30 years. That is a long time. That is how long ago my dad died. So long ago my brain has actually forgotten the exact date, but I know it was middle December. It was not a Merry Christmas that year.
At the time, I was newly married, and in my early twenties. I had just started grad school, in addition to working full time. My parents lived an hour away, and when my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, I told them I would drop out of school since it would suck up so much of my time. My dad said no, absolutely not, you are the first child in our extended family to get a Master’s degree, let alone a college degree. So, I continued on. My husband at the time was also going to grad school and working full time, with a lot of travel thrown in the mix. Sunday was the only day we saw each other. We would drive to whatever hospital my dad was at, or his house, to spend the afternoon and watch the Bears with him.
It was on a Sunday that my dad died. He waited until everybody was gone for the evening, and then he died an awful death from lung cancer that had spread all over his body and bones. A major artery by his heart burst, and he managed to get out of bed before he died. I think my dad waited so we wouldn’t have to witness it. The week before we had thought it was the end, as he lost most of his vital signs and was unconscious for a day and a half while we stood vigil over his bedside. I guess that was a trial run.
I remember getting the dreaded middle of the night hysterical phone call from my mother, “Daddy’s dead!”. I immediately jumped out of bed, threw a few clothes in my suitcase, and my husband and I drove to my mom’s house. My sister and brother were there too, and we all cried the rest of the night. In the morning we had to go make all the arrangements. I think we were all in a daze. My mother broke down more than once. That was a very hard day.
I was actually embarrassed by my company at the time. My sister’s small downtown bank sent her home in a cab when my dad was unconscious so she wouldn’t have to wait for the train. At the wake, they sent a HUGE arrangement of flowers, and all the people came to the wake. My company sent a stock arrangement. My department sent nothing, and my boss and co-workers were not at the wake or funeral, because of work. It was a busy time of year. In fact my boss gave me a hard time about missing work. Nice. Fortune 100 company. Crikey, at one of my last jobs, my assistant took almost a week off when her dog died, with my full blessing!
My dad was a Navy vet. He served on the U.S.S. Boston, and witnessed many atrocities, especially with the atomic bomb. He never spoke of them to us kids. I don’t even think he ever spoke of it to my mom. When he died, my brother got a big box of medals etc. He put them in a beautiful shadow box display in the family room.
I often wondered why my dad didn’t have a military funeral. I think it’s because my grandma and my mom blamed the Navy for his illness. My grandma said he got radiation from the bomb, and that’s why he died so young, at 53. Possible, I guess. I don’t think the 3 packs of cigarettes helped any. My grandma says he picked up the habit in the Navy. I suppose everyone did back then. He also had a tatoo on his bicep that he always kept hidden that he got on a port call, lol. Nothing dirty, just a panther.
I miss my dad. I feel like we got cheated out of his best years. The years when he was not a father, but a friend. I never appreciated my father when he was alive as much as I should have. Us kids were young adults then, and all married, and just when my father was going to enjoy life, he died. My mother was then left a widow for the next 23 years, and dependent upon us kids then. She got cheated too. But she is in heaven now with my dad.
My dad’s birthday was November 21st. So Happy Birthday Dad, and Merry Christmas! You are missed!