My dad died yesterday. I could euphemize it, but it wouldn't change the reality that my dad is gone.
Although he had been in the hospital for four weeks, not even his doctors expected him to die or considered death a possibility. My father fought a tough battle against MRSA and sepsis. In the end, his heart simply wore out. After being moved to ICU for extremely low blood pressure, his heart very gradually slowed and then stopped, very peacefully. His amazing caregivers performed CPR for 24 minutes before conceding that his heart could not be coaxed back to life. Those 24 minutes were agonizing, but I'm blessed we could be close to him during that time. There are no words to describe the shock that comes with realizing the man who raised you - who had joked with his doctor just an hour ago - was gone forever.
Yesterday's shock is beginning to be replaced by acceptance. That acceptance includes the realization that the man who taught me what unconditional love is by providing it every day is gone. Forever. I'll never share another Thanksgiving turkey with him, will never again shudder as I watch him share his dinner and his fork with his dogs, and will never again be engulfed in his huge hug and know that everything is going to be ok. He spoke love fluently and everyone in his presence felt his glow.
The common thing to do would be to write a glowing tribute to my dad. The problem with that is that there was nothing "common" about my father. He was a huge man with a larger heart and a personality that filled the room as soon as he entered. People instantly liked him and felt drawn to him. There was no wall flower so shy that he could not coax them out of their shell and convince them they were the center of the universe. He never met a stranger and had a knack for putting anyone of any age instantly at ease. He was one of those rare people who genuinely cared about people and wasn't afraid to show it.
His love for life was contagious. On a card from his co-workers, almost every wish included a comment that the person missed his smiling face and missed his ability to make them laugh. He blessed others simply by being himself. He inspired them, encouraged them and brought them joy, yet never expected anything in return. He shared love and joy freely, and everyone around him was made a better person as a result.
Growing up, my dad was fun. He was the type of dad who always gave me two pieces of sugar free gum instead of just one. As a kid diagnosed with diabetes at age two, two pieces of gum was a huge treat. He played with us, taught us to laugh, and encouraged us to have fun. My brother and sister and I can thank him for instilling in us the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves. He was the kind of father who held us accountable and doled out consequences, but who never seemed to remember past errors. He was the type of dad who wouldn't hesitate to drive all the way from Indiana to Mexico to rescue me and my kids when a situation became ugly. It was the right thing to do and he did it. Period.
Above all, he was 100% honest. Often bluntly so. You always knew exactly where you stood with him. He taught me to treasure honesty and to value it in my relationships. He spoke his mind because he believed love was always honest, that honesty was a sign of respect, and that honesty made people better. In his final days, frustrated at being confined to a bed, he was as likely to refer to one of the many doctors caring for him as an "arrogant asshole" as he was to stop a nurse in mid-sentence to let her know how pretty she was. (He was right on both counts.)
Few who knew him knew that he lost many years of his life to alcoholism but reclaimed it and recreated it in sobriety. There are also few who know that he gained and maintained 25 years of sobriety 100% on his own, relying on the support of his wife, Diane, instead of a group. He battled his demons in private, and his victory over them was also private. After giving up his addiction, he devoted himself to rebuilding relationships he had destroyed. Everyone in his life forgave him, but he occasionally made comments that hinted he was unable to forgive himself. My prayer is that he found peace and forgave himself before he passed. He had absolutely nothing to regret. He set the example that mistakes can and should be redeemed, and that actions speak louder than excuses.
When I think of my father, the tears often mingle with smiles. He leaves a legacy of unconditional love ... with a killer punch line.