It has been four years, one day, and several hours, since I last saw him.
Dad really knew how to make an exit. He chose Thanksgiving and his birthday to leave this earth: a three-for-one deal if you will. His death, birthday, and major holiday to celebrate gratitude and gluttony rolled into one day.
He smelled of cigarettes and left coffee rings on every surface of his home.
He sang Sinatra and Bennett at the top of his lungs, and could have lived on pasta and bread alone.
Each morning, on his walk to work, he’d stop at his mother’s apartment and have a cup of coffee. The perfect son he was.
He was known as “da mayor” of our block in Chicago.
socks with sandals.
pot belly from too many carbs.
we called him “sloth”, because he was a slow-moving and large man.
He was passionate about religion and history, and before I was born, he and my mom tried on seven different religions.
He watched terrible religious television. We called him mother teresa.
He sent money to televangelists.
He loved get-rick-quick-schemes.
He was a die hard Cubs fan.
I try to remember these things instead.
I try to forget the shadow of him. The man at 54 who looked 84 with a walker, barely able to navigate the stairs to see his first grandchild.
Being the crass family we are, we of course had to make up a nickname… we called him scarecrow. My mom even went so far to buy a scarecrow from a craft store.
We made light of it all, because if you don’t take things too seriously, it’s never hard as hard as it seems. Even when death is slapping you across the face.
He was 54. In his prime years. He just paid off the first mortgage, and was ready to live in retirement.
“Oh, the doctors”, he said, “they will find a way”.
I try to forget that he was in the hospital for the 10th time that year, at a different hospital than I was, when Moose was born.
Dad, if only I knew then what I know now…
we could have found a way.
Maybe that’s part of the reason, I have such little faith in medicine now
and more faith in food and lifestyle…
I wish my sons could have known my dad, to have heard his stories that entertained my friends for hours
when I was young.
I wish we could go out to breakfast like we used to.
I wish I were buying him socks and underwear for his birthday, and more socks and underwear for Christmas. Because that’s all he ever wanted.
My kids will never know his guttural laugh or his love of hot fresh coffee.
His utter cheapness with himself, but his generous heart with others.
That night. Thanksgiving 2007. I remember the phone ringing at 3 am. Moose was still asleep in his car seat, and my overflowing boobs kept me sleeping lightly.
Those late night phone calls of mom bringing dad to the ER were all-too-common then.
But this one was different. The tone of my mom’s voice was different.
The sun was just coming up as we drove to the ER. The heat was barely working in my crappy eleven year old car. I worried about the baby and my boobs. I forgot the diaper bag.
In my heart I knew he was gone.
As soon as we entered the ER, we were ushered into a room in the back. A nun dressed in grey sat with my mom, brother, and a few of our neighbors.
No one had to say the word.
He had died in the ambulance on the way there…
I thought I was going to be able to see him.
I had to see him.
My brother and I stood there in the room with him, just the three of us.
His body still slightly warm.
How could we just leave him there?
So we didn’t. We stayed for a bit.
That’s how you feel when you lose a parent.
We took his Saint Jude necklace.
The sun was up and the city outside was swirling. Everyone scrambled to land the great-limited-time-only-bargains-on Black Friday, all caught up in the utter materialistic bullshit side of the holidays.
When the true meaning of life and love and family is gone, the 60″ plasma screens don’t mean so much.
My world just stopped.
It’s a blur those days and weeks and months that followed that night.
I was already a raging ball of hormones from pregnancy and birth.
Dad did leave me something. He promised he’d be back to watch over us.
“So what will you come back as, so I know it’s you?”
“Why a cardinal?” I asked.
“They’re rare around here.” he said.
From time to time, I see a flash of red flying by in the dead of winter.
I know he’s still here.