Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fear Of Losing My Dad

“Your father has Peripheral Neuropathy.”

That’s what my mother said. “P-e-r-i-p-h-e-r-a-l N-e-u-r-o-p-a-t-h-y.”  She said it slowly so that I could comprehend her words.  I didn’t.  “Oh” I said.  “I’m sure good doctors can help him with that.”  The words she spoke were something I could barely pronounce, much less understand. In hindsight, I was naively indifferent.

Several years before, my parents had picked me up at the Anchorage International Airport.  I had flown in from California and was with a friend when I saw them both, excitedly waving me down as they spotted me through the crowds of people.  I was equally happy to be home.  My mother was walking quickly towards me, the way she does when she wants to come up and throw her arms around me and give me a big tight hug while saying “Oooohhhhhh Renae, let me look at you” and then gives me this great big tearful smile as if she is in disbelief that her daughter is in front of her, and then she hugs me tightly again.  I am lucky because I still have my mother.  Many of my friends have had to suffer the unimaginable loss of their mother’s and father's arms around them, and through their grief and loss I have realized how fortunate I still am.

But as my mother came up to hug me, I noticed my father was walking with a peculiar imbalance to his gait, like he had one celebratory drink too many before my arrival.  Undoubtedly my dad likes his V.O., especially in the evening after a good day while sitting in his Archie Bunker chair.  But, with the exception of one night many moons ago when my tequila drinking uncle “Nacho” persuaded my innocent father to share a bottle so they could get to the worm on the bottom, my father has never been one to get falling down drunk, much less be drunk in public.  I thought maybe he was so happy to see me that he started celebrating my return early.  Of course, I was eager to see him, but a little embarrassed too.  Couldn’t he have waited until after I got home to celebrate?

I am ashamed to say that I was wrong.  Not only was I wrong, but there is nothing I wouldn’t give now to have been right. If I could go back in time I would pray to the Gods that my dad’s lack of balance was nothing more than a good buzz, and then I would go home and offer to make him another one, and I would put one down with him, and everything would be right with the world and we could laugh about it later.  But I was wrong, oh so very wrong.

May dad, my stubborn, strong, “bring your car into the garage and I’ll look under the hood,” dad has a neurological disorder that affects primarily his arms and his legs (the peripheral body parts) and has gradually taken over his physical abilities, his muscle movement, and his sense of balance, aside from a laundry list of other symptoms.

I am crying now as I write this, because other than the loss of a child, there is nothing as heartbreaking as watching the physical demise of our parents, who once carried us and tossed us in the air, tucked us into bed at night, and fought off the monsters that threatened our imaginations.  I have not been prepared for the emotional turmoil I have experienced while watching my dad fight this battle, but because of his courage in facing his own very real monster, he has never made me prouder.

My father was “that” guy, you know the one; the guy that could build, create, restore, invent, and do anything.   Many of our dads were cut from that same cloth, especially in Alaska before the 60’s when men had to be hardy and resourceful just to survive the winters.  We called my dad the “tent pole” of our family; the glue that held us together; the self-made idea man.  He started out as a sheet metal mechanic, became a foreman in his teens, and built his first house by himself, at the age of 18.  By 21 he ran the first and only Montgomery Wards in Anchorage, only to realize that he wanted more than to punch a clock.  My dad wasn’t cut out to be a company guy, and so he eventually started (with my mother) a very successful pest control business, against the odds of all the advice from others that there were “no pests in Alaska.”  He proved them wrong.  His success afforded us the luxury of travel for three solid years, the first of which we traveled to Mexico in a luxury motor home that he built with his own hands from an old Navy bus.  As he got older he cross-country skied, took square dance lessons with my mother, did a million other things, and was a regular at the infamous Lucky Wishbone.  If you know George, you know my dad.

One memory I have was of my dad hanging the old fashioned Christmas lights (before they were old fashioned) from tree to tree in the front yard, and every year when the frost covered the branches and the lights twinkled he would exclaim “They look just like the Northern Lights!”  I will, however, not forgive my dad for the year he went a little crazy and decided to build this magnanimous Chevy Chase Christmas tree out of pipes and wire and lights and stand it upright on top of our house for the world to see!  Oh, that was fine, but making my brother and I stand in the snow in sub-zero temperatures for over an hour while he hoisted it on top of the roof, not okay.  Granted, he can be a little overzealous at times, but somehow my mother, brother, and I often became the unwitting victims of his schemes.

But now this ugly disease, this deterioration of his nerves is slowly trying to take over his body, and because his type of neuropathy has no source, there is no cure. 

It has been a painful journey for all of us, but I have earned respect for the dignity and courage that he has worn like a soldier in spite of the slow demise of his balance, his constant pain, his inability to pick things up with his hands, and even his struggle to type when he loves nothing more than spending hours in front of his computer.  What is easy for you and I is extremely difficult for him. 

Unfortunately, for the doctor, my dad was told several years ago that it was time for a wheelchair.  I’m surprised my dad didn’t pick that doctor up right then and there and toss him out a five story window.  Not that a wheelchair is a bad thing, but you don’t know my dad, no one, and I mean no one, tells him what he needs.  Instead of losing his temper, he went into his very manly garage (which he has all set up with walkers and chairs and handles and things so he can still use his tools) and built a walker.  Not just any walker, but one that wouldn’t tip over with his loss of balance; that stood high enough that he wouldn’t hunch, that has wheels so he can push it rain or shine, ice or snow, with a seat so he can relax when he’s tired, and included breaks for going downhill and hand warmers made out of battery operated curling irons, for cold days.  He even brags about having a bottle holder for his whiskey, which probably tastes more like water.  Now granted, he has store bought walkers for inside the house, but this very special walker is for the two mile walks he has taken outside regularly for the past several years since he was threatened with the wheelchair.   He can’t tip over with this one.   I won’t even go into detail of how he has equipped the house to accommodate his need for mobility, but let’s just say the inventor within him has surfaced now more than ever before.

But before I go on, I’m not about to give my dad full credit here.  In fact, it has been my mother all along that has been his caretaker.  She has been his pill counter, his cook, his nurse, his ambulance driver for emergency visits, made more runs to Home Depot for nuts and bolts for his inventions than most people make in a lifetime, and still mixes him a VO when the occasional desire arises.  I can’t pass up the opportunity to say how absolutely amazing my mother is and how lucky he has been to grow old with a woman that has stood by his side for 55+ years, through thick and thin, illness, and peripheral neuropathy.  At this point in his life, she is his everything (and admittedly, he is hers).  Did you read that dad? Read it again. If my mother wasn’t a non-practicing Catholic, I would say she deserved the status of a patron saint.  

As far as my dad, he’s still that guy.  He is still the tent pole in between his visits to the emergency room and his mind is sharper than ever. Thanks to his love of research and the Internet, his interest in anything and everything he can read about, the dirty jokes that he finds and shares, even though he is the only one laughing, his passion for political debate even when no one is listening, and his lifetime interest in science, he is never bored.  Peripheral Neuropathy invaded my dad’s nervous system, but true to form my dad has looked it fearlessly in the face, stood his ground firmly and said “bring it on.”

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,


Anonymous said...

The apple did not fall far from this tree...

Neuropathy shmropathy...your Father today is about 22 times the man most guys will ever be, and this thing hardly slows him in comparison to the couch potato people we are raising in this country. The guy is amazing. Hell I am still not walkin' 2 miles a day myself, but perhaps if I had a little of that VO for the journey, I might be motivated a little more...ahem. The thing about your Pop is that no matter what his legs are doing, his mind is racing like a thoroughbred. He has probably forgotten more about engineering, science, inventing, computer programming, chemicals, business management and entrepreneurship than most people will ever glean in a lifetime. The guy is like Wikipedia on your subject...ask the question and you will get one strong opinion, a historical reference, 2 comparable situations, constructive advice, a verbal jab and 2 pearls of wisdom to boot. It is no wonder fledgling entrepreneurs want to adopt him. One thing about him that will stick with you... his soft spoken and subtle demeanor...sort of like a thermal nuclear event...with a smile and a laugh and a cuss word or 2. So he got dealt a shitty card with this shmoropothy thing, lucky he has a full house, and royal flush up his sleeve..and your wonderful, wonderful Mom. The guy is probably made of kevlar, and if I was in a bar fight, I'd still feel better if he was behind me. Your words were written with the deep love and appreciation only his kid could muster, but it doesn't take his tiger blood running through your veins to appreciate who he is, regardless of whether he can beat you in a foot race...and by the way, my money is still on him.

If it isn't obvious...the friggin' guy is my hero.

And I quote: "yasonofabitch, yagottajust getoff youfrigginass and get your fingers in there first in business, and THEN once your fingers are in there...yacommit the rest of yourself yaknowwhatImeandammit? Now get out there and dosomething with yourfrickinlife"

Advice taken sir...

Nope, the apple does not fall far from the tree...

Anonymous said...

My dear friend, you never cease to make me smile. Yes, you know my dad better than most...although I doubt he said "frickin" but thanks for keeping it clean. He is not one to mince words and he is fearless. Thank you my friend, your words are simply beautiful. He will appreciate them, he reads every one of my columns and comments. Love, Renae

Anonymous said...

Seems like I am reading my obituary. Huh! I will still be around long after they have
gone with age. I will receive my sorrow, and they will leave me all alone. Where are all my friends gone. They have passed on to their maker, becoming scarce and few of them around.

The very few around will be gone soon, the ones that are not will be as stubborn and cantankerous and as busy as I, with too much to do yet, to die. Like me to busy and no time to be around them or want to, and this is-versa. We have a lot of work squeezed toward the end, like a cake decorators glove.


Anonymous said...

I write this heartfelt column about my dad, and this is what I get. Huh! Did you read the part about MOM? And reread it? I sure hope so. No worries, you have made your wishes clear as to what you want on your actual obituary...."The Old Man is Dead" - dad, sometimes you are such a weirdo. But, since you will probably outlive us all, you may want to write your own five words. Your Daughter.

Richard said...

I thoroughly enjoy your writing and, having lost my parents, I was really moved by this wonderful post about two wonderful parents! God bless!