Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Fifteen Years Ago

Way back in the forties, when my dad was young. . . Posted by Hello

Twenty-one years years ago, I went away to college. My parents--mother, father, stepmother--and siblings and even my grandmother converged on the Everett, Washington, Greyhound bus station where I boarded a bus for Springfield, Missouri. I traveled for four days, three interminable nights on a bus, journeying to the distant land of Central Bible College, where I sought my destiny. I'm not sure why my parents put me on a bus, rather than an airplane. The cost was not much different. I wonder if it was a test of my resolve, an attempt to deter me from going so far from home? I was desperate to leave, though, eager to shake free from my parents and the mess they'd made of my life and yearning to distance myself from the pain and heartache of my broken family.

When I arrived in Missouri, I had actual sores on my posterior from riding so long. I was bleary from lack of sleep. Buses tend to stop in the dark hours of early morning at random, rural places for extended periods. I hadn't bathed, I hadn't slept well, I hadn't eaten much in those four days.

I didn't even bother to call my dad to let him know I had arrived safely. How inconsiderate, I think now, but at the time, I didn't think. I didn't think he'd worry, I didn't think he'd care, I didn't think he'd notice. Eventually, he reached my dormitory phone and assured himself that I had, indeed, survived the grueling ride.

On Saturday, September 17, 1983, he began writing a letter to me:

Dear Mel,

I sure hope you appreciate this. You know how much I hate to write letters.

It is now 10:20 p.m. I'm just sitting in the living room writing this while KBRD and the ticking of the clock make up for the silence.

Hope all is going well for you. I can remember when I left home to go to North Central [Bible College]. When I left, it didn't bother me and it didn't bother me being away from home, either. It never dawned on me that my mother missed me or that she was sad when I left.

The night you left, I realized what my mother must have gone through twenty-one years before. When that bus pulled away and you disappeared, I felt all the sorrow and loneliness that I am sure my mother felt.

That night I crawled into bed, and cried a river of tears. I cried not only because you were gone and you would not be coming back for a long time, but I cried because of the failure I was as a father.

Here you are, grown and gone from home and I can't even remember being a father to you. I can't remember playing with you, holding you on my lap or ever doing anything with you. I can't remember taking you to church, reading you a story of any kind, let alone a Bible story, or doing anything that would make a little girl happy.

I guess I haven't been much of a father. But I do love you and I am proud of you for the beautiful young lady you have chosen to become. I am thankful for all the good influences of your mother, grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles.

Even though as a father and a spiritual example I was a failure, I hope that you will understand that I did work hard and tried to provide as best I could.

I have a tremendous amount of love for all of you kids, it's just that the only way I knew how to show it was to work hard. I gave everything except the most important thing, myself and my time.

Forgive me for being the way I am.

[Then he stops writing, and resumes writing on September 25 . . . general chit-chat about the weather and my siblings. He finishes the letter . . . ]

Well, it is now 11:55 p.m. and it is time for me to get some rest.

Study hard, but don't study so hard that you miss out on having some fun in life.

Love, Dad

Fifteen years ago, I arranged to have my dad discharged from the hospital where he'd been hospitalized for eleven days. He'd made it clear that he did not want to die in the hospital, so I brought him home.

My great aunts said, "What will you do? You have to go back to work sometime," and they suggested a nursing home. I said no. I wanted him home. The ambulance brought him into the house on a stretcher, but he had to walk the final few steps to his bed, which was in the lavender room where I spent my teenage years.

The last thing he said was to the ambulance drivers, an impossibly young man and woman who said to him loudly, as if he were deaf and not just dying of cancer, "SIR, YOU MUST WALK TO THE BED! SIR! SIR!" And he said with great irritation, "I KNOW!!" I stood in the doorway of the master bedroom, clutching a pillow helplessly, watching, terrified of this drama.

Then he baby-stepped his way to the hospital bed that waited for him. He never spoke again. I could see his pulse racing in his neck and his breathing was rushed, but he lived through the night.

The next morning, I dressed and went to work. My aunts were staying with us for a few more days. I peeked into the room and Aunt Lu told me he'd had a restless night, but that he was calm. When I called at noon, she told me he was stable.

When I arrived home at 4:00 p.m., Aunt Lu met me in the driveway and told me it was time to go get my sister. She said he was failing quickly.

I drove a few miles to KFC, where my sister worked. She was almost seventeen and had worried aloud about this moment. Who would tell her? Who would get her? I walked into the restaurant, asked for her and when she appeared, I couldn't speak. I just held out my arms and choked on the words, "It's time." We wept right there in front of the refrigerator case.

When we walked into the house, Aunt Lu said he was having seizures, that we should not go into the room. I pushed past her, my sister behind me and when I saw him convulsing, arms and legs straight and shaking, I turned and led my sister back to the darkened living room. By the time I walked back down the hallway to the bedroom, he was dead.

My mother was on the other side of the bed, weeping and saying, "Into Your hands, we commit his spirit." My three great aunts were in the room and they hugged me and we cried. I touched his cheek, the rough reddish beard that was so full of gray and said, "Poor Daddy." He was forty-seven years old. I was twenty-four. Melanoma had killed him.

I went through the house, then, to find my husband. He was in my dad's office in the garage, waiting with my stepmother (my dad's ex-wife) and my dad's best friend. I said, "It's over," and then my husband held me and I cried some more.

The day only grew weirder then, as we sat and waited with mostly dry eyes while the men from the funeral home struggled to carry my tall, hefty dad out of the house. This time, they couldn't persuade him to walk just a few steps around the problematic corner. My husband helped carry my dad away as I sat and tried not to listen to them grunt and gasp under the weight of him.

I wondered then and I wonder now, "What will we do without him? How will we go on? What happens to us now?"

And I'm still not sure. But this I know beyond any doubt: He loved me. What more could a little girl need?

He would have adored being a grandfather. My Babygirl would have been the most spoiled, cherished, worshipped baby girl who ever walked this earth. My boys would have thrived under his tutelage--they would be computer experts, radio-repair hot-shots, video-game partners, jokers extraordinaire.

I still need my dad.
I still miss my dad.
I still love my dad.

I hope I told him enough.


Blogger Brandie said...

::sniff, sniff::

11:36 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...


4:31 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father, and how special to have tht letter from him.

5:25 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Everytime you love those kids of yours, even the adopted ones, you are loving him. Little bits of your dad linger on in them, if not by DNA, but by what he added to your life which you now pass on to your kids.

And, when you share like you do, you allow someone like me to experience the reality of life and love. That it hurts like crazy! Yet, even in our failures, it matters that we lived.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Stacy said...

Hi Mel! Stopped in to see what you've been up to since I left the blogosphere and found this. Very touching. It stirred up some pretty serious emotions and memories for me. I lost my dad to lung cancer 11 years ago this October.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Alesia said...

I seriously had to choke back the tears. Thanks for sharing such a touching story. (((((Melodee)))))

7:37 AM  
Blogger Eyes said...

sigh...the tears....oh...

thanks for the story. it puts things so into perspective. my dad will be celebrating his 70th birthday next friday. i really want to make it a special day now more than ever... i just don't know what to do.


8:39 AM  
Blogger G~ said...

What a precious post, Melodee.


3:11 PM  
Blogger Marykay said...

I couldn't post a comment a few hours ago because I was crying too hard.You did a beautiful thing here.
I miss my dad, too. He died 3 years ago from lung cancer. Ok, gonna go cry a little more.

3:21 PM  
Blogger QQ said...

Tears are flowing and if I were sitting next to you, I would hug you.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

You have a wonderful way of sharing your vivid, personal memories...

12:48 PM  

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