Five years ago today, my father passed from this life at the age of 81. Before I tell you about his death, let me share about his life.
I love this picture of my dad and me. I think I was about 6 months old in this picture, and my mother caught Dad napping with me on his chest. He carried this picture in his wallet until the day he died. I was in tears when I found it there.
There are a ton of other pictures of my father, but those are at my brother's house, which had been our parents house. This is a picture that I took in 1976. For those of you who remember our bicentennial, many of the men in this country grew beards, and my father was no exception. This is the picture I took to college with me. Dad is holding my brother's dachsund Woody.
This is a picture of my dad in his later years. Not sure how old he was here, but he was well into his 70s. My mother passed away in 1981, and dad remained single unto his dying day. He had a life of his own though. When he retired at age 64, I truly feared that he would just wither away and die within a couple years, but oh how wrong I was!
He had served my hometown as a village councilman for almost 25 years. In May 1990, the town was up in arms because the mayor at that time had a plan to eliminate the police department from our town! In a town of only 4000, several hundred people showed up to the council meeting that was held in the firehouse that night. Dad was reigning council president. Amidst the news cameras, angry townspeople, and intense discussion, a prominent resident asked the mayor to resign. In one of the most exciting moments of my life, I watched as she handed her gavel to my father. At that moment, I watched his lifelong dream of becoming mayor unfold. He would serve our town proudly for 10 years.
I always feared that when my father was no longer mayor, that he would fall into ill health, and he did. From loss of a big toe, systemic infection, atrial fibrilation that nearly killed him, to a stroke, a heart attack, and some other serious problems, my dad was a fighter and kept on going, showing a strength that amazed me.
The last two years of his life were spent in a wheelchair. Here he is at Thanksgiving 2002, the last time he would be able to visit my home.
This next part is a little hard to share. My dad was one of the most intelligent men I ever knew. He graduated second in his class, and when he went off to college to study nuclear engineering, everyone expected something big. My father had a heart as big as the ocean, and he was compassionate, generous and kind. He was also an alcoholic. I'm not sure when it started, but I believe that he may have started to drink in college as he lasted only a semester there. Every night after work, except when he had a council meeting, he would go straight to the Moose after work. I have memories of calling there asking him to come home from dinner almost every night. Eventually he would. Surprisingly, I never realized the extent of his drinking problem and didn't fully realize it until I was college age. Looking back, I can see that he was depressed for much of his life. We never really questioned why he drank, it was just something he did and we didn't think it unusual.
He always said that if he had known he would live this long, he would have taken better care of himself. The last 2 1/2 years of his life were particularly devastating. Following his heart attack, he threw a blood clot and lost his leg. A year and a half later, due to circulatory problems, he lost his second leg and we had to admit him to a nursing home. This was one of the most heartbreaking decisions my brothers and I ever had to make. Ultimately, the decision was his. I'll never forget the day that we sat down with the doctors, nurses, and social workers. When it became clear that he could no longer live alone, he said "Get mine out of this cage." I'm sure they thought he was nuts, but tears sprang to my eyes. I knew exactly what he meant. When I was 1 1/2, my parents decided to fence in a small portion of the yard that was right next to the window where Mom washed her dishes. She thought it would be great for me to have a safe play area where she could still keep a close eye on me. However, as soon as they put me in the fenced area, I burst into tears and wailed, "Get mine out of this cage!" That was how he felt that day, caged and helpless. My heart was so heavy.
I'm posting a picture of my father without his legs so people can see just what alcoholism can lead to. This may be disturbing to some, but for me, this was my dad, whole or not.
Though it was never written in any medical report that the loss of his legs were caused by alcoholism, let me say that it affects every organ system in the body. My dad did not have diabetes so there were no issues with sugar. He had been a relatively very healthy man for most of his life. Blood flow can certainly be affected by alcohol use and I truly believe this was a big contributor.
The day he died, I was there by his side. My brothers had left the hospital the night before. I knew his wishes that when his time came, he wanted to go peacefully, and he did. I was holding his hand when he took his last breath.
His funeral was talked about for days after. As he had fond memories of serving as a volunteer fireman during the 1960s, we decided to have the funeral there in the firehouse. Both of my brothers and I got up to talk about dad. I was very touched to see a chair holding the empty boots and firemans coat and hat, a tribute to a fallen fireman. A Scotsman in full kilt and bagpipes played Amazing Grace. Several of the village firemen in formal dress fell into formation behind the antique fire truck that held his ashes and they walked behind as the fire chief drove the truck to the cemetary which was just a short walk. I was thrilled to hear them blow the siren. At the entrance, village policemen saluted. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars gave a 21 gun salute, and it was a moving moment when I, as the eldest, received the flag. I cherish it to this day.
Here is dad's favorite fire truck.
There were many, many friends and officials that attended my father's funeral. As I said in my speech that day, they were there not to mourn his death but to pay tribute to a life well lived, and their presence gave testimony to his achievements.
I love you, Dad! I'll miss you always!