An Unexpected Death

My dad died in mid-March. It has been a much harder thing for me to write about than I had envisioned. I have started a memoir about the experience, which is bringing out a lot of buried emotions. I can’t seem to ‘get’ to the level I need to in order to write every day. In my head, I know what I want to say. But when I sit down to write/type, my mind goes blank and I suffer the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had.

His death was unexpected. He has always been one of the healthiest people I’ve known. At 85, he was still showing horses and shoeing his own. He was up every day by 5:30. He ate healthy, three meals a day. He weighed the same as he did the day he got married. So, when he had a heart attack, it shocked us all. When we were told he had a 90% blockage in one artery, I was flummoxed. He had triple bypass, and he came out of that with great results.

One week after that surgery, he had a massive stroke and was flown out of state to Denver, where most of that clot was removed successfully. I thought he would make a full recovery and be back to his life within a few months. Unfortunately, things snowballed. He lost the ability to swallow. He got pneumonia. He had a DVT in his left leg, the one affected by the stroke. He was put on oxygen. He started bleeding internally, and the ulcer repair only helped for about a day. He started bleeding in his stool, and his body just started shutting down.

Up until the day before he died, his mind was sharp, like it had always been. He was worried about everyone else. I know he was scared, but he didn’t say anything directly. What he did say was that he didn’t want to be abandoned.

In the weeks since his passing, I have thought more and more about the man he was, and I’ve realized I didn’t know him. Not the total person. Sadly, he didn’t talk about his early life. He didn’t share with us the hard childhood he had as the oldest of three boys. He didn’t talk about his high school days. He didn’t tell us that in college, at one point, he led the nation in the steer wrestling event in college rodeo. He didn’t talk about his Army service, even though he won a good conduct award and served as a company clerk. He didn’t talk about his dreams or goals.

And that, more than his death, brings tears to my eyes. Yes, I miss my dad. I always will. But he lived a long life. And I had a good relationship with him. But I can’t ask him details about things I just discovered. Who are in the old pictures with him? What back story is behind the newspaper clippings? Why did he forego his dream of becoming a veterinarian? Why didn’t he pursue ranching, like his college term papers suggested he wanted to do?

I feel great sadness when I think of his disappointments and his dead dreams.

Perhaps that is why is has been so hard to write about his death. It makes me look at my life and the failures I’ve had and the disappointments I’ve endured, from an abusive marriage to a worthless degree. I will never achieve certain things in my life that I once dreamed of; it’s simply not in the realm of possibilities at the age of 52. And I wonder if my dad is looking down at my life and feeling disappointed in me.

I have made a renewed commitment to myself, to reach some of the dreams that are still possible. To live each day with grace and joy. To find the positive in all situations. And to savor the people in my life, whom I love. I don’t ever want to regret words I’ve said, or those left unsaid. The first thing I said to Garris when I got home was that he and I cannot fight any more. We have had some doozies over school, and I just can’t do it with him. I don’t want that to define our mother-son relationship. He agreed. And I think we are both trying harder to be better communicators.

So, if anything positive came out of my dad’s death, it is that I want the rest of my life to mean and count for something. I don’t want my kids to find out things about my life only after I’m gone. I have started scanning photos and clippings, making sure to label people and events. I am talking more with my kids, even with difficult subjects. Confrontation has always been hard for me, and I normally avoid it at all costs. But I have learned that that is what kept me in a toxic relationship for years longer than I should have stayed.

To honor the life of my dad, I have vowed to live my life on my terms. Right now, that includes moving my mom into the house with us, and that is a story for another day.

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