WARNING: I get real and personal on today’s blog post. I promise witty charm and silly stories will be back in my next posts. But today is all about unleashing some grief.
Today marks an anniversary I hate that I have to acknowledge. One that I never thought would have to be put on my calendar. The reason it’s hard for me to feel thankful on Thanksgiving. Today is one year since my father passed away.
It’s still difficult to accept that he’s gone given how quickly everything happened. 14 months ago my parents left for a Viking cruise to Portugal and Spain that my dad had spent the entire year planning. He was so thrilled once my mom retired from teaching in 2011 that he planned a big European trip every year, even though he knew my mom hated traveling. He was determined to show her the world outside of NJ.
One month later we learned my dad had late stage pancreatic and liver cancer after showing absolutely no signs other than a sudden loss of appetite during their trip and significant weight loss upon their return. My dad was a big guy, so it was easy to hide losing 25 pounds. But my dad also loved eating and drinking wine, so when he stopped doing both of those things, we knew something serious was going down.
55 weeks ago my dad told me he decided he did not want to go through cancer treatment. He pointed towards the top floor of our house and said, “I’m going to die in my own fucking bed.” (because what would a sincere Bud moment be without some cursing?) I still remember crawling into his lap as he sat in his desk chair in the Bud Cave (aka the basement). I hugged him and just started crying. That sweet moment lasted about 90 seconds until my cancer-weakened father couldn’t take the weight of his then-35 year old little girl.
I’m not going to lie. I was ANGRY when he told me he was not going to go through treatment. This was the man who always told me not to take any shit from anyone. Who taught me to fight for what I believe in (and fight back against anyone who tried to put me down). This guy would move mountains to make things happen for his kids. So to hear him giving up upon his diagnosis PISSED ME OFF. What do you mean you’re not even going to try?!?!?!
But the reality was my father was weak. Neither myself or my mom know how long things had really been going on. Because my dad hated doctors, medications, and waiting rooms, it was pretty rare he’d go out of his way to seek medical assistance if he felt slightly off. He knew he was walking into a losing battle with cancer. And if there’s one thing my dad hates to do, it’s lose. That, plus I know he did not want to lose the thickest hair I’d ever seen on an almost 72 year old man. He was going out on his own terms come hell or high water.
So hell it was. 54 weeks ago began the worst 2 weeks of our family’s history. Hospice came in and did their thing. My mom thought she could handle my dad on her own. That lasted 2 days before around the clock help was brought in because my tiny mom could not handle my large framed father. Plus, the more delirious he got the more demanding he became. About a week later my dad became unresponsive as he started slipping into a coma. And 52 weeks ago he officially left our family. The next day my mom broke down at the kitchen table and sobbed, “I feel like a piece of me is gone and can never be filled.”
Thanksgiving last year sucked. It was one of my dad’s favorite holidays, and the lack of his presence was felt. Gratitude and thankfulness and all that nonsense was nowhere to be found at our dinner table. A few days later we had a very small family-only viewing and funeral service and said our good-byes to his body as he joined my grandparents in the mausoleum. And so began our “new normal”.
“How’s Your Mom?”
The #1 question I get asked these days. My mom has a lot of good people in her life. After wanting to be left alone in the weeks following my dad’s passing, she now has one full social calendar. Lunch dates, bus trips, and volunteer gigs are where you can find my mom these days. She still spends a lot of time in the kitchen, but now it’s about meal prepping for one. And if there’s one thing Italians don’t do well, it’s make food for one person. So mom looks forward to having people over to serve.
Family: Are Any Normal?
One of the unfortunately positives coming out of all this is rebuilding some broken family relationships. My father’s strong will caused some serous divides in our family over the years. The below picture is the first family photos I have with my brothers and parent since the last time my oldest brother came to visit NJ from Arizona back in 2007 after our grandmother’s passing (seriously, what is it about death bringing the living together???).
His Presence is Still Felt
My dad was a big personally, which means just because his body and mouth aren’t here doesn’t mean his spirit isn’t still present. For starters, every time the answering machine picks up at my parent’s house, it’s my dad on the outgoing message. I keep waiting for my dad to call at the completely wrong time. I keep expecting to see silly emails flooding my inbox. But they never come. Below is one of the last emails I got from my dad before he left for Portugal. Mr E and I were in the midst of buying our home, which my dad never got to see. He passed away a few hours after we closed on our home. He wanted to make sure we got our house before he left this plane. Bud wasn’t big on loose ends.
And as of a few weeks ago, my dad’s presence grew to his alma mater, Monmouth University. In 2003 one of my dad’s college roommates died suddenly of a heart attack. My dad launched a campaign to have the first tree planted on campus in memory of an alumni for his friend. Shortly after dad passed, my mom went to the campus and saw there was only one tree available in the Sculpture Garden. 25 feet away from my dad’s roommate and friend. A showing of some truly cosmic karma there, my friends.
So there you have it. One year later, and although he hasn’t been with us, he still hasn’t left our minds or hearts. Grief is hard. It doesn’t make you ungrateful for the things you do have, but it certainly makes you question the cards that you’re dealt at times. I’m beyond thankful my mom is as strong and independent as she is. She truly is the epitome of grace. And at night I hug Mr E a little tighter and kiss him a little longer because I never want to forget those feelings of his touch. If you have special people in your life, make sure they know it.