Wednesday, August 9, 2017

James Edward Mann: December 5, 1943- July 19, 2027

My dad died three weeks ago.  Three weeks since I have heard his voice, held his hand, kissed his cheek.   How is that possible?  While I need to write about grief and I will, I NEED to in order to help me process it all, this post is not about that. This post is about my dad.

I am and forever will be a Daddy's Girl. In kindergarten I told friends I wanted to marry my dad.  He was my hero, my protector, my emergency contact, my cheerleader, my check in person, the person I went to for advice in business and in life.

At one point while he was in the hospital that last time, it was just me and him.  I was sitting by his side, talking about our favorite memories, (his a time just the two of us were in NH in the snow searching for the perfect Christmas tree to cut down, mine when I called after a boyfriend had broken up with me in high school, crying and my dad asked me if I wanted him to kill the kid. "Yes daddy" I said.) We were both crying and he told me I got him through my older brother's death.  I told him "You got me through everything".  And he did.   I called him when good and bad things happened.   He was the first person I called to share good news or to share my successes. When I learned my marriage was over and I didn't think I could handle it, I called him sobbing.  I couldn't even get out words; he hung up and 10 minutes later was at my door to hold me as I sobbed.

I remember one time I was home from college, alone and found a copy of a work review from his boss.  Being nosy I read over it and remember distinctly it was the first time I realized that my dad was also a smart guy with a keen business sense who was immensely liked by his co workers and his clients. I hear people talk about learning their parents are not infallible; I remember learning my dad was exactly what I thought and even more.

My parents took us all to Jackson, Wyoming in 2006.  It was a magically perfect trip and the Tetons went from being a place I never cared to see to one of my most cherished places in the universe.  While we were there we all took turns writing in a journal about our experiences.  For Christmas that year I took them and put them all in one book and gave as presents to everyone. Last Friday I was really missing him and decided to go through lives on my coffee table but I hardly ever look at it.  I sent my brother my Dad's Favorite Memories page and just said "We are so lucky he was our Dad."

Lucky.  That is what I feel. In all the materials the hospice gave us there was always a section about coming to terms with less than perfect relationships when someone dies.  There were tips like "don't make the dying person feel guilty for disappointing you" or "consider apologizing for your part in any misunderstandings that might have come in the way of your relationship."  That wasn't us.  There is no doubt in my mind that my dad loved me and that he knew I loved him.  He told me he was proud of me too many times to remember. He raised me to believe I could do anything.  "Hey Dad, I think I want to run of marathon." "I wonder if I can do a Ironman"  "Of course you can Kitten".  I was never fast or good, but my Dad was always at the finish line, proud of me no matter how slow I was, and hugging me no matter how sweaty I was!

I never for a second ever doubted that no matter what, if I called him and told him I needed him, he would drop whatever he was doing and come to my side. I remember when I learned someone's father would not be at his wedding because he couldn't get time off work.  I couldn't believe it.  My dad would have quit his job.  No question in my mind, he would have been there. During a particularly hard time in my life my parents surprised me for my birthday, driving to Charlotte only 2 months after he had open heart surgery.  It took them 3 days to drive because he kept having to stop, but he made it because he knew I needed him there, even though I never asked.   He put our family first and was fiercely devoted to us and friends we considered family. I can remember him spending time with countless of my friends, talking to them as a surrogate father, another sounding board.  If we loved you, he loved you.  One of the nicer things since he has died is how many of my friends reached out, deeply affected by his death, taking it as hard as if he was their own father.

It has been fantastic hearing other people say all these great things about my dad; corroborating what I have felt all my life. And I don't think they are just doing the "don't say anything bad about the dead."   I was so touched when the hospice nurses commented about how nice my dad was, thanking them for their help.  He was the kind of guy that was always looking out for other people.  His needs came a distant last to those of us he loved.  On a cruise headed to formal dinner we passed a man who was holding a tie in his hand, looking lost.  My dad offered his help and tied the tie for the man who had never worn one. He was just that nice, sweet, kind person, genuinely.

And he was so funny.  So, so funny.  We had so many inside jokes in our family...we are always laughing.  Even at the end, when his oxygen mask made farting noises he made it a joke. He may have felt terrible, but he was making us laugh, saying something funny, playing with the gloves or the tiny trash can they gave him in ICU, telling completely inappropriate jokes, but making the best of the situation.  He had this sharp wit about him and was always quick with a one liner here and there. I wrote in the Jackson book that I always felt like we are part of a private club when it was just us...always laughing, the rest of the world ceasing to exist but for us.

There are too many memories, too many things to say and I feel this post is an inadequate effort, falling short in trying to put my love and admiration into words or describe all the million of ways he was the perfect dad to our family, the perfect man in my eyes. I am so thankful he was my dad, my friend. He is my judge for how a man should act and be and those are some very high standards.  He made me feel like I was the most beautiful, special person in the world and I know in his eyes I was.  The hole in my heart is immense and will never be filled.  We were lucky all the scheme of things, it was a "good death". There were no agonizing weeks of pain.  I know he loved me and I know he knew I loved him.  I was able to spend his last few days by his side, holding his hand, talking, laughing, reminiscing. We were all there with him. The last thing he ever ate was his favorite ice cream. The last text he sent me said he loved me and only wants me to be happy.   I am beyond grateful he did not suffer.  But all of  that doesn't make him being gone easier.  I am and forever will be a Daddy's Girl and will forever miss my Daddy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My Dad

I've thought a lot about what love is since I got divorced.  Not silly new relationship crush love, but deep, true, eternal total acceptance love. I've wondered if I had that when I was married, what that feels like. And the fact that I was wondering about it made me think that maybe I have never felt that kind of of those if you have to ask then the answer is no. 

My dad's dying.  As I type this, I am sitting in room 10 of the Treasure Coast Hospice House, listening to his labored breathing, watching his shell of a body merely exist.  It could be hours, it could be days til he dies.  We don't know. 

It all seems so sudden to us all, though I think that is more because we chose to ignore the signs. He was diagnosed with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis a year and half ago.  They told us the life expectancy was 2-5 years.  But, we thought, doctors can be wrong. He coughed, all the time, eventually having to be on oxygen.  He was tired all the time; walking from the kitchen to the bedroom was enough to make him sleep for hours.  We should have seen it getting worse, realized what that meant, but we didn't.  He saw doctors who suggested it was this or that, tweaked this medicine, changed that one.   He got worse, we weren't ready to see it.  So last Sunday, when he could't get his breath my mom took him to the ER.  They didn't even tell my brother or me because they thought they'd be home that night.  Monday they let us know he was still there.  I talked to him Tuesday, by Wednesday he was in a full face mask and Thursday I flew down in a race to get here before he died.

I've spent the last 6 days with my dying father and now I know for a fact that love exists.  It's palpable here really, the love in my family.  Things I never thought I'd have the stomach for I have done in an instant for my dad.  We've held hands, talked, laughed, reminisced.  I am lucky we had the last  few days to do that. We all thought we'd have more time.  We always think there is more time.

The last thing he texted me came two nights ago.  "I love you so very much and want only happiness in your life. Love Dad."  I am numb right now, watching him, feeling his hands grow colder.  I know the heartbreak is coming, though right now I am wishing for a peaceful end to his life. 

Logically I know I will survive, that I will continue to exist, that overall I will be OK. But I know I will never be the same without my dad alive. But for the rest of my life I know that yes, I have had love for another person, my father, my friend, my hero, my cheerleader, the man who made me feel like I was the most beautiful, special person in the world. I am forever grateful for that.