Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Fondest "Dad Story"...

Tuesday, 8/30/2011 - It is with a heavy, yet thankful heart that I let you all know my father passed away last night. After a VERY rough day, we were able to make him comfortable in his final hours. It was quite beautiful and peaceful, just as he wanted. He did not lose his battle to cancer. Everyone who lives each day against all odds will NEVER lose their fight against any evil. I love you, Pop. Say hi to everyone for me...especially Angie.

My family recently had an "anointing of the sick" for my father who is walking the path of terminal cancer. For those who aren't catholic or particularly religious, here is a synopsis of the sacrament:

"The anointing of the sick is administered to bring spiritual and even physical strength during an illness, especially near the time of death. It is most likely one of the last sacraments one will receive. A sacrament is an outward sign established by Jesus Christ to confer inward grace. In more basic terms, it is a rite that is performed to convey God’s grace to the recipient, through the power of the Holy Spirit."

I watched as my family placed their hands on him. I saw tears and trembling lips. I heard heavy sighs and nervous chuckles, but I never heard a word of that blessing that came out of the priest's mouth. Don't get me wrong...I felt the positivity and love in the room, but I was deep in my own world dwelling on my fondest memory with my father.
It's been very hard to think about (let alone write about) our time together without stirring up a lot of pent up emotions. Since he was diagnosed I've been trying to find a story that would best sum up our relationship. No matter what thoughts I came up with, my words would spiral out of control. That is until I thought of this particular story:

..........

My father picked me up early on a cold Saturday morning in 1994 to work at the Christmas tree farm our family owned just outside the metro area. I was excited because it was an opportunity to make a few bucks for Christmas shopping, but I was also leery because it was the first time in a long time (maybe since my sister passed away a year earlier) I was going to be alone with my Dad. This wasn't just a ball game or a movie. This was hours upon hours with a man I had little in common with. All I ever wanted was for him to be proud of me and—though I don't know if I was aware of it at the time—this was my opportunity to show him I could be a hard worker. I could be a man. At least...I could try.

We drove in unbearable silence, broken only by my father's inquires and sighs. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a hacksaw. I didn't have the answers to the questions he asked. Even if I did, I knew he wouldn't have liked whatever answer I gave him. He groaned and looked down at his half a pack of Marlboros, then tucked them deep into his overalls. He never smoked near me. Never...even when he was stressed to the hilt. He bit his lip and countered his cravings with a swig of diet soda. I was tempted to give him the okay to smoke a carton if it would start our day off on a good note, but instead I looked out the passenger's window and silently counted down the seconds until we're headed home. Not a good sign at 8:00 AM.

When we got to the tree farm, the doors of the Pontiac Riviera burst open from the pressure of our silence. There were several men my father's age running around the farm. All of them dressed in flannel shirts, orange stocking caps, overalls and dirt brown, worn down snow boots that had seen several holiday seasons come and go. I looked severely out of place in my neon colored nylon ski jacket and dark blue snow pants. The only similarity between us were my boots that were two sizes to big. I had to wear two pairs of wool socks to make up the difference.

The snow wasn't too deep, but it was deep enough to slow my snow waddle down to a pitiful crawl. I was so embarrassed I couldn't even look at my dad. I only imagined the look he gave to the rest of the guys and the possible tinge of regret he might have had bringing me with that day. In an insanely stupid move to prove myself, I decided to be on tree shaking detail. You see, after families came back with their tree in tow, I was supposed to pick it up and place it in the shaker that rustled the snow and loose pine needles from a freshly cut "ornament hanger". It was a short lived assignment because—as strong as I was—the combination of over-sized boots, slippery terrain and my case of spastic diplegia sent me falling flat on my face and nearly smashing my head on the metal shaker. I was red from the combination of snow and embarrassment. My cheeks were wet from sweat and tears. I didn't want to get up and was ready to stay there forever with my head buried in the snow like a newly discovered species of winter ostrich, when all of the sudden I was hoisted up by my armpits by my father. He smiled, gave me a one armed hug and said with sincerity:

"Nice try, bud. You almost made it. Why don't you head over and help tie the trees on the cars and collect the money."

I was shocked. I expected to receive the normal avalanche of teasing that was never meant to be mean-spirited, but sometimes went too far and broke my heart. Not this time. Maybe he saw how embarrassed I was or perhaps he knew how sensitive I had become after Angie died. Whatever the case, he never even smirked in my direction. Another rush of relief passed through my body as I headed over to metal cash box to get some change for my new collections assignment.

From that point on, Dad and I were actually having a good time together. I remember telling knock-knock jokes and throwing snowballs at one another while moving tree after tree off the lot. The wind was bitter cold on my cheeks, ripping into my skin with every gust, but I didn't complain. Things were going so well I didn't want to screw it up. I collected money from many happy families taking their perfect "Grizwold Family Christmas Tree" home to decorate together. I can't speak for my father, but it made me happy knowing that people would be spending time together creating family traditions, even if it was harder for us to do the same.

As the sun set in the golden purple sky, I wiped the snot from my nose and took my boots off inside the car. I couldn't see my dad...just the blurry figure beside me thanks to my fogged up lenses. I took them off to defrost by the window when I heard my father say:

"Good job, bud. You worked hard today."

"Thanks, Pop. I tried." I replied trying to hold back my tears and biting my quivering lip.

Dad put the car in drive and slid a cassette of Johnny Horton: The Battle of New Orleans into the tape deck. "Comanche the Brave Horse", "Rock Island Line", "Sink the Bismark" and "North to Alaska" blared on the stereo while we howled our predetermined verses at the top of our lungs and continued the chorus in harmony. The closer we came to home, the louder we sang. We wanted to hold on to that day for as long as we could.

W
hen the music ended, so did the state of euphoria. I stood in my driveway and smiled at my father as he backed out of the drive way, speeding up the hill and out of site. We were instantly back to reality and the struggle of being a father and son that never quite got on track.



Regardless of where my father and I have been, where we are now or where we are going, I'll never forget the day I knew that my dad was proud of me...and that my dad IS proud of me. I'll cherish that memory for the rest of my life.

...........


When the anointing was finished, I could sense the relief in the room. An aura of peace that only happens when we open ourselves up to it. That's why I appreciate when people ask me if they may pray for me. Of course you may! I'll take any form of love and positivity sent my way because regardless of what kind of prayer or well wishes you want to send, I know your gestures are ALWAYS sent with pure intentions. I send them back to you every time
I sign off "Peaceful Things" on a Joshland blog post. I believe that phrase transcends all facets of faith and goodwill because as I've said many times before: I do my best to love and accept everyone regardless of our differences.

It's in this spirit that I ask you to please send peaceful and healing thoughts to those who are struggling right now. Bring them the strength to live each day the best they can and continue to prove the world wrong. Peaceful things and lots of healing love to everyone...especially to my Pop. I love you, Pop...very, very much.

Love,

Josh

9 comments:

  1. My dear Josh,

    You have a wonderful memory to hold close to your heart. As the mother of his children, I will keep your father's needs in my prayers. Also his family and especially you and Carly.

    You use your gifts of wisdom, compassion, forgiveness and love like no other. You are an amazing man.

    Love always,
    Mom
    xoxox

    ReplyDelete
  2. Healing and peaceful thoughts. Today and everyday. You are so brave for sharing such deep emotions.

    Leeners

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for making me cry :)

    It makes me think of my dad and I might just have to write a post about the first time I knew I loved my daddy.

    I'm glad you have that wonderful memory to hold on to after your father passes. Much love to your family as he prepares to meet his daughter, and his maker....

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Peaceful Things" back to you Josh. Keeping you and your family in our thoughts.

    "LC"

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for making me get all emotional at work Josh! Beautiful story my friend.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The annointing is such a powerful thing. So glad you got to share that moment with your Dad.

    Peace (my usual sign off),
    Steph Rath
    aka PinkPigg

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's hard to write when you are teary-eyed. Life isn't always fair, but it is precious and full of those moments of peace and joy that we retain and that overwhelm the pain. Thank you, Josh, for being a constant reminder of forgiveness, peace in the midst of pain, and positivity regardless of prognosis. Hope I said that right. I'm so very proud of the deep and wonderful person you have become - little Joshy - and the joy you bring to humankind. I love you, Kathy

    ReplyDelete

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