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.
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…