Life is a strange game. Gloriously happy beginnings and mixed bag endings. Alpha and Omega. The inevitable.
A man I have known now for about 25 years hit his expiration date this past week. My father in law, my friend. Argumentative, cantankerous, unmotivated, critical, intolerant, authoritarian, are all adjectives that could be used to describe him. Constant, supportive, available on request, confidante, good sport, humorous, talkative, loyal are also all adjectives that exemplify him to me as well. There are many qualities this man did not possess. There are many things which kept him from playing a strong patriarchal role in our mish mosh family, yet, we are all only who we are, my love for him was genuine.
Early dinners in the beginning stages of my relationship with the man who became my husband, many times included my father in law. We built great camaraderie from the first time we met. My enjoyment of an after dinner Frangelico came from toasting with these two in those early days. I feel very fortunate to have had the blessing of a positive relationship with this man. Complete confidence in our marriage and my mothering of his grandchildren was always apparent.
Being newlyweds with a young blended family can stagnate the “dating” that represents more traditional starts to a marriage. This was not the case for my husband and I. We had 4 young children and yet we went out on the town more than most. The entire extended family supported us and this man never said no to coming to the house to stay with the kids if he was not working (at the time he was a cabbie in Vegas). Throughout the years, he participated in birthdays, Christmas, and other family events as divorces, remarriages, distance and work allowed.
When we moved to Boise from Vegas, he followed a few years later. Pity is a heavy word but I have always had a little of this sentiment where he was concerned. Not having a significant other, being alone, retiring as soon as he hit the early eligibility and having no real desires or dreams are what spurred this feeling in me. I never vocalized it to him but I felt it marked the growing antagonist side of his personality as the years passed. I don’t pretend to understand where his angst really stemmed from especially now over these last couple months of being enlightened more about his role as a father to my husband and brother in law during both their childhood and adult years. Discussions of his diagnosis of lung, kidney, then brain, then bone cancers led our family conversations to delve deeper into years of emotion.
The original diagnosis came before the New Year. Actually, as we were recently informed by the VA with their new policy of admitting their errors, this cancer started as a small spot on the lung in 2015 which was somehow lost in the shuffle of paperwork for 3 years running and therefore left untreated and allowed to grow. 🙁 Follow up confirmed the malignancy and Senior (my husband is Jr.) was advised of a new immunotherapy treatment the docs felt would not kill the cancer but stagnate it to give him a decent quality of life for up to another year. If you have been following my blog, you know we made the trip to Oklahoma in January to spend time with him before our international adventures would begin for our Snowbird Escape 2018. We had scheduled travel and rooms for this nomadic travel starting back in early December. I guess I just provided that information that we booked prior to diagnosis as validation that we were committed to leaving, yet thought it best to visit before we left “just in case.” I am so glad we made that decision but it is a bit of a struggle now that this transpired so rapidly to accept we didn’t just throw our commitment (non refundable bookings) out the window and be present, more for my brother in law, nephew and wives, daughters, grandsons, my poor father in law (who got hit hard with pain), really all the family, instead of going forward as planned. Hindsight is always 20/20. We really thought we would see him again. My husband even had a plan for going there as soon as our 2018 Spring Fling is complete. There was “discussion” in case anything happened but none of us really thought he would be gone this fast. In these short few weeks since leaving Oklahoma, we saw the “writing on the wall” come clearer and clearer. He was hospitalized the weekend we left from seeing him and went from there to nursing home care where they initially thought they would continue treatment and add blood infusions to insure his strength but then the doctors started to back pedal. He continued to get weaker, treatment was ended and he was put in hospice care. The final straw was pneumonia setting in and then the tough decisions my brother in law made and we all supported regarding hospice and all that is entailed there with increased morphine and no supplemental oxygen. My heart goes out to him and his wife, my nephew and his fiancé who live in Oklahoma as well, they all insured there was someone with my father in law through to the end. My emotions have been wrought with the hospice memories and the passing of my own parents. Regardless of how prepared we may think we are, grief is a battle that demands to be dealt with in stages. They may vary slightly between us all as personality traits dictate but grief requires attention no matter who you are. I recommend strongly to everyone to find a good book on this subject of hospice and dying and absorb it so you can prepare yourself for the inevitable death with these circumstances of someone you love. Familiarity with the subject has to create some strength I think.
Back to my tribute. Living in Boise, my hubby worked nights as the Maitre’ d at the Gamekeeper. Oft times my father in law and I were given the opportunity to attend wine dinners hosted there. These nights we were dining companions and thoroughly enjoyed dressing for dinner and the conversations that would ensue between each other and the guests we were seated with. My father in law lived in a small home we purchased as an investment with the intention of it being his home. He was nothing more than a disgusting housekeeper so we weren’t often in this house while he lived in it but outside he took great pride in his bird houses and feeders. One of his visits to our mountain home, he and I rose early one morning and made our way to the hummingbird banding at the nearby home of a friend. A gift he appreciated and time together that I cherish the memory of. On this last bit of time with him we chatted about the bird feeders he had hanging outside his apartment. He and I had many conversations about his love of plants and his feathered friends. Often times in our chats on the subject the last couple years he would say to me “if I had to do it over again” he would have studied these two areas and maybe work for the forest service. If there is multiple times around I hope he gets to have that!
Fireside, Dutch Goose and Gil’s K-Nine were regular stops for my father in law and I back in the “Gamekeeper Days” on our way to meet the crew when my honey would get off work on the weekends around 11p- midnight. Some nights we would end up at the Nerolux, Mulligans or even the Spearmint Rhino…such a good sport my father in law and during this time such a fun sense of humor! Dinner at the Melting Pot was his treat a couple of times, fondue is not my honey’s cup of tea so my father in law would indulge me. During this time, we also had great dinners at our home, threw parties he attended and had some great nights of my man betting online while we hung out at The Crescent or Lock, Stock and Barrel. I remember when he got a wild hair and decided he would wonder. He bought himself a motor home and headed south. I was sincerely sorry to lose my companion but excited for him. He spent some time stopping through Vegas to see a couple old friends then made his way to Corpus and really enjoyed the seaside stay. He headed out again and with my brother in law and his son and his own brother and sister and their respective families in Oklahoma, he headed that way. I’m not sure whether it ended up being cost of gas, breakdowns or just the simple realization that he hadn’t planned what his meager early retirement and no other means of self support would/could not afford but soon he was parked in his rig on my brother in laws property, making ends meet. Finally, after a couple years this wore thin as well and he moved into an apartment.
We flew him to us for visits while we were still in Boise, when we moved to Reno and when we moved to our mountain home. During Reno visits, he would go to rock shows with us and he and I would do baseball games, we still genuinely had fun. We flew him out to join us, our daughter and husband and our first grandson for a trip to San Francisco one year. We had been so excited at the prospect of treating him to this trip. It really wasn’t fun.
This was the first time I can remember really noticing it. Somewhere in these years, old age had begun to creep in. His stories grew tired and old from repetition. Lack of adventure or even activities/hobbies didn’t lend to new stories and that old age symptom of not remembering who you told what and how many times you had told it, really set in. Cynicism and being argumentative seemed to grow, his jokes when told in public became embarrassing, his dissatisfaction with everything and everyone was greater and greater, he would literally “needle” at his sons and others until they lost their cool. His being alone was leading to intolerance of others. The last visit to our place, we were already uncomfortable by the end of the first day. I literally found myself going to bed early just to get away. I grumbled when he would say he was going to ride into work with me. I felt bad about this attitude and cringe now to think about our conversations about him.
It is a lesson for our own growing old I think. Truly knowing the value of time spent with family. Staying realistic about communication with our kids and grandkids. Talking to them about it now so these lines stay open so love and respect are intact. I think I am one of the luckiest in the family. For whatever reason, there was never a time where the cruel side of this man was ever directed at me. I think I can’t imagine the emotions of his sons or his grandchildren. I just know my life was blessed by the good and the bad of this man being part of my life.
To you dear father in law: May you ride on the clouds and the weight on your shoulders be light as you sail off in the sunset towards whatever tomorrow really brings as you leave this world. I love you.