Tuesday, March 17, 2009
My daddy called me sweetheart
My house is quiet this morning. Too quiet, really. No one is ringing the doorbell to bring by flowers or food. No one is calling to offer their condolences. My sister and her family are back at their home in South Carolina. My children are in school, and my husband's at work. So it's just me, sitting at home, trying to heal my exhausted body and spirit, not to mention a broken heart. But my mind is never too far away from my dear daddy, who died Friday morning after a hard battle with Alzheimer's. Although he struggled in his last days, he died quietly in his own bedroom.
I miss Daddy more than words can describe. I was most certainly a daddy's girl. Actually, I don't want to use past tense for that. Not yet. I AM most certainly a daddy's girl.
I loved everything about my daddy, from the smell of his Speed Stick deodorant to the gentle way he treated my beloved mother, who was showing signs of Alzheimer's seven or eight years before he was.
I grieve for him on so many levels. He was my safety net; he was the constant in my life. He was the person I called for advice. The person I respected and worked hard to emulate. He was, I guess, my idol. My hero. My daddy.
Up until the the day before he died, my daddy called me sweetheart. Every time I walked in his bedroom Thursday and stood by his side at the austere, yet practical, hospital bed that had been moved in earlier in the week, I took his right hand and said, "Hi Daddy." Every time, he mumbled back in a voice I really did understand because I had heard it so many times before: "Hi sweetheart." I will miss that strong, familiar voice, but I will not miss the slurred speech that garbled his words in the week before his death.
I will miss the way my daddy sat down to the family table and enjoyed a meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and field peas from the garden he tended at Rock Ridge. He'd compliment my mama on a fine meal and push away from the table saying, "I've had my sufficiency." Mama hated when he said that! But I will not miss the struggles at the dinner table in recent years and the way my daddy criticized the way I cooked for him. I know it was the disease talking, but it still hurt my feelings when he told me the steak was too tough or the chicken was too dry or when he said, "What's this mess?" "Do you really want me to eat this mess?"
I will grieve for the father who took my mama on a drive around the county every day for years. They'd ride down to the Gardners community where Mama grew up and swing by my aunt and uncle's in Saratoga. The next day, they'd take a drive to Rock Ridge, where he grew up. They'd ride by the school and Marsh Swamp Church and then head by the garden before going home. But I will never miss the absolute horror I felt the times they got lost while driving and didn't return for hours after a quick trip. On more than one occasion, I drove on back roads throughout the county looking for the red Taurus he drove, crying and praying that they were safe. I don't want to remember that or when my sister and I had to take away his car keys almost three years ago. He said it would kill him if we did. And you know what, his decline started that very day, I believe.
I will most certainly miss the drives I took my parents on after Daddy was no longer driving. We'd take the same routes he always took. Early on, Daddy would tell me where to turn and would point out where this aunt or that cousin lived. But as the months went by, he stopped doing that. I will not grieve the first day he asked me where we were when we made the familiar turn onto Rock Ridge School Road or the first time I said, "There's Marsh Swamp Church," and he said, "Where? Is that Marsh Swamp Church?"
I will miss my daddy's wonderful expressions from "Daddim" to "Lordy Mercy." But I will not miss the rather colorful language he picked up as Alzheimer's progressed. He cursed every other sentence it seemed and used words for bodily functions that none of us figured he even knew! Sometimes his colorful language provided comic relief, which we all desperately needed. Around Tuesday or Wednesday of last week, when he was growing weaker by the hour, he told me he wanted a damn biscuit. "Get me a damn biscuit!" he repeated a number of times. Well, I didn't have a damn biscuit in the house. I considered driving to Bojangle's but remembered he had called all breads biscuits in the last few years, so I got him a banana nut muffin from the kitchen, and he ate it.
I will miss sitting by my daddy's side when I dropped by at lunch or after work or to take supper. There were days when he was lucid and would tell me stories about growing up on the farm or being in the Army. Some days we would play checkers or sing hymns. I will not miss the days he hallucinated and got scared with the images he saw or reached out for objects that were not there.
One of the things I'll miss most of all is sitting on the porch with both my daddy and mama. We did that often, even before he got sick. My house is just six houses from theirs, so many afternoons or evenings, my husband, children and I would walk down the street and enjoy the nice weather on the porch. The kids would often take down a ball or badminton set and play with their dad while the rest of us watched. When my sister and her family visited, we'd do the same thing. We'd talk about everything and nothing. We'd watch the birds in the yard, wave to the people who passed by and simply enjoy each other's company. I will miss that. Daddy didn't enjoy the porch too much in the last year or so. He was never satisfied out there. He was either too hot or too cold or it was too windy for him. I will not grieve for the times I got upset with him for complaining and would wish he could just cooperate and pretend that we were a normal family again. But he couldn't do that
My Daddy modeled so many things for his children, but the most important thing, perhaps, was his love and devotion to Mama. He loved her and looked after her and protected her as long as he could. He told me one day, years back, that he hoped she died before he did. He'd rather be the one who grieved for her than have it the other way around. He didn't think she would handle it well. He was right. My mother is broken-hearted and lost. She understands just enough to know that L.H. is dead and that she loved him very much and misses him with all her heart. He's no longer beside her when she wakes in the morning and no longer there to hold her hand through the long afternoons. I'm going to need the love and wisdom my daddy taught me to get Mama through the hardest thing in her life.
My husband tells me he's already forgetting the struggles we went through with Daddy and is remembering the good times: the trip we took together to Williamsburg, the Saturday mornings Daddy picked him up to work in the garden, the Saturday night dinners we shared. I'm going to remember Daddy's positive attitude and the love so many people had for him, and I'm going to work very hard to forget the sadness Alzheimer's disease has brought to my family. Thank God my parents gave me the tools and the faith to do that.