My apologies for my recent absences. My father had become grievously ill and subsequently passed away. It was not a total surprise, considering the man’s life has been on the line many many times, however he had always rebounded. I would be lying if I didn’t say a part of me expected the same outcome, but sadly he had fought all he could. It was his time, and although I am heartbroken he is no longer here on this world with me he will always be in my heart.
My first memory of my father is when I was three years old. My mother had been giving me a bath and someone had unexpectedly come to the front door, resulting in our cocker spaniel, Shammy (short for Shamrock), going bat shit crazy. My mom called my older sisters to watch me while she answered the door. My sisters, who are twins, are three years older then me and had zero chance of corralling a wet nosy three year old. I slipped from the tub to the front door, curious who had come calling. We did not normally have visitors to our house, so this was a momentous occasion. As I snuck down the hallway and peered naked, dripping water all over the hardwood floors, around the corner into the living room I glimpsed my mother sitting on the couch, her hands in her lap. I had never before seen the man sitting in the chair across from her, but he must be important since he was wearing clothes like my dad wore to work. My mother broke from her conversation and became agitated I had escaped the tub, shooing me back into the bathroom she apologized to the man and escorted him to the door.
The man was my father’s boss. He had come to tell my mother my father had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. This was 1978, there were no cell phones, and healthcare advances were not what they are today. My father only survived his first heart attack because he had it while he was in the emergency room, complaining of severe heart burn. It was a fluke he lived.
My dad went on to suffer from nine heart attacks, a triple bypass, a quintuple bypass, thirteen angioplasties, and was the recipient of a heart transplant. Many people’s memories of my father are of how he was a stubborn Irishman. Refusing to give up the fight for life amongst many set backs. He never complained. He never allowed his health to become an excuse. He accepted that this was the hand he was dealt and he moved forward, even when no one thought he could.
My memories of my father are more than the sum of his ailments. He was the man whose face lit up when he laughed. He was a man of few words, his response always measured and concise. Him and my mom would take my sisters and I to the inlet to watch the boats come in while we ate an ice cream cone from Mike’s. I remember our whole family of five piling into a row boat as he tried valiantly to instill his love of the sea in his three daughters. We rowed around The Glimmer Glass in Manasquan, NJ while he attempted to teach us how to fish. It ended with him undoubtedly wondering what the hell he was thinking, but my memory of hooking the other side of the boat with my line brings a smile to my face. He was the man who often told my sisters and I to stop throwing the tennis ball against the roof, to which we would nod and smile and then do it the next day. He was outnumbered in a house full of women and tried to be understanding when we would mow the lawn in our bikini’s, determined to get a tan no matter what. He would slip me an extra few bucks when they didn’t have any to give. He was the man who drove me six hours back to college without saying one word about my horrible grades until we pulled up to the front door. I’ll never forget him saying, “You know this drive we just did?”
“Yes,” I tentatively replied, realizing I had not escaped his disappointment.
“We will never do it again if you bring home a report card like that again. Do you understand?” He solemnly said to me.
“Yes.” I said, keeping my eyes cast downward.
“Ok, have a great semester, see you in the spring.” And with that he left me on the curb holding my luggage, watching his tail lights, as he pulled out of the lot. He didn’t need to yell, or berate me. His point had been made. I went on to graduate with honors.
In true form my father turned to me on my wedding day as we stood in the back of the church, “Are you ready?”
Excited and full of joy I nodded, “yes” and he put his arm out to lead me down the aisle. There was no long talk, or words of wisdom. He was not one to dole them out unless asked. But it was perfectly him.
My dad was my sounding board. The voice of reason. I called him when I needed a reality check, or a fact check. He was my Google before it existed. He knew everything, a man who could answer the most complex question. When I found out I was pregnant with a boy my father arrived the next day at my house, a twelve hour drive away, with a car loaded with treasures of mine, and his, that my parents had kept for years to pass on to their first grandchild. The excitement I saw in my dad’s eyes when he gifted us his train set is something I will hold tight to my heart. He loved all his grandkids, so happy to be around to be a part of their lives. For a man who never said anything about his health, he was very aware he was on borrowed time, and tried to be there as much as he could.
As I’ve gotten older, and lived far away from my dad, I have not had a chance to see him as much as I would want. My kids did not have an opportunity to spend as much time with him as they would have liked. But what we did have made an impact.
When I told my twelve year old son Poppy was very sick, and we needed to go get a suit he kept telling me, “Mom, why are we doing this? Poppy always pulls through. He will again.”
But I knew, there would be no next time. He had reached the end of the line, and it was time to say goodbye. We spent an hour at the store, trying on various options, while I kept a close eye on my son. He has Autism, and can internalize the pain he feels so deeply. I noticed he was fidgeting with something in his pocket, but assumed it was a button or some pins he had found in the store. He is a treasure hunter in that way, always finding a castoff to be his next beloved item.
When we returned to the car I finally asked him what it was that he had been playing with in his pocket. He looked at me, reached in his pocket and took out my father’s rosary beads my dad had given him when he made his first holy communion four years earlier. The rosary beads that were my father’s mother’s who he had been given when she passed away when he was ten years old.
My son looked up at me, tears forming in his eyes, as the pain pooled past my lids and slid down my face I took his hand with the beads and held it. Fighting back the sob in my throat.
“Poppy will always be with us.”
I miss you Dad, and love you so much. I hate saying goodbye but I am thankful you fought all those years to be a part of my life, and my children’s lives. We will always have the memories of you, and those cherished items you gifted to us. May you rest in peace and enjoy your view of the Atlantic from your grave on the hillside.
“Shipmate you stand relieved…we have the watch. Boatswain…Standby to pipe the side…Shipmate’s going Ashore.” ~ My father was a very proud Navy man, this poem was sent to us from a family friend, and appeared in his obituary.