Daddy's dying

My brother flew down to see what was up with the parents, the rehab clinic had insisted that he come, and come soon. I've been having trouble reaching him, he's been whisked off to this hospital or that rehab, but in general I've been able to track him down for our weekly call.

He's dying. We've known that for years, no, decades. He spent the longest time trying to drink himself to death, but when we put them in a home in 2004 he perked up, actually got his drinking under control, and enjoyed life! The hardest thing he had to do was put Mommy in the memory care unit. I was in Iceland, and we spoke by mobile phone, it cost me a fortune, but it was important to be speaking with him that night.

I left home at 19, put an ocean between me and my folks, that was the proper distance. I wrote letters every week, and called when I could. I have always been an expert on how to organize cheap transatlantic calls, and have tried out many schemes over the decades. Once it got cheap enough, I would call every Sunday evening. The midnight call (6 pm for them) got to be a very regular habit that I have continued over all the years. The past few years he would pounce on the phone, pick up at the first ring, so I tried to be punctual about calling.

He was always a busy man. When I was very young he was working as an engineer, working on a Master's degree in industrial engineering, and building a house for us with his own muscle power. He was just like his mother and dad, farmers who were in constant motion from the moment they hit the floor in the morning until they said their evening prayers. We moved around from job to job. He used to joke that he had to move when he got a house perfect so there was nothing else for him to do. My best childhood memories are of going to the hardware store with Daddy on a Saturday, and helping him with the weekend project. I still love hardware stores.

He was often away on some building project or other, he built or managed railroad systems. Westinghouse; Union Railroad; P & LE; Washington, D.C. Metro; some strange desk job in Atlanta managing the American Institute of Industrial Engineers where he drank heavily with the heavy-drinking top manager; the "Tijuana Trolly" in San Diego; The San Francisco BART system; car production for subway systems; a number of other jobs after I left, the last for Matra, designing systems for Kuala Lumpur and the driverless people mover in Jacksonville. His heart broke when Jacksonville decided not to continue building the people mover. He made a proposal for Pittsburgh, that didn't get accepted either, and he retired to a life of hard drinking.

They made it over to Europe a few times, especially after there was a grandchild. We were in Berlin in August 89, ventured over the wall into "Commie-Land", visited Sweden. They loved Sweden, you could buy milk with a credit card and no one batted an eye, not like that horrible Germany where they rolled up the sidewalks Saturdays at 1pm and you could starve by Monday morning if you hadn't managed to lay in food for the weekend.

In his younger years he was, like his sister, a lay preacher in the Methodist church. In older years he served in other capacities, often as an usher. He was so proud when I got my lay preacher's license, I taped my sermons on my iPod and sent CDs over to him to listen on his CD player.

He was horribly right-wing, politics was not a topic we could discuss in civil tones, although time and again I would raise an issue and we would fight it out. I remember their first visit to Kiel where we were fighting about the issue of handicapped-accessible public transport. He felt that was a waste of money, I felt that handicapped have the right to be able to use public transport as well. I'll never forget the look on his face when he was faced with a train station in Berlin pushing a baby carriage. "How the hell am I supposed to get down here?" he hollered. "It's not handicapped-accessible, Daddy you put it under your arm and carry it down, or you ask for help!". You could see the wheels whirring in his mind. He finally understood. His next station, in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, was a skater's dream - not a step in the place, only ramps.

He would listen to that horrible Rush Limbaugh every day. On my last visit I would get so angry at the nonsense that Limbaugh would be spouting. But Daddy was adamant - although he now needed Medicare, he was 100% against "socialized medicine". So I talked a lot about the weather as I waded through the piles of bills.

After he had Mommy put in the Memory Care Unit, as they euphemistically call the Alzheimer's ward, he would visit her every day, even after he was confined to a wheelchair. That was something to do! Now he himself lies unmoving, unable to carry on a conversation, unaware of people around him, waiting to die.

WiseMan already lost both his parents - his father in 2006 (Blogposts:  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 ) his mother in 2009 (Blogposts: 1 - 2). Things change when they are gone. You are now the oldest generation. And there is now no one around who played a part in your childhood memories. I find it hard to work today, my mind is flooded with memories, pictures, voices, smells.

Daddy - I hope you find your peace with the world.


Anonymous said...

My thoughts are with you. Warmest regards, e.

american in sweden said...

the world stopped moving the day my mom died. she was in an accident and so there was no preparation, no notice, no time to reflect.

she was barely in her 50s, she had not even seen me be married for a year, have children, or turn 30. there will be so many, "i wish you were here" moments because those hopes and wishes you once had for your parents are now gone.

i don't know when the deepest pains end and the healing begins, so all i can hope is that she is in peace.

may your dad be in peace too.