It has been a difficult month for my family as we watched the health of my father decline. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s for a number of years. He had slowed quite a bit over the past year, but was still participating in conversations at our Thanksgiving celebration. Just before Christmas he became ill with a flu virus and a bladder infection. In his fragile state, these two illnesses dealt a great blow on his health. He was hospitalized for over a week and lost a great deal of weight. He was released from the hospital and was admitted into the memory care section of the nursing home in the town that he has lived the past 58 1/2 years of his life. We were very hopeful for improvement. We were hopeful that his appetite would return. We were hopeful that his ability to communicate with us would return. We were hopeful that the father, grandfather, great-grandfather and husband we all knew would return. In the end, we were hopeful that his suffering would be no more. Now we are hopeful that he is in a better place.
This is what I wrote to be read at his funeral last week.
My Dad was a smart, hard-working, driven and determined person. Many of the traits used to describe my Dad can also be used to describe my siblings and me. We learned many things growing up on the farm. Chores and hard work were a part of our childhood. Doing well in school was expected. He taught us things that we continue to use in our lives now – how to fix things, grow things and live life simply. All of these lessons have helped to shape us and have made us better for it.
Our Dad was not sentimental while we were growing up, but later in life he did find moments to share old stories or show his emotions. On my wedding day, just as the music began to play for him to walk me down the aisle, my Dad stopped and said, “I remember the day you were born. We were on the way to the hospital and a wolf ran out across the road in front of us.” This small moment of sentimentality was likely the reason I completely forgot to grab my bouquet before we walked down the aisle together. It wasn’t until half way through the ceremony before a family friend whispered to me that it was missing. Although those kind of sentimental moments were rare when we were young, we came to expect them from my Dad as he grew older.
Facing cancer not just once, but again and again, along with the loss of his son and granddaughter and courageously braving Alzheimer’s softened my Dad. As the Alzheimer’s became more apparent and recent events more difficult to recall, he would reminisce about things that happened 50, 60 or even more than 70 years ago. Stories about his childhood and the early days of life with my Mom were easier for him to recollect. Those were my favorite. Some of the stories I had heard more than once, others were new to me.
I had the opportunity to spend some time alone with my Dad at the house this past fall while my Mom was at mass. He spoke about his mother who died when he was just a teenager, he spoke about dating my Mom, serving in the army, what life was like when we were kids and, of course, he spoke about the stock market. He grew very tired after over an hour of talking, but I didn’t tire of listening to everything that he spoke about.
My children have come to know a soft spoken grandfather that enjoyed talking with Sebastian about his collection of commemorative state quarters and lovingly called Sophia “Soapy”. They have memories of the cows and chickens, sitting on Grandpa’s tractors, the large vegetable garden and the many apple trees. His grandchildren experienced a whole different world while visiting the farm and all the while having it narrated by their Grandfather. Stories of farming and hunting will be missed by all who were fortunate enough to sit and talk with Grandpa.
I am so sad that my children, along with all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will never again have the chance to hear Grandpa’s stories. I know that my Dad had many more stories to tell. We will all miss him immensely.
I usually filter out the very private parts of our lives, but couldn’t omit something of such magnitude. If my children go back and read this little blog years from now, I want them to know that their Grandpa was remembered and loved.