 15 pairs of pants and 15 ties.  In the back seat of the car were two large garbage bags full of undershirts, worn out t-shirts, socks and other miscellaneous clothing items.  This was the extent of my dad’s closet and dresser, which I had just emptied out for my mom.  As I sat there, I kept looking at the two garbage bags in the back seat.  Something was bothering me and I could not quite put my finger on the reason.  I was confused, because it was not sadness over getting rid of my dad’s stuff.  In the car, almost all of my dad’s life was there in shirts and pants, but I was not emotional about that.  Then it dawned on me.  The two trash bags are what were left of what my dad did my mom and me.  He was the driver, and he was taking us to the dump to dispose of us.

My dad died on August 31st and I have cried briefly only once since finding out.  Each day that goes by I feel myself getting angrier and angrier at him.  On top of the anger, I feel many more emotions.  I never knew you could feel so many emotions at one time.  I am grieving the loss of my father.  I am angry at the fact he did it to himself.  I am worried about my mom and how she is doing emotionally.  And I feel guilty about being mad at my dad.  I am really confused and I feel that sometimes my world is spinning out of control.  I don’t know how to stop it or where it will end, but I feel like I am sinking.

My wife, who has been absolutely wonderful during these past few weeks, often asks me how am I doing.  And my answer is I don’t know.  My dad is gone, and for that I am truly sad.  He was a wonderful father and an awesome husband.  Even though he drank throughout my life, he never once raised a hand to me, or my mother, in anger.  If a friend needed help, he was always there, regardless of the size of the task.  He was always there to help and to listen and offer advice if needed.  That is the man I truly miss and that is the man who was my role model.

In the end, my dad chose a bottle of Kentucky whiskey over everything else.  Knowing that, I really feel like that trash bag in the back seat.  It feels like a large portion of my life was just tossed away due to this horrible, self-inflicted disease.  I am left to wonder if I will ever get over my anger and forgive my dad or will I always feel like the bag of trash in the backseat, just waiting to get thrown out.

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The Phone Call

While sitting at my desk yesterday; I suddenly felt the need to call my mother.  As you know, she had called me at 6:55 yesterday morning to let me know that my dad’s condition had deteriorated badly overnight.  This urge or desire was immediate.  I needed to call her at that moment in time.  Not later tonight, but at that moment.  So, I called her, but got her voicemail.  Before I could set the phone down, she called me back.  The call I had been expecting but dreading had finally happened.  My dad had passed away.  His suffering is finally over and he is now at peace.  Right before he died, he opened his eyes, looked at my mom and mumbled that he loved her.  With that, he took his final breath.

As of this writing, I am completely numb.  I have cried a little and gotten angry a little, but that is it.  I am wondering if there is something wrong with me, or if like my wife told, it will hit me when I go home tomorrow.  Time will tell.  The hardest thing I have to do tomorrow is tell my 10-year old daughter that her Grandpa has died.  We have been less than honest with her as it related to my father’s condition.  We never truly told her how bad it was, to shelter her from the anguish we were experiencing.

Can a 10-year old understand death?  My daughter adored my dad and I think it may take awhile for her to process that he is no longer here.  However, ever the astute 10-year old, she was keenly aware of my dad’s desire for beer, constantly asking him why he drank so many.  I am afraid she might put two and two together and ask if the beer had anything to do with his death.  Do I tell her truth or do I lie to let her keep her happy memories of Grandpa?

I miss my dad….

The next to last call

My phone rang at 6:55 this morning.  It has always been my experience that a phone ringing that early in the morning is never a good sign.  This call just reinforced that thought.  The hospice center called my mom early this morning to inform her that my dad had deteriorated over night and the end will be soon.  His circulation is getting worse and there are long pauses between breathes.

So, now I wait for the next phone call, to tell me my father is gone.  I am an emotional basket case as I wait for the call.  I do not know whether I should be relieved that my dad’s suffering is over and he is now at peace.  Or if I should be angry that he led such a great life that was cut short by his choice of alcohol over us.  Or if I should be sad that my dad is now gone.  I will no longer have the person who offered me so much guidance and advice to lean on.  If there is something wrong in the house, I no longer will be able to pick up the phone and call him for help.

We will have a memorial service for my father, and I will speak at the service.  I do not know how I will be able to do it, but I will do it.  I will do it so everyone who knew my dad, will get to know him a little bit better.  I will do it so that people’s lasting memories of my dad will be good.  I will do it to help my mother overcome the loss of her partner of over 40 years.  I will do it to try to force the memories of my dad with a drink out of my mind.  But, most of all, I will do it for myself.

I love you dad and I will miss you.

And I hope my phone does not ring too soon.

Waiting for the end….

On Sunday, I leaned over and gave my dad a hug, kissed him on the forehead and told him “Thank you.”  I was thanking him for everything he did for me as my father. He coached Little League baseball when I wanted to play.  He provided support to the band by transporting instruments to various locations across the state of Florida.  He helped me with my homework and with large school projects that involved building various items.  These are the memories that I will treasure of my dad.  By concentrating on these memories, I may be able to get over my anger at everything.

Last night, my father was transported to a hospice center.  The doctors have told us that there is no chance for a meaningful recovery, as any procedure they do would put a great strain on his body and it is not capable of handling it.  What started as a drunken fall in the garage has led to his liver shutting down. As they try to treat the liver, the kidneys began to fail.  As they treat the kidneys, there is a bowel obstruction.  Since he is not eating, they want to provide him nutrients through the IV.  But, by providing this, they could shock his pancreas, leading to pancreatitis.  They want to do a colonoscopy, but if they sedate him, they will kill him.  This past Friday, after speaking with an internal medicine doctor, a kidney doctor, a gastrointestinal doctor and a surgeon, we decided to stop trying to heal my father.  Instead, we just worked to make him comfortable.

As I write this, I am overcome with many different emotions.  The first emotion is sadness.  The man, who raised me to be who I am today, will be gone soon.  This will leave a huge void in my life.  The other day, I was struggling to get our generator started in preparation for the hurricane.  After 15 minutes of fruitless efforts, I reached for the phone to call my dad and ask for ideas.  I then sat down and cried.  I cried because the man I always depended on for advice, whether it was handyman advice or work advice, was gone.  I cried because I realized that this Father’s Day, I will not be making a call I have been making every year since getting married. More than that, this Christmas will be hard, as my dad will not be there to direct the distribution of gifts.

But, before I get too sad, the anger takes over.  While it breaks my heart to see my dad like this, he did it to himself.  In April of this year, I asked my dad to stop drinking.  Not for me, but for my daughter, his granddaughter.  I told him I wanted him there for every special event, from graduation to her wedding.  He put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to worry, he had it under control.  And, for a brief period of time, I hoped he had it under control. Instead, I have to tell my daughter, who loved my dad to pieces, that grandpa is gone.  We all deal with loss, but how can I not be angry about this?

I try to remember all the good things my dad did for me.  He was always there for me as a child and an adult.  But, every good memory gets pushed away by the memory of the beer in his hand.  I love my dad with all my heart, but I am having a hard time dealing with this.  He choose a bottle over everything, and the bottle won.

How?

As I write this, I will freely admit that this is the darkest time of my life. It feels like everything I know is falling apart and I am struggling to hold on to something. I never could imagine that a person could experience sadness, anger, frustration, depression and hopelessness all at the same time. All of this is due to the recent hospitalization of my alcoholic dad.

For years, my mother has always said that her biggest fear would be to come home and find my dad on the floor of the garage. Friday afternoon, it came true, as she found him on the floor not moving. When she reached him, his eyes were open and he was talking. He told her that he had fallen in the garage and could not get himself up. After several attempts to pull him up using a stool, my mom called 911. He was taken to the hospital and admitted that evening.

I flew down the next day, not sure what to expect when I got to the hospital. It was worse than I could have ever imagined. My dad, the man who made me the man I am today, was gone. In his place was an empty shell of a man who had no idea where he was and what had happened. A man, who for his entire life, worked with his hands, could barely lift a small can of ginger ale to his mouth for a drink. A man who called my mom everyday to check on her after work, was now giving her the finger because he thought she was going to a show. What makes the entire situation worse after the fleetingly brief moments of lucidity. As a kid, my dad had always called me Boze. I could not tell you the origin of this nickname, but every time I called, I was always greeted with the same name. When I walked into the room, his face lit up and he called me “Boze”. In writing this, I think that may be the last time I ever hear him call me that.

I have just come to the realization that next Father’s Day, I will not be able to pick up the phone and call my dad an old fart. In February, I will not be able to call him and harass him about his age and collecting the social security I am paying for him. Most of all, in December, my mom will be alone for her anniversary. The man who has been her partner, friend and companion for the past 40 years will be gone. All of this could have been avoided if he had simply put the bottle down. Instead, he chose a bottle over his wife, son and granddaughter. So, how do I bring myself to forgive him for doing this to us? How do I tell my daughter, who absolutely adores him, that Grandpa drank himself to death? I guess in general, I need to ask how?

An update

8/19/2011

I spoke with my mother last night and the situation seems to getting worse and it is happening at a very rapid pace.  My dad, the man who I loved and admired as a kid and as an adult, is disappearing before my eyes.  In his place is an empty shell of a man who reeks of bourbon and beer.  Here is a brief list of some of his issues:

  • He has stopped bathing, with his last shower being over a week ago.  When I was a kid, my dad took a shower every day, even on the weekends.
  • He has stopped shaving.  As an adult, I look forward to the weekend so I can skip shaving.  My dad shaved every day, even if it was to go and cut the grass.
  • He needs assistance putting a belt on.
  • He asked the other night where one of our family members was?  The family member in question had not been there in weeks.  When my mom told him, he said he must have dozed off.
  • The last big thing is that he has stopped eating.  Last night for dinner, he had two teaspoons of baked beans.  That was his entire food intake for the entire day.  The previous day, it was a small cup of peaches for the entire day.

I am at a point right now that I don’t know what to do or how to feel.  I love my father, but at the same time, I resent him for destroying not only himself, but my mother and me at the same time.  The last time I saw my dad, he was a shell of a person.  It scares me to think that it might be the last memory I have of my dad.  I don’t know what to do or even if I can do anything.  Without my wife in my life, I would lack an anchor to keep me from being sucked into my dad’s alcohol tainted abyss.  This really sucks.

My Alcoholic Dad Introduction

8/16/2011

Growing up as a kid, my dad, just like every other dad, was full of wise sayings. From “Every action has a reaction” to “Never say never.” he was always there to provide insight and guidance when I most needed them. As an adult, I look back and realize that he had an innate ability to always know when to say it and which phrase to use. At an especially dark point in my life, after struggling with deaths of several close friends and a wonderful mentor, he told me to not let things outside of my control, control my life. That brief exchange with him changed my perspective on life. As a know-it-all 17-year-old, I did not realize just how big of impact this small phrase would have on my life. For the past 30 years, I have continually applied this logic to all aspects of my personal and professional life, and it has benefited me in ways I cannot describe. For this, I am truly thankful to my dad.

So now, I find myself in an overwhelming situation. It has been keeping me up at night and causing a lot of mental anguish. As I am struggling to cope with this new burden, I come back to the phrase. “Don’t let things outside your control, control your life.”

Roughly ten years ago, I went to college after completing my service in the military. This was a big step for me, as I had been out of the academic world for over five years. The first series of classes I took were the common prerequisites that are required of all first year students. These classes ranged from Algebra to Spanish to Humanities. Also in that first series of classes was Freshman Composition. This class was challenging, as I had to learn how to properly cite my references as well as write about things I was not comfortable writing about, such as the hidden meaning behind a particular car commercial. One of the assignments that gave me, as well as my classmates, serious problems was to write a paper about our hero. We had to name this person as well as provide convincing arguments as to why we chose them. My classmates began to select athletes and famous people from history. However, after pondering over my selection for several days, I realized that my hero was not a general or a politician, my hero was my dad. After writing the paper, I received 98 out of 100 for a grade, with a small note from the teacher, asking that I share this with my father.

“Don’t let things outside your control, control your life.” These are words, which in theory changed my life. By applying them to situations at work and elsewhere, I was able to handle almost anything that came my way. The one exception is the situation I am facing now. Applying this phrase to my current problem, while it is applicable, it much easier said than done.

During my time in the Marine Corps, I accomplished many things that I am extremely proud about. Just the fact that I was a Marine made me proud. It made my parents proud. It made my dad really proud. He was one of the people with the bumper stickers telling everyone his son was a Marine. He was a Marine at heart. While serving, I applied and was accepted for Marine Security Guard duty. Working and living overseas providing security for U.S. diplomatic mission, this was one of the more desired billets and one of the most difficult billets to obtain. Our class began with 180 students. Six weeks later, 80 of us graduated. The deployments for MSG duty were 15 months, followed by a 2 to 3 week leave, and completed by another 15 month deployment. While my mom was worried sick, my dad could not stop beaming.

I did not complete my entire tour, as I had the misfortune to contract e-coli food poisoning, followed by a collapsed lung due to the force that I expunged any and all contents of my stomach. I was medically relieved from post and returned stateside just under a year after leaving for deployment. Upon my return, my parents came to see me in Quantico. My mom was relieved that I returned home and my dad was proud of what I accomplished. A year later, I would return to Guatemala, with my parents, to marry the greatest love of my life. Both my mom and dad were very happy.

“Don’t let things outside of control, control your life.” After struggling since April with my current situation, I am making the hardest decision of my life. Joining the Marines seems trivial to the decision I am about to make. I have prayed for guidance, and it always seems to come back to this saying, this small piece of advice.

My dad was from England and my mom was from New Hampshire. We lived in Florida; so needless to say, I had little to no contact with my grandparents. My mom’s mother died when I was six months old. Her dad died several years later. The only memory I have of him was when he visited us in Florida. My dad asked me to get something from the refrigerator and make sure that Grandpa did not see it. Years later, while visiting my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family, I saw him drop dead from a massive heart attack. This was the first time in my life that I had seen my dad cry. A few years later, my remaining grandmother passed away.

“Don’t let things outside of control, control your life.” By now, you are probably wondering where I am going with this. I wanted to take a brief moment to share with some of the many stories I have had with my dad. I left out one small detail about all these encounters. During each and every one of them, my dad had a drink in his hand. The item from the refrigerator was a beer. I had to hide it from my grandfather, as he was an alcoholic. Before reading the paper I wrote about him in college, he went and got a beer. When I graduated MSG school, at the reception afterward, he had a beer. When I returned from Guatemala, he was in the hotel bar, with a beer. The night before I got married, he sat in the hotel bar, with a beer and a whiskey, and talked to me about marriage. When his dad died, I witnessed an Irish wake, which constitutes an immense consumption of alcohol. When I saw my dad crying, he had a beer in his hand. Before his flight left for England to go bury his mother, my dad had to stop at the airport bar. He coached Little League baseball, but was asked to leave because he had a beer in the dugout, after the game was over and the kids were gone.

My dad is an alcoholic, and he is drinking himself to death. I cannot change this and I cannot control it. I have tried to speak with him, but all he says is that things are under control. Once, while talking on the phone, he freely admitted he was cutting back on the beer consumption. He neglected to tell me that he was compensating for the missing beer by drinking nearly a fifth of whiskey a day. I am sad and confused and angry and every other emotion that goes along with this problem. Most of all, I am angry. He is not only destroying his life, but he is bringing my mom along for the ride. My daughter will not get to know what a wonderful, smart and witty person my dad is, because that person is gone. In his place is a shell of the person we once knew and loved.

“Don’t let things outside of control, control your life.” It is here and now that I make the most difficult decision of my life. I am letting my father go. I will still talk to him and I still love him, but he will not drag me down with him. I will be a rock that my family and my mom can depend on when things get bleak. I will continue to write this, adding details in the struggles that I am having as well as my mom. I find it very therapeutic to write and if someone reads this and it helps them, great. Too many people suffer in silent agony in dealing with an alcoholic loved one. This is my voice, and while my situation is not unique, I wanted to share it.  I will continue to post updates about my dad as well as other stories.  Comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.

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