By guest Gero-Punk: Helen Fern
Dad died last week. We were there, sitting by his side, holding his hands and telling him how much we loved him. He hadn’t been well and we had expected this for nearly a year, but it was so much more than I anticipated. The night he died it was late. We had been sitting with him for nearly 24 hours and we were exhausted. We knew the time was near and didn’t want him to be alone and yet we could barely stand. My sister suggested maybe that was what he wanted, for us to leave. He was always so private with his emotions. So I kissed his cheek and told him I was going to go get some sleep, but I’d be back. We headed out to the parking lot only to be called by the nurses before we even reached the car. Dad took his last breath just moments after we left the room. We ran back inside and I saw him, quiet and peaceful, no longer struggling to breath, and I cried. His eyes were closed so tight and I remembered those beautiful, sky blue eyes.
I was always a daddy’s girl. My earliest memory is from my infancy. I know the memory is correct because my mother confirmed it. She had set me down on a rock in an icy cold river. I remember the chilly water rushing over my body and I screamed. I did not like it! Daddy picked me up and held me close. I could feel his heart beating and his soothing voice; his strong arms holding me close. The next memory is looking up into those blue eyes while he changed my wet clothing into something dry. I was six months old.
I did everything with my dad. He joined a model airplane club and I went with him. He flew remote control planes and I got the one held together with rubber bands that you guided with a long string. I crashed a lot. We joined a slot car club. He helped me build my car and we took them to the track to race them. It had to be frustrating for him because, again, I crashed a lot! But dad’s gentle blue eyes always told me it was OK. It was just important to be together.
Our family enjoyed activities together a lot. We camped; we hiked, fished and just enjoyed being together. I remember living up in the hills of California near Frazier Park. Dad worked for the forestry then and my parents were year-round camp councilors at the YMCA. We were having dinner when my mother noticed a mountain lion walking through our front yard. It was a huge, majestic and yet frightening animal. Dad yelled, “Hey” out the window. It froze for a moment then ran back into the hills. My sister was afraid it would come back so dad gathered his shot gun and took us out for a walk to show us it had left the scene and wasn’t coming back. He had steel determination in his sky blue eyes. Later he confessed that was one of the most foolish things he’d ever done! But that was my dad. He cared about how we felt.
And daddy loved to dance. Being of Czechoslovakian and German descent, polkas were always played at family gatherings. When I was really little, dad would hold me to his chest and dance me around the room. I felt safe and happy in his arms. As I grew I moved to standing on his feet while we danced. Dancing was just part of him and his eyes sparkled with joy and excitement every time he moved.
I remember the time I realized dad could no longer dance. I lived in Oregon and went to California to visit him. We always went to one of his “lodges” for dinner and drinks and there was always dancing. On all my other visits, dad and I would dance. He danced with all the women – he danced every dance. But this visit was different. Dad just sat and watched.
Let me explain a little history about dad. He fought in the Korean War and while he was there he got severe frost bite in his feet. The nerves were damaged and he never had full feeling after that. As he aged he was diagnosed with type II diabetes and over time the lack of circulation coupled with the past damage affected his ability to feel his feet. He needed a cane to walk. He stepped on his own feet if he didn’t watch and fell. He ignored it for a long time using his dance partner to support him, but time took its toll.
And so dad sat. He watched everyone around him dancing and laughing and I saw the sadness in his beautiful, sky blue eyes. It made my heart ache. There were several visits after that and each time I watched the spark die slowly in my dad’s eyes. Then came the day he called. It was time to move in with someone. He kept falling and couldn’t live alone. My sister moved dad in with her. At first he was happy and loved being close to family, but slowly the lack of independence ate away at his motivation to be mobile and fight. Again, time took its toll.
Last October dad had his first heart attack. They said by rights he should not have survived! But my dad was a strong man. He was told he needed bypass surgery, but his lungs were diseased from many years of smoking and that put him at risk. (He quit eight years ago, but the damage was done). He chose not to have the surgery. At that time we were told the next heart attack would kill him – and to expect it soon. But dad looked squarely with those steely blue eyes and said, “I’m not ready yet”. I saw just a little sparkle back in those eyes.
Over the last year, dad suffered many health problems, the worst being a sore that developed on his leg. Diabetes affects the circulation in your limbs making healing difficult. Six month of trying and the wound would not heal. It just got worse. The decision was made to amputate the leg. He had that surgery on a Wednesday in October. One week later he had another heart attack. I rushed down to my sister’s house and we waited.
Two days after the initial attack we received the test results. Dad’s heart was too damaged. There was nothing more they could do. He would most likely die in less than 48 hours. My mind simply stopped. It felt like everything inside of me froze for a moment and the world became foggy and confusing. Life went on around me but my world just came to a screeching halt. I saw sadness in my father’s beautiful blue eyes.
We did little else for the next day and half except for sitting with dad or sleeping in the waiting room. The nurses kept him on so much morphine most of the time his eyes were closed. On the occasion that he opened them, he frantically searched the room and when he was my sister or me, his eyes showed a joy and relief. I know my father loved us with all of his heart, and we loved him as well. We stayed with him until he wanted us to leave, and then he left us.
These last few days I’ve felt more like a child than the 56 year old woman that I am. I may be a grown up, but I was always a daddy’s girl. I will always be a daddy’s girl. And I will always miss those beautiful, sky blue eyes.
Helen, thank you for sharing this lovely tribute to your father and for the remembrance of that child we all possess within us – no matter our age.
Hi Helen, I’m so sorry about your Dad. This essay is wonderful. He was blessed to have such an adoring and thoughtful daughter like you. love, Erica