10 years ago today I was in my school’s computer lab (yes, I can’t believe that just 10 years ago we still used desktop computers; ipads for kindergarteners just seemed absurd!) and got “the call” that no one ever wants to get. It took my breath away. It was my secretary who said, “call your Mom.” I rushed next door to my classroom to make this call in private and it was just as I’d feared: “Come now.” My Dad had had some kind of stroke related to his brain cancer and was not awake/responsive. Not doing well. Come now. In case this is the last chance to say goodbye.
I called downstairs to my partner teacher Julie (a dear friend to this day) and she left her class and came up right away as did my principal. I threw stuff into my bag and out I went. To embark on a hurried two hour drive to Green Bay filled with so many emotions and tears. Got to the hospital and then the waiting began. Waiting to see if he’d wake up and talk to us. Waiting for test results. Waiting to see if we should stay the night. Waiting for an explanation.
We spent the next week with him. Two reclining chairs were in his room for us and the other two slept on a little couch in a room down the hall. My mom, sister, brother-in-law and I. Just waiting. My Dad’s siblings and parents came over the course of this week. I went home (to my parents house) once to shower. I went home (to Greendale at the time) once and saw Kyle (who I had started dating literally days before this happened). I went on food & mountain dew runs (not belly hug lasagna food).
On Friday that week two days before Easter we had the final discussions with the doctors. There really wasn’t any coming back and it was time to take out the breathing tube. Siblings and parents came back Saturday and I also remember calling our dear friends Pat and Jan and they were on speaker phone once the tube came out. More waiting. Dad was breathing on his own for the time being. I don’t remember Easter Sunday much at all. Besides that the Master’s golf tournament was on. My Dad was generally not an excitable sports guy (at least not nearly as excitable as I get with the Packers) but he and his Dad/brothers loved watching golf and especially the Masters. I remember him even having a pool involving prize money with the guys in his office for the big tournaments.
On Monday morning, April 9, after 36 hours of being without breathing tubes he passed away peacefully. His brain/body were done fighting the cancer. Our favorite nurse was with us. It is a surreal feeling. It’s a club you don’t want to be in. But I was honestly so glad he could be done with hospitals (his least favorite place) and pain. So glad. It is beyond words; the feeling of watching someone you love most in the world in pain and not themselves.
Man. That was tough to write and remember. I intended this post to be a celebration of my Dad and the man/father/husband/brother/son/uncle he was. But I had to kind of get this first part out as this time of year (especially this milestone year) always is hard.
On to the celebration! And an important “event” that I’ve talked about many times throughout the 2 ½ years I’ve been caring for Caregivers with The Right Relief Inc.
We had a pretty quick turnaround for my Dad’s service as it was to be held on Thursday, April 12. We met with the funeral director at our house I believe on Tuesday that week. My Uncle Dave had driven up from Madison to be with us too. We were sitting at our kitchen table going over the details and looking at old photos to be used for the memory boards. There was a knock on our door and my kindergarten teacher was standing there holding two big containers of still warm chicken noodle soup. Talk about a belly hug. Wow. This story still gets me and I’ve shared it countless times. HERE is the link to the original post.
I remember also meeting with a counselor on Wednesday. To try and get some kind of advice for how to make it through the service and talking with everyone. Speaking for myself, I needn’t have worried. While it was obviously hard, it also brought a lot of comfort to see old friends of my Mom & Dad, talk with family and share and hear the awesome stories that were shared that day. The dinner afterwards was nice too. It was at the Landing in Menomonee, MI which is the “fanciest” restaurant in our area. Kyle drove up for it and met my family for the first time. I had college friends and teachers from my school who came too. It really was amazing.
I’ve had the idea of writing down the stories that I shared that day during my sister Kellie and I’s “speech.” I’m looking forward to listening to the recording and doing that. I also just realized that “hey, it would be a fantastic idea to write down everyone’s stories.” So maybe there will be a “stories of Bodge” book in my near future :) The people who were brave enough to stand up and speak at the service will always be so near and dear to my heart. It fills me with joy to remember the fun times they/we all had with my Dad. I could not be more thankful to Pat DesJardin for being the main/first speaker that day. Arranging flights with short notice to be there. Being a true friend to my Dad for so many years. He, and his wife Jan, are true gems.
Our out of town family was all gone by Saturday the 14th. My mom, sister and I hung out for that weekend and a few days after. I returned to Greendale on Wednesday and taught again Thursday. I had the absolute best substitute in the world who had taken over my class of kindergarteners. They had made me a sweet book about how much they loved me. It was a great group and teaching was my escape that year through my Dad’s illness, passing and afterwards.
Kyle’s (my now husband!) and my relationship got more serious and I remember him sitting in my Uncle Steve’s garage in Oregon on Mother’s Day having a Bud Light and getting grilled by him LOL. It was the first “holiday” obviously since my Dad passed and we were glad to be with family.
My Mom got my sister and I the most priceless gift that spring too. She had taken my Dad’s wedding ring (which he actually didn’t wear often) and gotten the gold “melted” into two heart’s for a charm on a necklace. They have two small birthstones (mine and my Dad’s) and the letters D.S.S inscribed on the back for “Dad’s Shining Star.” She wrote us each a note with things my Dad was proud of us for. I can’t imagine how hard that was for her to write so soon after losing him. I obviously think of him every time I wear it.
Life continued. Grief ensued for each of us in our own waves. We still grieve and probably always will. I like to call it “remembering” instead of grieving. I find myself missing him the most when I remember certain things. The smell of fall leaves. Hearing Soak up the Sun by Sheryl Crow. The taste of homemade mac and cheese. The thrill of watching an immunity challenge on Survivor. The breeze on my skin coming off of the River. Seeing his shy smile with the slight gap in his front teeth in an old picture. Breathing cold, crisp air on a dark winter’s night walk.
The memories get me through the hard times. Did my Dad miss out on some of my life milestones? Yes. But he was there through my childhood (and it was a darn good one thanks to he and my mom), high school & college graduations, first teaching job offer and the subsequent move into my first apartment in August of 2010. While he was most definitely more of a small town guy, he grew up in Madison and I think he was excited that I ended up going with the West Allis job so I could experience the big city after growing up in Peshtigo. Right after I moved to Greendale, Farm Aid came to Miller Park and he and my mom and sister came for it. All of his favorite singers in one place. He was just starting to feel the effects of the cancer at this point and soon after started treatment.
To those Caregivers reading this and can’t imagine losing a loved one, know you aren’t alone. Know that however much pain (physical & emotional) there is for both of you, it does lessen. Your work matters. You matter. You will find a way to honor your loved one’s memory just like I did with my Dad by starting The Right Relief Inc. If he knew that so many people have gotten Relief from his lasagna (with pepperonis!) recipe he’d brush it off as no big deal; but inwardly would be tickled. And then, he’d tell you to eat another (Bodge sized) piece. And then force your overstuffed belly to have a huge dessert.
I hope you join me on April 9th in having your own favorite dessert in his memory. I’ll be having a Heath Blizzard or apple pie with a large scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. (If it was summer I’d add a strawberry shortcake to the list.) Haven’t decided yet!
Miss you and love you Dad! Can’t wait to share more stories/pictures with Robbie and Violet as they get older. Grandpa Rob will always have a special place in all our hearts.
*If you feel so inclined, Donate HERE in his memory. Proceeds will fund belly hug meals to Caregivers.