Goodbye, Dad

I’m in West Virginia tonight. We are driving to Canada to bury my father, who died this morning in his bed in Guelph, Ontario.

Don EstillDad and I were tight. He was my hero.

We learned he was on short time just over a year ago when they discovered he was shot through with pancreatic cancer. It had spread to his liver, and bile ducts, and lymph system. They gave him three months, but he lasted thirteen.

I was pleased to help spring him from the hospital so that he could die at home. And I was proud of him when he elected to forgo chemotherapy and radiation. At age 87, he elected to die with dignity at home with Mom.

On my rational side everything is clear. As the oldest in the family, he was going in turn. 100% of us die at some point—and it’s good to make room for others. I get all that.

But on my emotional side everything is a fog. I can’t think clearly, I fall apart on a moment’s notice, I can’t concentrate, and I am a wreck. A couple of months ago I suffered from a herniated disc in my lower back. It lead to migratory muscle pain throughout my leg which inhibited my ability to walk.

The rational explanation was that I lifted a pump that was too heavy for me.

The emotional explanation was that losing my father was the same as losing my grounding. In his absence I was unable to see how I could move forward in the world.

For a month or so I hobbled about looking like Quasimodo—dragging my leg like a burden, unable to stand fully upright, downing painkillers and muscle relaxants like popcorn. I kept waiting for someone to ask me how much I would charge to rob a grave.

With chiropractic help from Roxanne, and acupuncture from Diana, and massage from Jen, and exercises from everyone, and yoga–with support from a whole bunch of people, including Tami and my kids, I regained my mobility.

Dad was glad to hear it. He was getting smaller. Losing his interest in eating. And worried about my ability to provide for my family in my debilitated state.

I visited Dad four times last year. I managed to get all of my children to his place to say their goodbyes. Now that he is gone that was not enough. I feel sad that my brothers Jim and Glen did all of the heavy lifting. Along with my nephew David who has emerged as the logistical glue of our family. I feel guilty for living so far away.

And I worry about Mom. After 61 years in the same bed with my father, I can’t imagine what it will be like for her to awake in an empty house.

For me Dad was someone who provided sage wisdom and advice. He was utterly keen on business but also astute in matters of family and children. I never shared his love of sports, but during my teenage years, when I was rebelling against the world, we took up squash together and routinely beat our brains out on the court. Dad taught us all to compete. In cards and games and sports. He taught us how to win, and how to lose with grace. Competition in our family was not ruthless or cutthroat. Rather, it was pleasure.

I feel like he did the same thing in business. Dad did not teach “dog eat dog.” There was no need to crush someone on the rung below to get ahead. He put ethics above profit, and family above greed, and he spawned generations of business people who shared his values.

So here we are. Tomorrow we will round Pittsburgh and head into the snow and fog and mist of Erie and Buffalo, and from there we will push into the grey slush, ice and snow of my childhood climes. Dad always favored snow shovels as “stocking stuffers” at Christmas—and the bizarre part was that they made his four boys happy.

In a Facebook eulogy my daughter Jess thanked Dad for teaching about family,hard work, and counting trump. So true.

Goodbye, Dad. The world will not be the same without you. I’ll find my way. We all will. Tonight it looks dark and confusing in a West Virginia hotel, but this fog will lift, and when the clarity arrives we will all know that we were well served by your presence in our lives…

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10 Responses to Goodbye, Dad

  1. Wayne Kovach says:

    Hi, Lyle. My name is Wayne.

    This morning I came across your post about your father. What a beautiful tribute! I lost my mom when I was 16 in the summer of 1991. I am now 40, and it still sucks to this day. You never, ever get over it, but do your best to move on and enjoy the people you still have. It is especially bad now that I have a child (he’s 4) and I have to explain what happened to her and why he only has one grandma. My dad is 75 and overall is well, but his mind is slipping. We’ve been doing our best to monitor that.

    I live in Buffalo (and yes, like you said, we have snow!) and work for NRG Business (formerly Energy Curtailment Specialists) in marketing. We are demand response providers, amongst other energy services. I was searching some keywords for our blog and saw your post.

    I’ve often thought about the speech I will give at my father’s funeral. I hope that I can honor him as well as you have for your dad here.

    Thanks for writing it, and take care.

    – Wayne Kovach

  2. Matt Rudolf says:

    Sorry to hear it. I’ll be thinking about you and the family.

  3. jeff barney says:

    Lyle, thank you for sharing your process. It is an inspiration as are you as you live out your Dad’s legacy and provide us with one of your own. I am proud to call you friend and look forward to your next chapter and ours together. Love to you and your family. We will see you in class in two weeks with the renewal and grace such a passage provides. You are a gift and your dad is proud.

  4. August Burns says:

    Lyle, that was beautifully written to explain that deep grief of losing your foundation/grounding and how you will come through the fog. I am proud to know you and I am sure many of those great qualities are just what you described of your father. This was a refreshing tribute filled with love. I will stop with you today to share a little of your grief and say a prayer that once the fog is lifted, you continue to honor and celebrate his memories without grief. Embrace this time.

  5. Dana Villalas says:

    Lyle, in your writing, your pain and the immense love you have for your Pops is strongly palpable. It reminds me that soon I will have to come to terms with my father passing. My logical mind has made its peace with that thought. My emotional…well…I have yet to see. If I can be driven to tears watching Little Mermaid, something tells me it will be a downpour. Know that you and your family are loved. That from across these NC mountains and through the Piedmont I am sending the warmest, burliest Dana hugs I can muster.

  6. Kathleen Conroy says:

    Dear Lyle,

    I am so sorry to hear about your Dad’s death. I know that this time is awful and full of grief and guilt and that gut wrenching sense of loss that just comes over you. This time will pass, and then I bet that you will find, as I have, that your Dad stays with you. You’ll be faced with some problem you’ve never had to tackle before, and suddenly you’ll just know what to do. Or an old joke or a funny thought will pop into your head for no reason and give you a good laugh. When those things happen to me, I think “Thanks Mom and Dad! Glad you’re still watching out for me.” I don’t think people who love us that much will ever really leave us. Take care. We are thinking of you all with love!
    Kathleen

  7. Nicole says:

    Lyle – I’m so sorry for your loss. And I so thank you for sharing this tribute of your dad. It really resonates with me; I lost my beloved dad 5 years ago and while time has helped ease the trauma/sorrow of it all, it’s still ever-present. Your blog post says it all beautifully and meaningfully. Sending healing and compassion – and a bit o’ commiseration – your way!

  8. Albert Bates says:

    Nicely said, Lyle. I lost both my parents at age 84, 17 years apart from each other. But the thing is, you never really lose them. They stay alive in your thoughts. If you want to ask them something or tell them something, you still can. I often do.

    Tom Joad: Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too. – Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

  9. Sally Erickson says:

    Dear Lyle. Your love of, and respect for, your father is palpable in your writing. It moved me to tears and I want you to know that I can see those values and attributes that you so admired in him have indeed continued in your life. My thoughts and heart are with you. Thanks for the beautiful expression of grief and gratitude. May you and your family be surrounded in support as you traverse this passage. Love, Sally

  10. lewis caraganis says:

    Thank you Lyle for this moving and sensitive portrait of your Dad and his importance in your family. I wish you and your family clarity and peace of mind. I know you made him proud and will continue to do that. Lewie

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