Sunday, January 2, 2011

Contemplating Change

Tomorrow is an anniversary, a major anniversary. I might not get to blog tomorrow because this gigantic project in the city requires that I be there at 9:00 and work pretty much on my feet for most of the day. I came home on Thursday with aches in places I haven't ached in years. It's a lot of walking but it has to be done. Yet, I resolved to mark tomorrow because it's very important.

My dad died 20 years ago on January 3, 1991. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. He was a truck driver for CRST out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He had been in declining health and knew that his time was limited, but he continued on because he loved doing what he was doing. Driving a semi allowed him to fulfill that wanderlust he had. He went all over the U.S. He bought a camera and took pictures of his travels. Every time he was in Chicagoland, we would get together. I probably got to see him more in the last 4 years of his life than I had in the 4 years before that.

But he fell ill coming back from a run to Houston in December of 1990. He was having problems breathing and stopped at a small emergency room at a town outside of Tyler, Texas. They felt they couldn't treat what was ailing him so he was taken to the University of Texas Medical Center in Tyler. Mom got a call that he wasn't doing well. My mother, sister and I took the train from Chicago to Tyler to be with him. I couldn't stay for the duration and returned home on December 30th. My brother, Dan, took the train to Tyler, arriving there as I arrived in Chicago. Dad died at 2 p.m. on the 3rd. Iowa had been in the Rose Bowl that year, but they lost. Mom remembered that he seemed to be aware of the game on the TV in his room. The funeral was the 8th and his body was donated to the University of Iowa for research into the disease that claimed him.

My dad's death changed everything. That's a big statement but, as I look back across the landscape of 20 years, it's the truth. My mother remarried a year later, to her high-school sweetheart who had lost his wife in May of 1991. Carole really doesn't remember my dad. Dale has been "grandpa" to her. I used to get really upset when she'd call him that because he isn't her "real" grandpa. I don't know when it hit me that he's "grandpa" because he's real. My dad is someone whose photo hangs on the wall.

The real change came in my immediate family life. There were things we glossed over, things that bothered us. Grief was not unknown in my life. My father's parents came from large families. I never knew my dad's mother, she died in 1944, but I knew all her sisters. I knew all my dad's father's siblings. The extended family that got together for July 4th picnics was upwards of 50 people. As people passed on, there were funerals. I have memories of at least one a year for a time. My spouse, on the other hand, came from a very small family. Death was not something he had experience with. He had gone years without seeing the inside of a funeral home.

The death of a parent is unlike any death I'd experienced. Experts agree there are 7 stages of grief; shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression and reflection and loneliness, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, and finally, acceptance and hope. How you go through these stages is up to you. Grieving is a highly personal event and no one is allowed to tell you to "get on with it". That last statement is the crux of what happened over the next 10 years.

I couldn't grieve in my own way. Years later, our marriage counselor said the depression my spouse had lived with all his life couldn't allow me to be depressed as is natural with grief. His depression had to be cared for first. If there was anything left, my needs would be met. It was a mix that could not sustain a relationship. Unless something changed, the outlook was grim.

My therapist said Dad's death and the natural grief that accompanied it, started the chain of events that ended with divorce. Grieving a marriage is like grieving a death. Sometimes you go through those stages while you're married in an attempt to hold it together. I remember trying to bargain with God to get dad well enough to die in Iowa surrounded by his entire family. I remember trying to bargain with God to get me to the next therapist appointment without screaming at my ex.

In the 20 years since Dad's death, things about him have faded. I can't hear his voice anymore. I used to be able to call up the sound. I see CRST trucks in Chicagoland. He would have been here more and more until he retired, probably in the mid-to-late 1990's. I used to start crying every time I saw one. Now, I say, "Hi Dad!" and count myself lucky that my dad is with me today. Sometimes, if I'm particularly troubled, I'll ask a question. "What do you think I should do, dad?"

I bought a bottle of his aftershave and I used to keep a cotton ball under my pillow for the first few years. The scent was a comfort. Now, I open up the bottle for a whiff when I'm dusting.

The plant I received from his funeral still thrives in the NE corner of the living room. I water it every week. It seems to be happy and blooms regularly. I rarely think about where I got it or how long I've had it. I turn it periodically to try to keep it growing straight. If it outgrows this pot, I think it will have to be on the floor. At one point, it lost a lot of leaves and I thought it was dying. But it recovered. Carole's cat, Faux, used to lie in the pot when he was a kitten.

Twenty years is a long time. I still cry sometimes when I think of the loss. The change has been huge in that time, some good and some bad. Dad never got to sit in box seats at Wrigley Field and watch his beloved Cubs. He never got to teach me how to build and repair things. I finally threw out the list I kept for years with all the things he knew that I wanted to learn. I've moved on, continuing on the road he departed. I still grieve, I always will. Some things will set me off and I shed tears.

I don't think I'd want it any other way.

Beverage:  China Black tea


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