Thursday afternoon, my phone screen lit up with my paternal grandmother’s phone number. She’s almost 92 and rarely calls me (I do all the calling in this family, apparently) so when I saw her name and number light up, I feared the worst. My aunt was on the other line (another bad sign) but she wasn’t crying (yet), so I waited anxiously for the shoe to drop. She asked how I was doing and other pleasantries, and then it came.
“I’ve got bad news honey.” She choked back tears. “Your daddy died last night.” Gut = kicked.
He suffered from Crohn’s disease since I was a little kid. And without health insurance, he suffered without medicine, which resulted in a few hospital stays, surgeries to remove large portions of his intestines, and blood transfusions. It’s a terribly painful and disgusting disease, so for the last 25 years or so, he’s been incredibly thin and malnourished, unable to work. My grandmother took care of him, providing a place for him to live just a few miles down the road from her. She checked on him every morning with a phone call, bought him new clothes when he needed them, paid his utilities and gave him gas money to visit her and make his monthly tripes to the grocery store to use his food stamps. Without her, he would’ve surely been homeless years ago.
My father and I were never close for a myriad of reasons. He took care of me when I was an infant, but my parents couldn’t get along and when my mom and I moved in with my maternal grandparents, he only came around for special occasions – Easter, my birthday, and sometime around Christmas. Once he was no longer able to work and started relying on my grandma full time, I saw him nearly every time I visited her, which was a couple of times a year. Sometimes he’d send birthday cards (that my grandmother bought) but the gift-giving was usually from me – for Christmas and his birthday. For the last several years, he’s been reclusive and would only speak when spoken to, which made phone calls pointless because they wouldn’t last longer than 30 seconds before he said he had to go. We mostly kept in touch via conversations with my grandmother. I saw him maybe twice last year – in March for my grandma’s birthday party and in June when we came to visit. We visited my grandma just last month, but he was battling a cold and my grandma told him not to come over for fear of getting me or the baby sick, so I didn’t see him. We spoke on the phone and he thanked me for his Christmas and birthday gifts but that was it. Like I said, 3o second phone calls were his max.
Still, it’s a bit surreal to have to tell someone, “My dad just died.” Of course I’m sad and I hate the way that he suffered, but I almost feel guilty accepting any sympathy because we weren’t close. Still, I suppose a parent is a parent. Our relationship wasn’t great, but I knew he had both mental and physical issues, so I never really resented him for it. I still had great relationships with my grandmother, grandfather, and my aunt and uncle (his sister) so in a way, that made up for it.
Saturday was the funeral and it was lovelier than I expected. I sent a standing spray of flowers and held my grandma’s hand through the service. I can’t imagine what she was going through, burying her youngest child – the baby of the family. There’s just something about parents having to bury their children that’s just unnatural and I hope I never have to be part of that club. Even when I’m 92.
D was a welcome bright spot in the day, for everyone. He was the only child there, running around just being his cute self. He barely made a peep during the service. People couldn’t believe how good he was. My husband and FIL were both pallbearers. The graveside service was kept short due to the bitter cold, and afterward, the family headed back to my grandma’s house for a nice lunch, and I’m so grateful to my aunt for handling the bulk of the arrangements. As far as funerals go (and I’ve been to my fair share in recent years) it was pretty perfect. I still worry about my grandma and how she’ll continue to cope with the loss. Worrying about him and taking care of him gave her purpose. I’m not sure what she’ll do now.
As sad as these last few days have been, I’m grateful. Grateful he didn’t suffer more than he already did. Grateful he went peacefully in his sleep and not in a hospital. Grateful he was at my grandmother’s house and not alone in his trailer for days, undiscovered. And grateful that so many people came out for the funeral. I do wish he could’ve lasted long enough to see photos or meet the new baby, but considering how sick he was and the pain he was in, I wouldn’t have wanted him to continue to suffer for another month or more.
I’m not really sure how to end a post like this so I’ll just stop right here.