Thursday, September 01, 2005

Happy Birthday

I stood at my kitchen sink, washing the bowls from the cake--and cupcakes--and thought, today, I should be making this cake for someone else. I would have made chocolate frosting, as fudgy as possible, and worried about what to get someone who doesn't care about cologne or neckties. Today, my dad would have been sixty-three years old. He was born in 1942 and died in 1989.

I reminisced about him while I beat the butter and sugar into frosting and I tried to remember celebrating his last birthday, his forty-seventh. But I couldn't. Did I bake a cake? I don't know. Did we go out to eat dinner? I can't remember. The last few weeks of his life, he slept up to twenty hours a day.

I hate that I can't remember. I probably have something written in a spiral bound journal somewhere, but my stack of journals in my bedroom closet doesn't have a search feature like google, unfortunately. All I can really remember are the last eleven days, starting with that day after work when I returned home. He stood waiting, told me he needed to go to the hospital immediately. His shoulder pain (due to steroid treatments) was unbearable. He needed better medication.

He insisted I drive his car to the hospital and I made uneasy smalltalk on the way. We waited in the waiting room for a long time and he grew more and more aggravated. Finally, an intake nurse asked him a bunch of questions and when he admitted to chest pain, he was whisked back to a room.

A different nurse walked in, focused on a clipboard. She said, "Mrs. M_____? What seems to be the problem?"

And he said wryly, "I haven't had my period."

Then she looked at his face and said, "Oh. Mr. _____. Sorry."

I kissed him goodbye right before he was admitted. We were not a touchy-feely family and that is one of the only times I remember kissing him goodbye. Now I wish I'd stayed longer, held his hand, asked him about his life and and been some comfort. How difficult it is to shift roles, though. He was still my father, that impenetrable fortress of a man who didn't cry or shake with fear or loneliness. I figured I'd pick him up the next day. No big deal.

The next day, when I called from work, I was transferred to critical care. What? Critical care? The nurse said, "Oh, we are so glad you called. We've been trying to reach you." My dad had a seizure during his MRI and they'd injected him with morphine to stop the seizing. He'd been sedated ever since.

But the news was worse. We knew about his brain tumor, but now they knew that cancer had obliterated his liver. He had only a short time to live. The doctors couldn't offer any further treatment. That night, I still didn't go to the hospital. He was unconscious. He wouldn't even know if I were there or not. I stayed home and made phone calls, rallying support.

His best friend drove two hours to sit by his bedside. The entire eleven days he was in the hospital, I'd find my grandmother sitting vigil, or an uncle standing solemnly in his room. Sometimes we'd have odd makeshift sort of parties, a group of us laughing and joking and him, eyes mere slits, either asleep or awake, who could tell? One day, they moved him to a chair. His hands were like giant starfish clinging to the arms of the chair. My mother (yes, divorced from him for thirteen years, the same length of time she'd been married to him)looked at him and joked, "I bet I could beat you in Pictionary now!"

(My dad and I were unbeatable. He was talented, could draw like a cartoonist. I am an imaginative, intuitive guesser and a pretty good drawer. My mother was a liability in that game, a horrible guesser and a worse drawer. We showed no mercy.)

My dad sat slouched in that chair, trapped in his dying body and shook his head no. And we all roared with laughter.

I remember the details of those somber days and the rare moments of laughter. But I can't remember his birthday.

A hole gapes in my heart where he should be. And so I celebrate my bright sunshiny daughter's third birthday--she is a miracle, the unexpected baby girl the doctors said it was unlikely I'd ever conceive--and I cry for the grandfather she never knew. Joy and sorrow, side by side, hand in hand.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Happy birthday, Babygirl.


Blogger Wash Lady said...

Hugs Mel. Just hugs.
Happy Birthday Baby Girl, I remember that day :)

3:41 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Beautiful post, Mel. Choked me up.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...


6:43 AM  
Anonymous mopsy said...

It's one of those days where the past and future collide, overwhelming and not accidental. What a beautiful post.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

(((Mel)))We share a lot of the same sorrow. I'm glad I read your blog, it gives me strength. :) Happy Birthday Babygirl!

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Donna said...


Happy Birthday to Babygirl!

12:03 PM  
Blogger Julana said...

That is a great post. I'm sorry your life has had this pain.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous beth said...

Beautiful post, and I think is is amazing that we can carry joy and sorrow at the same time. Happy Birthday, Baby Girl, enjoy the day.

1:30 PM  
Blogger ilovecheese said...

Hi Mel,
Happy Birthday to Babygirl! SHe must be enjoying the cake..

Every little thing they did stands out - I completely admire your father's spirit - he did not lose his sense of humour till the end.

Words are not enough to say how moving your post was. Hauntingly sad. (squeezes hand)

2:48 PM  
Blogger red fish said...

Darn it Mel, you make me cry again! ((Hugs)) I hope Baby Girl had a wonderful birthday.

6:51 PM  
Blogger ...just-rambling... said...

Beautifully written, and very touching. It's a miraacle that baby girl was born exactly 60 years after your dad was born.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

My friend, I am so sorry that the pain is still so fresh for you.

Amazing the things we remember- and forget!


9:36 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I'm late but I wanted to tell you how much your post touched me. Happy birthday to your daughter and to your much missed father.

6:53 AM  

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