Tuesday, August 9, 2011
August 6, 2011
Next month, I will be 39 years old. To me, this means my life is half over, which isn’t scary or sad to me, at least not yet. What I don’t like about getting older is that it means my grandparents and parents are too. I’ve already lost three of my grandparents, one to whom I was extremely close, my grandpa Joe. He was my mom’s dad. A dairy farmer in Wisconsin. He wore pin-striped overalls every day, had a quick wit, spoke Norwegian to his brothers so no one knew what he was saying, and loved me with a love that was tangible. He called me “Annie”, and I looked forward to spending summers with him at the farm. He’d always “give” me a calf during my stay and, interestingly, her name would always be Daisy, even if it was a boy. Grandpa would tear up when it was time for me to leave, and promise to buy me a pony if I would come to live with him on the farm. Many times I wanted to take him up on it, because I loved him, my grandma and the farm so much.
I have many memories of my beloved grandpa, but two really stand out. The first was when I was about 14 years old, and life at home was complicated. I was also in the midst of my early teen years, moody and sad. He came in from his chores one day at noon, and I was crying. My grandpa sat down at the kitchen table and asked me why I was crying, and I told him. He sat and listened to my adolescent rantings, taking every word very seriously, listening hard and looking me in the eye. This was not our normal scenario, and I was struck at how he cared. Then he told me that he loved me, and that he knew my feelings were real, but he told me to hang on, nothing lasts forever and things will get better. Time has a way of taking care of things. When he died, this was the first thing I thought of, and I felt so blessed to have this moment that was just ours. The second memory was another time we were alone, talking. This time, I knew he was sick, but I didn’t know it was the last time I would see him. My grandmother was in the hospital and my mother and step-father were visiting her. My grandpa was having trouble with short term memory. He’d ask the same questions over and over, but he clearly remembered the past, and in vivid detail. He had been a sergeant in the army during World War II, stationed in Italy as a medic. I’d always loved his stories of that time, and he loved telling them. So, we spent the entire afternoon talking about his life, the war, meeting my grandmother, and his dreams. What a gift he gave me that day, and I am so glad I have such an amazing memory to unwrap now and then.
I’m also losing my grandmother to Alzheimer’s. What a beastly disease it is. She has always been the picture of health physically, as well as spiritually. But her mind has just been robbed, and with each passing year, she is farther and farther away. My grandmother is the most amazing person I have ever known. Pure, kind, godly, loving, innocent, compassionate, simple and good. She is a saint. I can still hear her voice saying my name, while patting my leg and hugging me in her cozy farm house that was my favorite place on earth.
And so, what makes me think of this today? Receiving a phone call that I have feared, and finding out how it feels to confront the fact that my parents are not invincible. And waves of grief, fear and powerlessness overtaking me, reminding me of when my grandfather died.
My step-mother called today while I took my children to an indoor pool. Because of the noise I did hear the call, so she left a message. “I hate to tell you this in a message,” she began, and I knew instantly that something was wrong with my Daddy. “Your Dad is in the hospital in Dearborn, Michigan, after having problems breathing and pain in his chest. They think he’s had congestive heart failure.” At that moment, my heart stopped. She’s talking about my Daddy. The man who has and would move heaven and earth for me. Immediately, I sobbed. Deep, guttural, and painful. My Daddy.
See, my Dad has always lived his life sacrificially for others. He wants everyone to have a good time and be happy. He sent my brother and me to a private Christian school. We were not rich, and my parents sacrificed a lot to send us to that school. But he never once complained, or even talked about it. He just wanted us to have the best education we could, and that made him happy. It was my dad who drove me to Wisconsin every summer – a 12 hour drive one way. He’d sleep, and drive back to Tennessee the next day. And, when my stay was over, he’d come get me. He’d drive all weekend, and go to work early Monday morning, happy that I’d had a good time with my grandparents. That is my Dad.
Christmas is my Dad’s favorite holiday. Christmas is a big deal in our family. The tradition we’ve created of shopping together on Christmas Eve day, then wrapping our gifts together in Santa’s workshop fashion and finally savoring the opening of each gift. It is my absolute favorite day of the year. The Christmas of my fourth grade year, my Dad bought a horse for me. He wrapped the key to the gate where my horse was being kept, as well as a saddle, bridle and halter. My dad bought a horse! Christmas morning, we went to meet my horse, who promptly bucked me off, but I was not deterred. That horse became my best friend for years and my Dad and I bonded while mucking out stalls. That is my Dad.
Before I was married, I lived in a condo with a friend who was never there. My car was stolen one night, and for weeks, I was scared whoever stole it would come to break in my condo. One morning while getting ready for work, I heard a crash downstairs, and I called my Dad. He worked about 15 minutes away, but I swear he was there in less than 5 with one of his coworkers, weapons in hand to catch the perpetrator. Turns out it was a large mirror that fell off the wall that crashed, but he was there to hang it back up. That is my Dad. It was also my Dad who found my stolen car when the police did not seem interested in investigating our case. He found it in a neighborhood known for drugs and other criminal activity. He called the police, and personally accompanied the officer to the front door to confront the thief. That is my Dad.
When Brian and I returned from China with our new daughter, my whole family and Brian’s mom were there to meet us. Dad, my step-mom, brother and sister-in-law had driven for two days to be there (we lived in Denver at the time). Everyone was all smiles, but I don’t ever remember my Dad smiling so big as when he met his grand-daughter. He told me, “She is truly a blessing!” I had a rough start into motherhood, and it was on my Daddy’s lap I sat and cried like a little girl.
And I wouldn’t be talking about my Dad if I didn’t mention his love for family vacations. He loves to get away from it all with the family, whether it’s a big trip like Disney World or a trout fishing trip in East Tennessee. I don’t think he’s ever happier than when my brother, sister-in-law and my family are with him on a vacation. And he never does anything small. It’s always with a lot of thought and preparation. He’s known to sit over maps for hours to plan out the logistics and details. He will sweat and toil to make sure everything is perfect. And it is, cause he’s there.
So now my Daddy is in a hospital hundreds of miles away, and I can’t run to him to make it better, like he ran to me when my mirror fell. And I’ve cried all day unable to turn off the tears.
My daughter said a prayer for him on Saturday night, “Dear Jesus, please send an angel down from heaven to comfort Poppy tonight.” Then she asked me if I thought He sent one right when she asked, and I said, “Yes baby, cause you believed with your heart and asked it in His name.” Thank you Jesus for sending an angel to comfort my Daddy when I can’t.
And this afternoon, I talked to him on the phone. He sounds weaker than normal, but he says he feels fine and wants to go home. A nurse was in the background, and in his usual way, he was making her laugh, cracking jokes and being friendly. He said he was in good hands, and told me not to come, not to worry, he was fine. But, that’s where my mind is. That’s where my heart is. When he comes home later this week, that’s where I’ll be. Probably sitting on his lap again, crying, cause I still can.