Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Wild One

 I always wonder ~ for what reasons do we meet the people we do? When a friend showed me a picture of the Wild One I was definitely interested. The first time I saw him in person he was sitting on my friend's front porch and I felt an instant attraction. After chatting with him, I thought he felt a connection too. But, I wasn't sure until he walked me to my car and asked if I wanted to go out some time. Over the next few months I had a lot of fun getting to know him better.

The Wild One is very different from anyone I have dated before. I usually go for musicians or artists. Sensitive souls. Talented, but not necessarily handy around the house.  But, the Wild One is a complete Alpha Male.  He is strong and brave and does crazy stuff. He is an adrenaline junkie.  He thinks nothing of skydiving out of a perfectly good airplane or driving a race car at top speed. He planned dates that included off road exploring through the countryside and go-carting. I never knew exactly what to expect.

The Wild One is quite handy, he can fix just about anything.  If a furnace isn't working he replaces it, if a pipe is leaking he finds the source of the problem and takes care of it.  When he visited me, he wondered why the oven door was on my kitchen floor. I explained to him that it had been there for months, I had broken it off trying to clean it.  Three people had tried to fix it but insisted it was impossible and broken beyond repair. It had been suggested I replace the oven. But, it wasn't in the budget. Obviously I don't cook much anyway since it had been broken for months. Well, the Wild One took a look at it and had it fixed in less than 10 minutes. Another time, he helped me move furniture in my classroom at the beginning of the school year. He noticed that I had a lot of books and workbooks that were all different sizes and nowhere to store them. So he took some measurements and the next day he built a shelf perfectly tailored to those books. He built it with his own two hands and no directions. He didn't need google. Or Siri.  (FYI that is NOT a dig at anyone specific. So please don't send me hate emails.)

It had been a joke in my family that I tend to go for guys that have similar personalities to my mom. Funny, nurturing, a little bit of a worrier.

But, the Wild One reminds me of how my father was. Crazy, stubborn, determined, fixer of all things, generous, protective.  I knew when I was with The Wild One I didn't have to worry. He was a complete badass. A bear crossed his path and he didn't even panic.

My mom didn't know exactly what to do with the Wild One's personality. The first time she met him he was drinking at a picnic and in rare form and telling his stories! He kept refilling my red solo cup. She was horrified. One time he visited her house and he let her know that he had peed in the bushes in the front yard.  She couldn't get over it. She just kept saying, "I don't understand it. Why would he pee in the yard? We have indoor plumbing!  Who does that??"

But, despite his outrageousness, the Wild One would take care of things. He was definitely the "man" in the relationship.  Which gave me the freedom to be the woman that I felt like being. I could relax and let him handle lifting heavy objects, reaching top shelves.  I didn't have to stress when he drove. Although it felt reckless because of the speed or the condition of the roads, I knew it was safe because he had the ability to handle it.  I didn't have the constant need for an imaginary brake like I normally would.

The Wild One was not afraid of fire.  Literally. He was a volunteer firefighter.  But, also figuratively.  I didn't have to worry that the fire of my personality would overtake him.  I felt inherently that he was strong and that my temper and passionate nature wouldn't scare him.  Weaker men have tried to douse that fire by watering it down.  But, the Wild One didn't blink an eye.  He wasn't water. He was stone.

I have not laughed as much or shared more of who I am with someone in a relationship quite like that before.  We had an insane amount of chemistry.  Despite being jaded from past experiences, I felt like I could trust and explore and feel alive again.

And though I knew better, I absolutely fell 100% in love with his dog. I knew the attachment would only hurt when the relationship ended. After divorce the future is not a clearcut thing. For me, a single mother with 3 kids, the future is like looking at a black screen. I know what I feel in the moment. But, I can't see one second beyond today.  I like to be entertained. I like to have fun. I even like getting to know someone and sharing thoughts and fears and hopes and daring to dream. But, the future is not on the screen. I can't see it. Or feel it.  It is just the here and now.  So falling in love with a person's dog was not part of the plan. I honestly do not even like dogs.  But, that crazy, untrained mutt took a piece of my heart.

I believe that each person comes into our lives for a reason and sometimes it is not the reason you initially thought. Though the Wild One might not be for the long run, it's been a good experience. It was an opportunity to explore the dating after divorce world a little more. And a great distraction as I grieved the loss of my father.  Each person that enters my life is someone to learn from. The Wild One sure did have a lot to teach me. Most lessons were enlightening and very entertaining. Some were not so much fun.  New wisdom, new understandings that's what life is all about.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Time for Dying

When my Dad told me in August that he was stopping chemo treatments, what we refer to as Deathwatch 2014 began. I didn't realize that he would be dead 3 weeks later.  He had been fighting Lymphoma for 3 years with radiation and chemo treatments putting him in and out of remission over that time. This summer it was obvious that the treatments were poisoning him and taking it's toll.  Even his doctors said it was his sheer will to live that  was keeping him alive because the treatments were only doing so much.

One night I was there helping him while my Mom was at work.  He was agitated because his balance was off and the muscles in his legs had weakened because of the chemo.  He didn't want me to help him, so he insisted on dragging himself down the hallway using his walker and then pretty much flinging himself into bed without my assistance.  I walked near him anyway and he said, "So you are determined to help, right?"  Yep. I pretty much got my stubborn gene from him so he really shouldn't have been surprised.

When I left that night I knew.  He didn't seem as resolved as he had before.  He had 5 more days to go before his next treatment and it didn't feel like he was gearing up like he had been for the past few months.

He told my mother later that night and the rest of us the next day that he was not going to do any more chemo.  We all understood and agreed he had put in more than a fair share of effort to fight.  We knew that he only did it for us to begin with, the past 3 years he survived for my mom and our family.  Now we had to let him do what he needed to.

So Deathwatch 2014 began.

In my mind it was going to take months for tumors to grow and death to happen.

But, in reality…it was fast.

The kids and I spent as much time as possible with him over the next couple of weeks.  My aunts and good friends of our family stayed with us over those next few weeks helping with everything from cooking meals to supporting us emotionally to even caring for my Dad when he would allow it.

His strength deteriorated rapidly, but still I was thinking there would be more months to go.

The last week of August he told me that he was going to live to the celebrate my sons' birthdays on Labor Day and then that was it.  He said he was at peace with it and not to be upset.

I was thinking oh ok Dad. Sounds like a plan.

Well…he made it to the birthday party on September 1st. Thanks to our good friends he was able to be transported with his wheelchair to the park where we celebrated.

Then he went home and slept.  And never really woke up fully conscious again after that.

Hospice started the next morning.  He stayed mostly asleep.  When he did wake up he wasn't really talking much.  But, he was still getting his point across that he didn't want help and would try walking on his own.  The nurses had a difficult time moving him because his strength was surprising despite all the weight he had lost. They expected him to be weak and frail but he was really like the hulk with his super human strength so they couldn't lift him.  Eventually we had to request all male nurses to help with lifting. Thankfully he ended up with 3 amazing men that were able to care for him and assist him so he was able to stay home to die in peace like he wanted.

The 10 days after the birthday party are a bit of a blur.  Mostly I stayed at my parent's house with my aunts and our friends that were helping out. Our support system was amazing! My good friends took turns staying with my children and getting them to school. My boss and coworkers were absolutely fantastic about covering my class and caring for my students and children so that I could be there for my Dad's last days.

SO we sat. and sat. and waited. We ate and talked and told stories. My Dad stayed mostly unconscious.

One friend suggested that this Deathwatch process was an "Italian Family Thing."  I am not sure about that because I have talked with other friends that have big families that had similar experiences.  But, in speaking to others I have realized, it is not a common practice.  It may even be a bit crazy.

But, I don't mind being crazy.  It was worth it to pause every aspect of life. Especially because he woke up one night and everyone was there visiting and he was clear minded and when he saw me he said, "awww I love you!"

Relatives showed up to say goodbye, friends from all eras of my Dad's life came to visit. Cousins we hadn't seen in months were there with food. It was like a family reunion.  People chatted and shared stories of their time with my Dad.  Nurses and physical therapists that had worked with him over the past 3 years stopped by to say goodbye.  Everyone had their own stories.

We sat around him while he peacefully slept and shared with each other how he touched our lives in so many ways.  And we ate. And we laughed.

Through it all I couldn't help thinking what am amazing tribute it was to the life he lived that friends didn't wait until he was dead to pay respects.  They had been there throughout his life, stood by him in the 3 years he fought to survive and in his dying days did not abandon him or our family.

It says a lot about how he lived.  I can think of a million stories of my Dad reaching out to others.  There was one Christmas he had a coworker down on her luck.  We went with him and waited in the car as he dropped off a tree, gifts and groceries to surprise that family.

Too many stories like that to count.  But, he loved helping others and his generosity was his greatest attribute.  It was obvious in the faces of the people that loved him that he meant a lot to their lives.

Even the nurses that met him during that last week were affected by him.  He was UNCONSCIOUS when they met him, but they each said what a gentle soul he had, what a good man he was.  They worked around the clock to ensure that he had a dignified and peaceful death.

One nurse, Bob, spent a few days with us. I felt like I knew him forever.  He told us that his shortest assignment had been a few hours and longest had been 6 days.  Hmmmm….considering it was Day 4 of Bob with us,  I was wishing my Mom hadn't asked that question.  When Bob said goodbye after that shift I knew he was not expecting to see my Dad alive again.

On the morning of September 11th, Dad's nurse Godwin showed up.  That is when my mother knew.  It would be that day.  It would be Dad's last day.  She had to run an errand. We stayed out only exactly long enough to do what needed to be done and then we took shifts all day being with my Dad. She didn't want him alone for a minute.  My aunts stayed and our good friends were there too.  The house was quiet all day.  The only sound was Dad's playlist of songs coming from his iPad.  It was background music of all his favorite songs.  We would be talking or doing something and Depserado would come on and all of a sudden we would all be in tears.

Around 3:30 my mom wanted to take a shower so it was my shift to be with Dad.  I had my laptop and I was looking at Facebook and listening to his music.  When I heard In My LIfe by the Beatles play off his iPad, I just lost it. It finally it me that it wasn't going to be months. It was within hours and he was no longer going to be alive.

And then the power went out.

I freaked out a little  bit.  His oxygen tank was beeping and I thought he was dead. I walked over and touched his arm and nearly jumped out of skin when he took a breath.

We realized a fuse had just blown out when my Mom plugged in her hair dryer. We all laughed.

A few minutes later, Godwin came in and told me he was going to get my Dad bathed and dressed. So I went to talk and watch TV with my aunts.

When Godwin came out to get me, I knew.  I walked back into my Dad's room and he was lying there so peacefully.  My Mom was holding his hand.  He was gone.

Those few minutes were quiet.  It settled in a little.

Then a flurry of action happened. Family and friends and hospice nurses and a social worker arrived.
We waited for my brother to get there so he could have some time too.

At 7 pm Bob showed up.  It would have been his 7th Day.  No one had called him. When he walked through the door, the look on his face broke my heart.

He made a joke and said that when he drove up to the house and saw all the cars he thought, "Who died?"   Then he looked at me and said, "too soon?"  No. It was perfect. My Dad would have gotten a kick out of it.  It broke the tension!

Dinner was made, funeral directors were called. The house was full of people, of love.

The next few days we made memorial arrangements and picture collages and told more stories and celebrated his life through services and moments together.

Then the next day I went back to work.  And life went on. and on.

The next thing I knew it was Thanksgiving. He wasn't there to cook. To laugh. To wash all the dishes.
And it hit me.  Death is forever.

But, it was just a moment on Thanksgiving.  We had family and friends and the kids around so I was distracted.  That wasn't the hardest part.

For me the difficulty is the rest of the time, not the holiday.  My Dad was a part of my daily life. I would go there after work with my kids for dinner 2-3 times a week and Sundays.  Always Sundays.  And he did my laundry. I would drop it off on Friday nights and pick it up on Sundays washed and ironed for the week. Even when he could barely walk he had a washer and dryer put into his bedroom and would still do my laundry.  When I told him he didn't have to. He would day, "I'm not dead yet!"

I called him for everything. EVERY THING.  He fixed my cars, replaced batteries in my smoke detectors, painted my kitchen, cleaned my house, babysat the kids, cooked meals,  and as my friend Meeghan loves to remind me - I called him to unclog toilets.

Sometimes I dream about him.  He always looks healthy and his hair has grown back and he is happy.  In my dream one time, he told me to buy new cordless phones and to make sure I buy Panasonic ones.

I know that there is a purpose for everything under Heaven. And there is a time to die. And everyone loses people they love. And everything happens for a reason. Etc. Etc. Etc.   But, seriously -  it sucks!