Memories of My Dad

My father passed away this week. No, it wasn't unexpected. It's been coming for a long time, and still, losing a parent is never easy, is it? Daddy was left paralyzed by a brain aneurysm 23 years ago, when he was only 47 years old. (Younger than I am now!)

Before the stroke, he was a busy professional, a pharmacist and the owner of two retail drugstores. He loved his profession, and worked hard to make his stores successful. When I was a teenager, I worked for Daddy in the summers and during spring break. Before I could drive, I did inventory in the store, or operated the cash register. After I got my license, I was the delivery girl, and delivered drugs all over town. (Yeah, a drug delivery girl!!!!) Well, except for the very rough places in town, which Daddy insisted he visit on his own after the store closed.

People loved Daddy, the hometown pharmacist who knew their families and their ailments personally. I remember him standing behind the counter in his white coat, listening patiently and nodding attentively while elderly ladies and men related the details of their lives. Even though this wasn’t that long ago, Daddy still allowed people to have personal charge accounts at the store. The charges were recorded on cards in an alphabetic file. I did the monthly account billings for him, and I can remember him saying, “Don’t send her a bill this month. She’s having a hard time.” He cared, really cared, about his customers.

Though he worked hard at his profession, he didn’t neglect his personal life. Daddy loved the outdoors, and spent every minute he could on a piece of family property out in the country. Every morning he got up early and went out to the farm before opening the drug store, walking the undeveloped land, checking on his huge patch of garden, watching for deer near the patch of corn he planted to attract them. Of course, his reason for drawing deer to the property wasn’t completely selfless. He was an avid hunter, and loved to hunt deer, ducks, quail, doves, squirrels, rabbits – anything that was in season or, occasionally, slightly out of season.

He had a great sense of humor, too, though at times it could be a little twisted. A few months before he was disabled, he shot a ten point buck out on the farm. He brought it over to my house in the back of a pickup truck. My kids, who were five and two, ran outside to see what Grandaddy had. He lifted the head by the antlers and said, “Look, kids! It’s Bambi!” (My daughter has blocked this incident out of her memory entirely, though she does remember the deer head hanging on Grandaddy’s family room wall.)

Daddy was a real ladies’ man, an eligible bachelor in a mid-sized Kentucky town. From my na├»ve perspective, it seemed like there were always beautiful women vying for his attention. And I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed it to the max! I remember him telling Susie and me once, a long time ago, “Now, you can’t mention Jenny’s name in front of Joyce. It would make everyone very upset.”

The past couple of decades since this stroke haven’t been easy for Daddy. For any of us. After a few years of trying unsuccessfully to live in his own home, he moved into a nursing home. He wasn’t entirely happy with the arrangement (does anyone relish a loss of independence?) but he grew to care about the people who took care of him, and they for him.

Though most people couldn’t understand how someone could choose to live for decades in a paralyzed body, Daddy did choose life. Every few months he had to go to the hospital for an outpatient surgical procedure that required anesthetic. The hospital admissions folks always asked, “If something happens, do you want to be resuscitated?” And Daddy always answered, “Yes. Use full measures to revive me.” My sister and I found it hard to believe – personally, I wouldn’t have wanted to live in his condition year after year. But Daddy did. He loved life, even though his life was limited.

A year ago, Daddy’s health began to decline. I guess it was inevitable, given his condition. The past couple of months have been hard on everyone, especially him. After recurring hospital visits for a variety of conditions, he finally said, “No more.” He signed a living will and instructed us that, if his health were to decline to the point that he was unconscious, he did not wish to be revived. That decision was a gift to my sister and me – not because we wanted to lose him, but because we were both incapable of making that decision on our own. Even though we knew it was time, we didn’t want to lose our dad.

Daddy spent his last days in his own familiar room, listening to visitors read the Bible and to country gospel DVDs on the television. He wasn’t what anyone would call an outspoken Christian, but his faith was real and deep. We watched as, during his last days, he drew closer to his Lord and to heaven. I asked him a few weeks before the end, “Daddy, how long have you been a Christian?” He answered, “A long time.” My sister and I spent as much time with him as we could at the end, and though the minutes were painful, they were also sweet, in a way.

Though it’s never easy to say goodbye, I am comforted by one thought. Daddy spent 23 years paralyzed, unable to move or speak understandably. But at this moment is he romping through the woods with his Lord, breathing deeply of the fresh, pine-scented air, a bird dog at his side. He’s stooping to pull a weed from a carefully cultivated row of beans, or watching for deer and rabbits, calling geese with a hand cupped to his mouth. He’s free of the limitations he suffered here. The thought makes me cry with joy.

(I do wonder if the Lord allows hunting rifles in heaven, though. Hmmm…. For Daddy’s sake, I hope so!)