I’m Gonna Miss Dad

Dad’s paper wasn’t delivered in the morning so I went to get him one after work. I picked up a couple extra bananas too and took a walk to the hot bar to see if I might find something for Todd and me for dinner. They had hamburgers and brats and sauerkraut, mac and cheese—all the things that remind me of Dad. I remembered all the times I’d come there to pick up a quick dinner for him—after an afternoon at the doctor’s or one of those long hospital stays.
My arms held the paper, some blueberries and bananas so when I felt the tear roll down my right cheek, I reached to wipe it but dropped a banana. I bent down to pick it up and felt the spasm in my back from sneezing on Sunday seize up. It’s hard to carry large loads of emotion around with you all the time. I’m working on that but I’m going to really miss my dad.
When I got back to the condo, I handed him his paper. His head was tucked down as he does so he can swallow but I knew he was getting ready to say something. I waited.
“I felt really bad sending you for my paper.”
“You didn’t send me, Dad. I wanted to go. I needed a few things.”
“Well, I love reading the paper but I realized after you left that I’d rather talk to you.”
I sat back into the couch then. “Well, here I am! You can have both!”
We did talk for a while but I felt the usual pull of needing to be in two places at once. I have a wonderful staff that seems to understand and have tried to extend the same support to them. My Dad raised us to put God first, family second and work third. (That’s not easy.) And I have a wonderful husband who seems to understand. None the less, my back aches and like Dad, I’m eating less and sleeping more. Letting go isn’t for the weak.
Dad is very organized and had his Power of Attorney papers completed with his attorney years ago while Mom was still alive. I will have to take the lead on what it says and the most challenging part of it is the last line. Dad has written in a scripture: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). Mom had said the same thing to me in her own words: “I don’t want you crying over me. It’s just my time.” I had promised her I wouldn’t. But I did.
So, when I was in the kitchen of Dad’s condo last night, putting his dishes in the dishwasher, tears rolled down my cheeks. My hands were full so I couldn’t brush them away. I felt the strong urge to go back and sit down with Dad and tell him I’m going to really miss him when he’s gone. But I didn’t. I knew I would cry and didn’t want to upset him.
I want to be faithful to the Words I read in his Power of Attorney. They are important to him and I know, powerful. I told him when I started writing his stories that I would be sure to let people know that he was happy about going home to Jesus. He corrected me that day. His eyes beamed. “Happy?” He said. Joyous! Why, I’ll be Joyous!”
In my experience, God has always provided what I needed just at the right time. I’m certain He will provide Joy in my heart for a life well-lived when the time comes. Because that’s what I want to share from Dad to you.
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Lunch at Dad’s

I called him this morning and his phone was turned off. I’ve told him a dozen times he doesn’t have to turn it off when it’s charging but he doesn’t listen. It makes me crazy when I can’t get through to him. He didn’t answer his landline either so I was heading for my shoes—he never leaves the house before 9:00 a.m. I called his neighbor to see if he’d mind checking on him as I was one half making the bed and brushing my teeth, and one half telling myself I was overreacting.

“No problem,” Terry said. “I have a key.”

The phone rang as I was grabbing for my coat. It was Terry. “Debbie, his car is gone.”

“Oh….(Car accident on the way home last night? I ponder.) “….maybe he had an appointment this morning….thanks for checking Terry, I really appreciate it.” I texted dad, Call me.

“Dad! ” I say twenty minutes later into my phone.

“Hi, sweetheart, I had an appointment with the foot doctor this morning, then I stopped at the grocery store.”

“……..” Gosh, thank goodness, phew. “Wow, well you were busy! Charlie and I wanted to take you out to lunch but we can come there if that’s easier.”

“Great, I have lots of food to eat up.” He hates having extra food in the house as much as having extra money. We hang up and the phone rings again before I can put it down. “Debbie, can you stop and pick up two buns? I have Sloppy Joes but only one bun.”

Charlie and I walk in with a bag of buns just as Dad is lifting a cookie sheet with three pottery bowls of soup out of the oven. Keeping the soup warm?

“I called Kay (his cook) to tell her I was having guests for lunch and asked her how to turn my icemaker back on. She was the one who turned it off. She didn’t remember and told me to serve cold water.”

Charlie opens the freezer door and pushes a button. “You gotta hit the ‘on’ button, Grandpa.”

The table was set at the little bistro table in the kitchen with a third chair pulled in from the dining room. “Look at my dining room table and you’ll see why we’re eating in the kitchen.”

I know why but look anyway—one half taxes, the other half stacks of donation requests which make me crazy. “Doing your taxes? “I ask ignoring the requests for money. ‘All these good causes, how can I say no?’ Always his answer.

Have a seat,” he says. “If I was organized like you, Charlie, everything would be ready.”

“We’re ten minutes early, Dad.” I watch him lift one hot bowl at a time with hot pads off the cookie sheet then precariously place each one unto a placemat.

“What else do we need..?”

“Butter, pickles?” I ask.

“Oh, right, butter and pickles. How’s the soup?”

“Cold,” I say giving it a taste.

“I was worried about that.”

We microwave the soup for exactly three minutes and after lunch divide a chocolate chip cookie three ways.

“Thanks for coming by.” He says giving my son a big hug. “It was so good to see you, Charlie. Give my love to Lauren. We have to get her up here.”

I look at the two of them and know I have just had a priceless lunch.

My dad and son

My Dad and Son

Charlie and I open the door to leave and see a seven inch stack of mail with a rubber band around it at our feet.

“That’s a lot of mail, Grandpa……you won’t get bored.”

“That’s right,” Dad says with a chuckle as he walks away. “I won’t get bored.”

Learning to Fly

My heart pounded as I swerved into the parking space. “Is there a fire?!” I shouted running up to the front window of the fire truck.

“We got a call about condo 108.”

“My dad?!”  I flew up the steps, my mind suddenly racing. Everything’s fine over here, Debbie, Dad had just said an hour earlier. We had been to the doctor that day. He was okay, his doctor had said. His cough had mysteriously vanished for the hour and a half we were in her office—no crackling in his lungs, she had said. It came back as soon as we were in the car but we took a drive to look at our old church. We did too much; he was still weak from his trip to Arizona.

Faith Church on 78th and Hope

Faith Church on 78th and Hope

We had lunch at Solly’s. He shouldn’t  eat butter burgers and fries!

Dad! I heard myself yell.

“She’s got a key.” Someone said from the crew of firemen standing outside his door.  “We can hear him in there and we heard your voicemail on his phone so we knew you were on your way. We were just ready to break his door down.”

Break his door down?! That would not have gone over well with the man who still uses throw rugs so he doesn’t wear out his carpeting. I tried to steady my hand on the key as I turned the knob and opened the door. There he was, lying on his back, across the red runner. He couldn’t get up but his eyes were as bright as the rug. “Hi, sweetheart.”

“Oh, Dad.”  His legs had given out, again. Dehydrated. No need to go to the hospital, he convinced the firemen, since he’d been to the doctor that day. After sitting up and drinking some water, the guys helped me get him to bed. His doctor started him on an antibiotic and I stayed with him for the next ten days.

“I do feel I’ve done a good job taking care of myself up to this point.” Dad told me just a few days later. “I can’t do no mo’.” He said then. “I’m done.”

“Oh come on, Dad. I think I’m going to give you a couple sips of wine tonight. That might help your appetite.”

“Or my attitude.”

“You’re like a cat. You’ve got nine lives.”

“Which one am I on?”

“I don’t know, the fifth or sixth.” I’ve worried at least that many times that Dad wasn’t going to make it. We didn’t think he was going to recover from his heart valve surgery in 2007. His valves were better but his lungs took a beating. He fought his way back. Then they told him if he ever got pneumonia that would be it for him. He got pneumonia and proved them wrong. (Whenever he’s in the hospital, he finds people to share his faith with. That always gets him back on track. He inspires and ticks people off equally.) Mom died not long after that—that hit him really hard. And then he got pneumonia again, and then again. Now he has fluid in his lungs that they can’t do much about but on he goes. I think that puts him on his sixth.

He wasn’t as fortunate as us with his own father who died at sixty-seven. The last time he saw him alive was in 1967.

“When Wenzler Architects was selected by the state to design the Fine Arts Center at Steven’s Point, I thought it might be a good time to learn to fly. That would turn a three-and-a-half hour drive each way into less than an hour.

“By this time in my career, I had developed a pattern for “programming” a new project. For academic projects, I would spend a number of days on the campus, in the classrooms with faculty and students. In addition to this effort to understand the project, there were many meetings with the client.

“I had completed this stretch with Steven’s Point—living in the dorm and staying on campus—and felt I had a very good grasp of the project. I was ready to find a concept for the design. This usually included spending nights alone in the office where I could think and sketch and try out ideas. This particular time, it was a Saturday afternoon when—bang—the Lord had given me the solution. I had the sketch and was sure it was the right one. The complicated part of the project was the theatre, so I called the chair of the theatre department, told him where I was at and asked if I could come up and show it to him. He said, ‘Come up. I can’t wait.’

“My Dad had recently had a stroke and was in the hospital at Milwaukee Lutheran. I stopped there on the way to the airport to show him my sketches. He wasn’t talking anymore by that point but he sure could see and respond. I showed him the sketches and explained the ideas and he smiled his approval.

Steven's Point sketch

“I had arranged to rent a Bonanza at the Waukesha County Airport to fly up and was checked out for night flying but was still only flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules). I got to the airport and took off. I met the chair and committee when I arrived at the University, went over my plans and they were excited.

“I flew back to Waukesha after my meeting and drove home. It was a wonderful day and on the way, I was thinking about my visit with my dad and how grateful I was for our time together. I never got to see him alive again, but I was thankful I got to see him and for all the encouragement he always gave me. That was the last time I saw him alive.”

Steven's Point Exterior

Steven’s Point Center for the Arts

*******

 “I figured it out.” Dad said as he was beginning to get his strength back last week.

“What’s that?’ I asked.

“I’ll give my key to three neighbors. And, I’ll get one of those call things that you can wear on your belt. I saw it advertised in the AARP Magazine. Then I won’t have to move.”

“Okay, Dad, that sounds good to me. You’re ‘flying’ IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) now.”

Steven's Point interior

Steven’s Point Art Center interior