And tonight I thank the stars as I count my lucky scars for all the things you’ve given me - The Foo Fighters But, Honestly from the album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace
I was thinking about some of the things that have happened since my dad died October 9, 1995. For me, the toughest thing is that it was sudden; I didn’t get a last chance to say goodbye and tell him I love him and what he meant to me. I know he knew, but just one more hour would have meant the world to me. The saddest thing is that he didn’t get to see his grandchildren grow up. I didn’t get to share with him just how wonderful these little beings are and how much like him his grandson is. And Leah - oh, he would have loved everything about her. He did see them and hold them and I’m forever grateful for that.
I remember seeing him the day of his funeral and it was so odd - the long walk to his casket was otherworldly. I saw his hands first and felt my breath catch in my chest; the realness of it all struck me hard. But when I got to his side and put my hands over his, I could feel it wasn’t him anymore. Of course it was his body, but what made him HIM was without a doubt gone. And for some reason, I found that comforting.
My mom was only 56 when dad died, and she had never lived alone. I was really worried that she would fall apart but she did the opposite. She picked herself up and made sure she was with her friends as much as possible. I remember her telling me that she would only cry when she was alone; I know her friends would have understood if she cried in front of them but she said she didn’t know what their limit was on hearing her cry over dad so she wasn’t going to test it. To go out and be around other people and enjoy life as much as she could was the best thing she could do for herself. And that’s exactly what she did.
Five months after dad died, mom met a very nice man who had recently lost his wife. She had said that she didn’t want to get married again but this man was special and won her over quickly. I met him and he was indeed very special. He was kind, intelligent, and deeply in love with my mom. They became engaged and planned to go to Las Vegas to get married. I was happy for her; he let her redecorate his home the way she wanted and they were always going on little weekend trips. All the things she loved doing with a man she adored and who adored her right back.
The weekend before their trip to Las Vegas they were watching a movie at his home and he complained that he had a headache. The headache became so intensely painful that mom called for an ambulance. As the paramedics were loading him into the ambulance he looked at her and said “oh, Patty. I can’t believe this is happening.” He died of an aneurysm several days later. To see my mom go through this again within a year was heartbreaking. She never left his side and she was so brave. She handled his hospitalization, death, funeral, and the pain of losing him with an amazingly graceful strength.
She’s never been one to dwell on the bad things. In fact, what she called the best time of her life was just beginning. There were several more boyfriends to come and lots of trips to Mexico, Hawaii, and stateside. She went dancing every weekend, had more social activities than I could have handled, and she visited us in Oklahoma at Christmas and in the summer. Her health was good as far as I knew at the time. She did have a small stroke in the late 1990s, but she recovered within a week and was back to the life she loved.
I had tried to discuss with her several times how important it was for her to get her yearly mammogram, Pap smear, etc. but I was always met with resistance. Mom had a weird aversion to doctors - she had health care through my dad’s military retirement but never used it. Instead, she went to a walk-in clinic and paid out of pocket for care and medication. Good thing she was rarely sick. I mentioned a colonoscopy once and the look of horror on her face told me what the answer was. The Pap smear thing was at least 5 years in the making. As she tells it, the doctor told her she was just fine and she didn’t need to come back anymore. I have my doubts on whether there ever was an appointment.
Her health was a huge deal to me, in part because she’s my mom and I didn’t want anything to happen to her. Another part of it was purely selfish. If she needed me to take care of her I could guarantee it was going to be a logistical nightmare for several reasons, one of them being distance. At this time my kids were small, they were 1 and 4 when my dad passed away, and I was a single parent most of the time because of Bill’s flying schedule. He was gone more than he was home since he flew for the FAA, the Air Force Reserves, and as a private contract pilot. Just thinking about having to go take care of her if something happened made my head spin.
She and I had a heated discussion about her health while I was driving her to the airport after one of her visits. She wasn’t feeling well and I told her to be sure to make an appointment with her doctor when she got home. She said all she needed to do was to get back to water aerobics and she’d be fine which exasperated the hell out of me. What kind of logic is that?? I told her that she needed to take better care of herself; one of these days something that started out small and easily taken care of would turn into a big deal all because she didn’t want to see a doctor. I said that she needed to start thinking about how this would affect me - blah, blah, blah - and for all my talking the only thing I accomplished was that I made her angry. Very angry.
I felt horrible putting her on a plane right after having an argument, that was not how I wanted her visit to end. She got me back though. Later that night her boyfriend at the time called me and told me he had taken her to the hospital with chest pains - great, I knew exactly who was to blame for this little episode and it was me. She was fine, it turned out to be indigestion. Or orneriness. When I spoke to her the next day she asked me if I was happy now that she had seen a doctor. No, because that’s not what I meant, but I didn’t say it, I just let it go. I know when I’m defeated. From then on, we only talked about her health if she brought it up and she rarely ever did.