Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Officer and a Gentleman

2011 has been a pretty exhausting year for me. About this time last year my father was diagnosed with throat cancer. As the oldest of 3 girls, my role has been chief of care management and taxi driver. As "Number 1" (yes, this is what my father affectionately called me), this has meant taking Dad to all of his doctor appointments and managing his treatment schedule. I also have a demanding full-time job, and sometimes it was a real challenge trying to keep up; my boss has been very understanding. My youngest sister helps; even though she has a full time job and 5 kids I can count on her. My middle sister has not really been engaged with the family for years; her choice. She's busy with other things and would usually decline invitations, so we just stopped including her. Although she did participate in Dad's treatment schedule, she has not been that involved with the well-being of my father or mother on a regular basis for a long time.

As a retired Naval Officer, I know that Dad initially felt a bit embarrassed about how his illness was making him physically weak and dependent on others. Although I would offer to get one, he never used a wheel chair coming or going from the hospital; he always walked in and out, slow and a bit shaky but always on his own steam. He completed his 5 days a week for 7 weeks radiation treatment the 3rd week of September. The month of October wasn't bad; he was healing according to schedule. We had reached our goal of him having some of the turkey dinner I cooked at Thanksgiving. But, November the pain came back with a vengeance. He made sure that all the bills were paid, that my mother had a freezer full of prepared food, he purchased a couple of months of dog kibble and booked the snow plow to clear the driveway. Then he called 911. He was admitted on November 29th with breathing problems and wanting his pain brought under control.

My youngest sister and I fell into a routine; when I was with Dad, she was with Mom and when I was with Mom she was with Dad. Dad turned out to be very sensitive to opiates when it came to managing his pain and he dreamed out loud a lot. I asked him one time if he was getting any rest. His response was "Girl, I just don't know because I can't tell if I am awake or asleep!" :-) He was very popular in the Naval community. He knew when he had visitors even though he was in a haze and would always try to be a good host. Although asleep he was aware that I was there and he would tell me what needed to be done for Mom or around the house. Deep memories bubbled to the top regularly. Sometimes our sleep-talking conversations included his boyhood in Newfoundland; he would give me instructions about getting the boat docked, filleting cod and placing it on the flakes or telling me he wanted to have a lie-down at Chris's Cove, the place where he was born. He smiled in his sleep often. I am thankful that his dreams were happy and knowing that gave me comfort when he passed away on December 16th in his sleep.

Dad was a pretty cool guy; charming and kind, humourous, could tell a great story, admired by men and women. He lived his life his way and was devoted to my mother to the end. He was also fiercely loyal to family, friends and country. All my girlfriends had a crush on him. :-) It must have terrified him to have three daughters. I have been thinking of how he helped shaped me into the person I am today. Dad was a man of few words when it came to sharing life lessons, I'm sure it was because he didn't want to appear preachy or "commanding". But his life lessons still hold water today and over the next while, I will include one at the end my posts. They may not be originals to you but coming from him made them original to me. If I have a comment to add, it will be in italics.

I want to say thanks to my blogger friends for giving me a place to go when I needed a respite from my day-to-day challenges. I may not be commenting much, but I have been trying to keep up with what is going on in your blogging world. I can't emphasize enough how much of a de-stresser Gem has been, even when I had to reduce my visits to once a week. I think he played a very important part in helping me get through the last year. Nothing compares to horse therapy.

This is my last post for 2011, so best wishes for health and happiness to you and yours for 2012. I hope it's everything you imagine it to be. See you in the New Year!

Life Lesson: Approach others with kindness and a smile first.